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Best Practices to Engage Guests at Your Next Virtual Event

Events That Connect With Your Audience

We’ve all learned a few things in the last 12 months. Like much of the workforce, you probably shifted quickly to remote work in early 2020. Using your everyday video meeting software, your team adapted.

When it comes to online events that aren’t “meetings,” however, you may have hit a wall. A Harvard Business Review (HBR) article entitled, “What’s Your Organization’s Long-Term Remote Strategy?“, says that “leaders planning for a post-pandemic future have an opportunity to take a more intentional, strategic approach to remote work.” In addition, authors reported that “virtually all projections anticipate the post-pandemic workforce will be relatively more remote—that is, nearly all firms will experience an increase in remote work relative to their pre-pandemic baseline levels.” One important aspect of that remote work is larger events, from town halls to award ceremonies to industry conferences.

When we think about how to leverage remote work experiences to plan ahead for a remote and hybrid workforce, the good news is: There is much to leverage. When it comes to larger virtual events, leaders were surprised to learn they offer new ways to engage with audiences across the board—employees, teams, clients, consumers and more.

video presenter shown on phone and tablet

The Pros of Virtual Events

Increased reach
Virtual helps you reach and engage with a more geographically dispersed audience, and allows more flexibility in your run-of-show.

Decreased cost
With some still reticent to travel, the virtual format may help you land that big-name presenter. Dynamic presenters who are able to connect with the viewers increase engagement for sure. You may also consider a surprise appearance from a celebrity or notable guest.

For events with a longer guest list that your organization traditionally hosted in person, now is a good time to revisit best practices. Fortunately, 2020 also saw an increase in both the number and the quality of online event platforms designed specifically for large, important events. These SaaS tools have helped organizations across industries get their message across more effectively than with an “everyday meeting tool.” How? One word: engagement.

graphic of chats reactions and polls

How to Increase Engagement at Your Next Online Event

Here are three foundational factors for a stand-out virtual event that will keep your guest engaged.

  1.  A dynamic run-of-show created for your specific audience.
  2. Charismatic Presenters who are passionate about the same topic as your guests.
  3. A virtual platform with broadcast quality streaming.

From there, keep your audience active and engaged by incorporating interactive elements throughout. Interactive elements can come in all different shapes and sizes. Examples include:

  • A surprise cameo appearance from a celebrity or notable guest.
  • A small sample product mailed out to the participants ahead of the event, so they have something tangible to interact with.
  • A raffle or quiz to engage their competitive spirit.

Be thoughtful about engagement

To successfully execute on your engagement strategy, choose an event platform that has specific engagement features you need. (Those features are presented in detail below.) Ask vendors: “What features does your platform offer that are proven to promote audience engagement? Can you show me use cases?”

These “engagement features” ideally appear on the same “event page,” so that guests do not, for example, navigate away from the video event to chat with each other. They offer your guests additional opportunities to learn, interact and be heard. And if you’re interested in capturing data on how your guests interact with these features, be sure to ask if the event platform captures that data and can easily integrate it into your CRM.

Choose your engagement features

Depending on the features your event platform offers, there’s room to be creative here and surprise your guests with the various ways they can connect with each other, your presenters, your event page content and your brand.

Encourage audience participation early and often. Audience participation may look differently than you think when you consider new features on the most innovative event platforms. Some top engagement features to consider are:

  1. Branding
    An event page that fully incorporates your visual branding lets your guest know they’re in the right place. Are you able to customize your chosen events platform to your unique brand vibe? Does the overall visual design of the event page reflect you as its host?
  2. Chat
    Having a chat feature right on the event page offers a chance for guests to connect with each other and the presenters, ask and upvote questions, and more, all without navigating elsewhere.
  3. Social integration
    Choose an event platform that incorporates all relevant social channel posts directly on the event page. After a guest registers, let them know the event-specific hashtags and, if applicable, GIFs and memes.
  4. Product links
    If your event is associated with a particular product, ask about ecommerce capabilities within the event page build.
  5. Highlight partners and sponsors
    Include information about partners and sponsors on your event page. To keep guests at your event (rather than clicking on external links to partners), consider building partner/sponsor event pages, each with their own event video stream, unique from (or the same as) your main event page.
    What sorts of information might your guests want to download? Consider slides, white papers, the event agenda and other media of interest to your guests.
  7. Polls and surveys
    Surveys keep guests engaged and give you valuable data. Raffles and quizzes may engage their competitive spirit.
  8. Presenter bios
    Give your guests all the info they’re looking for about the stars of the show. Include photos and biographies of your top presenters.

The HBR research above emphasized the importance of conscious engagement, saying, “research indicates that even small amounts of high-quality social interactions, such as those demonstrating compassion or concern, can lower stress and improve well-being.” So, no matter how you build in engagement to your virtual event, it’s a way for your virtual event guests to feel more a part of the whole event experience.