Top 5 Virtual Event Engagement Ideas

Have you been engaged before?

One of the many questions since 2020 yet to have a perfect formula or recipe. I have been researching and here are my top 5 ideas, some I have been using for my past virtual events and some I will put them into practice soon.

1. Earn points to redeem gifts

A lot of virtual event platform has this feature ready – set the goals and audience can earn points after completing assigned tasks or missions. Instant gratification by using the points to redeem for gift cards or surprise swag box or sponsored gifts. I find this really useful to drive the audience to sponsor’s booths or get the audience more active during the general sessions or making sure the attendees network with one another. You can check out platforms like Cvent, OnAir by EventsAir or Hubilo.

2. Online games

Having games during breaks can be a good way to keep the audience occupied, especially those that do not have e-mail to response to or do not need such long toilet break. I use Engamio a new gamification platform to build simple games such as word search or jigsaw puzzle game, the leaderboard will create the competition among the audience. Platform like Engamio allows branding and it can be part of the sponsorship package. What platform do you use – care to share and comment?

3. Virtual photo booth

We are so used to getting a photo booth at a physical event but what’s stopping us from having a virtual version? Platforms like Snapbar even allows the user to add stickers (props) on their photo. If the user is super shy, he or she can just keep the photos without sharing them on social media.

4. Get physical

EventMB’s event had short 10 mins of workout session conducted by professional fitness instructor which I mind it very useful to get the audience moving or up from their seats after a few hours of intense knowledge downloading. There are other activities such as cocktail masterclass, mentalists show or even

5. Discussion forum

Turn the chat function during the session into a discussion forum. Some platforms rename the chat feature to Discussion Forum to encourage more subject matter discussion rather than normal chat. To achieve this, a good moderator is required to drive the conversation and this definitely can help to stimulate the discussion while the session is going on.

Webinars are not virtual events

I believe we see more and more webinars and virtual events invitation and promo on our LinkedIn and Facebook feed since March 2020. Ever wonder if webinar considered a virtual event?

You may disagree with me but to me, a webinar is not a virtual event. A virtual event should meet some (if not all) of the below criteria, imagine a conference:

  • Attendees interaction
  • Networking
  • Multi sessions
  • Multi tracks or break outs
  • One-on-one meeting
  • Sponsors’ virtual booth
  • Concurrent sessions

A virtual event usually last more than 4-hours or at least a full day with a stellar line up of speakers with well curated content under one common theme and great networking opportunity for speakers, sponsors and attendees.

What is webinar then?

Essentially, webinar is supposed to be a one-hour or so un-engaging presentation, useful for marketing purpose and even existed long before COVID. But today, webinar can be a video with one or more speakers presenting to a group of audience, can be presentation of slides or panel discussion or demo a product. Or you also call it online seminar.

So what do people normally use when hosting webinars?

Sales coaching, motivational sessions, sales pitch or instructional content are usually webinars. Webinars are meant to reach out to as many people as possible, the bigger the audience the better for sales. Therefore, the registration platform or module that comes with the webinar platforms are rather straightforward – register, get confirmation and login link; then join the webinar.

Unlike a virtual event registration, the algorithm or logic can be a lot more complex and accreditation or approval process can be included. For example,

  • an attendee to the virtual event can have their profile viewed by other attendees
  • an attendee can set a meeting with another attendee
  • business match making can be done
  • attendee can select the tracks or sessions to join during registration or before the event
  • sponsors can set appointment with the attendee

So is your next event a webinar or a virtual event? What is your big WHY for the project? One may work better than the other depending on what you would like to achieve.

If you have any questions or need advice about an upcoming event, feel free to contact me at ronald@thinkevent.com

Lessons learnt in the recent months

Some of the most searched topics on google is probably “How to conduct a virtual event?” or “Which is the best virtual event platform?”. Everyone must have attended more than 10 online sessions (combination of webinars and virtual events).

I lost count on the number of sessions I have conducted and attended. Have I had 100% success? Honestly, I have not and I have stopped expecting 100%. Here are the few things that I have learnt in the past months.

Understanding the why

I believe the most important thing for the client (or organiser) is to be very clear on why they want to conduct this virtual session (be in a webinar or a virtual event). Are you planning this to engage with your community in your industry or are you doing this to get more traction or are you simply joining the bandwagon because everyone else is doing virtual?

The different WHY will help the event professionals to plan which platform is suitable to your needs. There are just too many platforms available in the market and do you trust self developed platforms or a platform by award winning tech companies? 

From understanding the WHY – the event professionals can advise the programming for the virtual session, will it be a multi-day conference style or a short yet impactful 2 hours webinar engagement? 

The clear WHY will also help to craft out great content and only great content can attract the participants to stay throughout the virtual session. Through knowing the WHY then you can plan for the pre-engagement better. 

Knowing your participants

I have conducted no less than 30 virtual sessions (combination of webinar, virtual events and hybrid events) in the past 4 months. Trust me, besides having a great lineup of speakers and topics – your participants’ experience is as important. 

Why do I say so? There are just too many virtual event platforms in the market and everyone is pitching their latest feature or 3D capabilities. Let’s be practical – the one thing that is beyond our control is the internet connection on the speakers’ end (if they are doing remote), participants own internet coverage and the internet stability at the broadcasting studio. 

Will these new features or 3D capabilities help to engage the participants better or the unpredictable internet connection on the participants’ end may not give them the 100% experience that was intended? I believe the best experience is still a seamless and smooth session even with the most basic features as long as the participants can still interact with the speakers and the WHY is fulfilled. 

I have seen too many clients / brands focusing too much on having more features in their virtual session than their competitors – end up forgetting their WHY and getting more participants to drop off or worse still, negative comments. 

