Throughout the last 18 months, life-changing transitions have affected nearly everything: we’ve gone from shaking hands, clinking our glasses, and gathering with groups of people to opening our computers, clicking “join meeting,” and doing our best to stay as engaged as possible in a completely virtual space. Although we are hoping in-person events will resume sooner rather than later, it would be naive to think virtual events aren’t here to stay, at least in some capacity.
With that being said, a big question that accompanies the statement “virtual events are here to stay,” is how does one create an online event that will keep your audience engaged from beginning to end? Fortunately, there are a few easy ways to make it happen.
Below, check out our tips for creating an engaging virtual event.
Determine your “why.”
When the COVID-19 pandemic first started, the question we were faced with over and over was “How do we continue to connect with our clients, candidates, and internal employees from a remote standpoint?” While this question is a great place to start, it should not be your end point.
As Zoom fatigue increases with each day in the remote workplace, there’s one question you should ask yourself before scheduling a virtual event: “Why are we hosting this?” Is it so you can cross it off a list that you made? Or is it because you have a message or experience that could be beneficial to your audience?
If your answer is to cross it off a list, it may be best to go in another direction. In order to create an engaging atmosphere, whether it’s in person or virtually, there must be a reason driving the event at hand. When your audience knows the value and purpose behind an event, they are much more likely to stay engaged, ask questions, and talk about it with their colleagues afterwards!
Who is your audience?
After determining your “why,” your next focus should be “who”:
- Who is your target audience?
- Who would benefit the most from the event you’re planning?
- Who would open their computer and be excited to take part in the virtual event?
In some cases, promoting or inviting the masses to your event can be a good option. However, creating an event for a specific demographic can often lead to better engagement and an increase in the number of attendees who return for future events. Why is this? Because people naturally engage with topics they’re interested in.
Events that are more targeted often attract audience members who are interested in the information being shared. Think about it: if Blake Shelton and Luke Bryan were invited to take part in a country music roundtable, they would probably have a lot to add to the conversation. On the contrary, if you invited Kanye West and Lil’ Wayne to that same roundtable, you probably wouldn’t see the same amount of participation.
Choosing the correct demographic for your virtual event is crucial if you want attendees to stay engaged and potentially come back for your next one. It’s also important to focus on more than the size of your audience when evaluating the success of your event. If half of your attendees leave halfway through because they didn’t see a benefit from staying, you’ve left a lot of engagement opportunities on the table.
Which platform would be best to use for this particular event?
Whether you are hosting a company-wide happy hour, a webinar, or a continued professional education class, you should always choose a platform that is tailored to the specifics of the event itself. Prior to COVID-19, there was just one or two platforms for online gatherings. Now, there is a variety of videoconferencing platform options with a range of features, so make sure to do your research before sending out your invite. Choose the platform that works best for your specific event and the type of engagement you want to drive.
Does anyone have any questions?
You often see this question posed by a host at the end of a virtual event. However, is it really best to wait for questions until your audience is ready to close their computers? The answer is probably not! As you transition your conversation or event to the next segment, use this time to talk with your audience. Ask if they have any questions or comments about the topic that was just covered. This will allow your participants to stay engaged and make them feel like their input is valued, which can be hard to accomplish when questions are left until the conversation is less meaningful.
Ask for feedback!
Don’t forget: audience engagement doesn’t have to end when your event does. By asking for feedback afterwards, you encourage your audience members to keep the conversation going, to express their own insights and to provide valuable opinions about the event format or the content you provided. It’s free business advice if you think about it!
It bears repeating: Virtual events are here to stay. While in-person events will return, many companies have found that virtual gatherings can be a really viable alternative – and will certainly stick with them for some options. While there may not be a definite answer on how to keep people glued to their computer screen for every virtual event, we hope these tips can at least get you started on creating an engaging virtual event for your company or organization.
Frances Harpole is the event coordinator for Vaco’s Nashville office.