Our recent virtual session had over 500 healthcare professionals registered and approximately 90% attended. Prior to this, we have engaged with the healthcare professionals to understand what works and what will not work for them. What we found out is that 64% of them will be watching the session from their mobile devices and not PC for sure. If over 50% of your participants will be watching from their mobile devices, what will be your best delivery format for a scientific session?  Will a 3D lobby, auditorium and trade show booths work for this group of participants? For us, we would focus on practical engagements (Q&A and polling), easy to read slides and make sure it’s easy to access for the participants without having to download any additional plugins or applications. 

You will not find a reliable online article on “Best time for virtual event” because it all depends on your targeted participants’ time zone. If you are based in Asia but the targeted participants are majority based in the U.S., then a 10am or 2pm Singapore time will not work at all. If you are targeting participants from all over the world, how can you work your program to work best for all the different regions (Europe, America and Asia Pacific)? What do you think?

Engaging before, during and after the event

I find that crowdsourcing for questions or topics of interest from the participants prior to the session is very helpful to start engaging the participants and setting the stage. Unlike a physical event, the speakers are not able to read the participants’ reaction or body language so it is always helpful for the speakers to know what the participants are expecting or what are the pain points to address in order to engage with them. 

Just like producing a television talk show, very experienced producers and showcaller are crucial to ensure the smooth running of the virtual / hybrid event. Virtual participants should not feel that they were merely watching a show on their laptop but the emcee and speakers must constantly engage with them, and this can definitely be done with polls, reactions and Q&A features.

Human connections are key especially for the virtual participants. We must think of how we can create opportunities for the participants to connect with one another, have conversations and tap into each other’s thoughts to encourage learning from each other. How can we drive this using the platform and mobile app? How about a virtual braindate™ or topic based networking opportunities. 

Post event engagement is also important but often forgotten by many organisers. It can be surveys to understand which area to improve or networking opportunities to maintain the engagement with the community.

More stressful than live event

Many people still have the impression that the virtual event is easy, similar to zoom sessions that they have attended. Many have not seen the preparation work behind the scene, getting the storyboard right, deciding and planning the engagement tools. 

Unlike a live event, there is one part of the puzzle that no matter how much we plan for backup it will still be beyond our control : THE INTERNET. This is not just the internet connection on the speakers’ end but also the connection on the participants’ part and whether they will be using WiFi or watching from their mobile devices running on 4G or 3G.

Live webinar or pre-recorded

There are two ways to do a webinar – either doing it live or pre-recording it. So what are the differences?

Live WebinarPre-Recorded Webinar
CostThe cost is higher compare to pre-recorded webinars due to dedicated internet lines requiredThe cost is lower as we do not require such high speed during recording
Q&ALive Q&A with the audience Unless the webinar is run as simulated live, pre-recorded webinars can also take live Q&A provided the speakers available during the time the session is ON AIR
PollLive Polling with AnswersAutomated webinar available on some platform can run polls at stipulated time but live result will not be shown
Internet SpeedStable and fast as audio and video will be transmitted liveSufficient for remote presenters to dial in
Presenters’ TimeAll presenters must be available at the same timePresenters can be recorded at different time based on schedule or availability
N-GIt’s live broadcast so no retake but rehearsals usually helpsSince it’s recording, so retake is possible
EngagingLive broadcast is definitely more engaging Limitations to how the session can be more engaging as compare to live sessions

Hopefully the above comparison can help you choose which option to take for your next virtual event. Remember, there’s always an option to do both or hybrid.

At PCMA’s Convening Leaders 2020 in San Francisco

Engaging virtual attendees

Presenting to live audience vs virtual audience can be very different and will have different challenges. Seasoned presenters or keynote speakers maybe very comfortable with the live audience and the live response but it is not the same in the virtual environment.

Presenters need to be more engaging on the virtual scenario and here are some features either already available on most webinar platforms or available to integrate into the presentation deck.

Crowdsource for topics of interest

Start engaging your audience before the event by setting up polls to understand your audience better and it is a fantastic way to curate or crowdsource for topics of interest from the audience. This will help the presenter to shape their presentation so that it’s more relevant or interesting to the majority of the crowd.

Another good example is to get the audience to vote for the case study that they want to hear from the keynote speaker. Let the audience feel that they are part of the event and they had the privilege to shape the content.

Connecting with the audience

Facilitator or moderator of the virtual event plays a very important role. I personally find that it is important to set the stage for the speaker by connecting with the audience through a simple get-to-know-you poll or word cloud. This is also a very good opportunity to introduce the feature of the poll and Q&A available throughout the event.

Several engagement tools which are easy to use includes Slido, Mentimeter and Pigeonhole Live.

Getting live response from virtual audience

I feel it is important that the presenter or speaker can continue to engage with the audience throughout his/her session and it is never the same for the presenter to get a live response from the virtual audience. Responses from the virtual audience can also help to energise the presenter.

How can we get live responses from virtual audience?

  1. Most of the webinar platforms come with Polling features, make use of the available features to get the audience to response – to see if they understand what was presented the last 10 minutes or more examples needed before moving to the next point.
  2. You can also opt to get the audience opinion before a case has been presented so that you can show a before and after opinion or the opinion shift.
  3. Allow the audience to use the live chat feature to connect with other audiences. The live chat feature can also be used during the presentation to get quick responses without having to set up a poll. Example, type “1” in the chatbox if you agree with the last point.
  4. Gamify the experience with quizzes using available tools like Mentimeter or Kahoot.
  5. Q&A is important at the end of the session, and more effective if facilitated by a moderator.