The events industry is still grappling with the uncertainty that led to mass cancellations and postponements of in-person events. Moving forward into 2021 and beyond, virtual meetings like conferences and trade shows will either take place in fully virtual environments or as hybrid events. Therefore, conference organisers must be ready to handle new challenges, as well as develop new strategies to cope with existing ones.
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Attendee engagement belongs to the latter category as it remains central to live event success. The added challenge is that unlike during in-person meetings, online events and virtual meetings may inadvertently give attendees more chances of distraction.
In a previous blog post, we discussed several guidelines that can translate into effective attendee engagement during virtual conferences. These include being selective with:
- Content (pre-event, during the event, and post-event).
- Tools & technology.
- Speakers, who should be invited based on their thought leadership but also on their experience delivering content online.
Since the blog was published, we have gained more hands-on experience on how to boost delegate engagement in online events. What follows is a summary of the most interesting lessons.
Does Duration Matter?
Some organisers were under the impression that presentations or lectures in live stream format had to be shorter and kept under one hour. The rationale behind it was some surveys that claimed we now have shorter attention spans as a result of ongoing exposure to online interaction.
RELATED: How to Ensure Hybrid Conference Success
However, there are arguments against that claim. People are still able to sit through a two-hour movie or sports event and stay fully immersed in it. Engagement does not hinge on event duration, but on how relevant and relatable content is to the audience. Therefore, sustained attention depends on how well-matched a task is to the viewer’s interest.
Boosting Delegate Engagement During Online Events
In online conferences, the task is already relevant as proven by the attendee’s willingness to register. To maintain engagement levels high:
- Ensure speakers and delegates are familiar with the platform on which content will be delivered. If they do not know how to view the live chat, download documents, and ask or respond to questions, unnecessary time and attention will be wasted fumbling around. To that end, it may be worth creating content like step-by-step guides or videos that explain how to maximise the online event experience.
RELATED: Online Event Engagement Strategies
- Keep it simple and avoid overloading the screen with multiple social media feeds or chat win-dows during sessions -although they are useful in between sessions.
- Elevate the content delivery strategy. Even great content may fail to sustain attention if the format is not right, so consider delivering in multiple formats that cater to different learning preferences. Content can be purely visual (e-books, white papers, real-time or pre-recorded sessions), but also auditive (session downloads, short audiobooks, etc.). Irrespective of the format, do not forget to important to test your platform or event app for accessibility.
- Be open to non-linear programmes. New challenges require thinking outside the box, so do not rule out alternative programme types. For instance, keynote sessions could be scheduled closer to the start than to the end to counteract online fatigue. You could offer a choice between live and on-demand sessions instead of requiring delegates to sit through one lecture after another. And why not fill in the programme with transitional activities, like demos or meetings with sponsors in private virtual booths?
- Keep it relevant. Virtual events open up the audience to a large geographical area, so you need to consider if the programme will be 100% relevant to delegates in different countries. If not, consider setting separate channels or stages or inviting different speakers.
- Encourage real-time interaction and participation throughout. This could include live polls, Q&As, social media competitions, quizzes, giveaways, collective swag bag opening, or virtual happy hours. No coffee breaks or in-person get-togethers mean more budget for virtual solutions like themed chat rooms or smart event matchmaking software, which may be built into your mobile event app.
Now is the time to pivot towards virtual conference delivery. The suggestions listed above can help your organisation shortcut the process of designing and delivering engaging remote events. Moreover, creating event experiences that captivate delegates can have a positive impact on ROI and reputation.
You can always count on the expertise of the Congrex team to achieve highly engaging events. Contact us to start planning your next virtual conference.
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Congrex Switzerland is an internationally operating agency delivering customised solutions. This encompasses the overall organisation of conferences and meetings, including the management of hotel rooms and strategic consultancy. Annually Congrex Switzerland organises approximately 45 events with over 73’000 delegates. Amongst our clients are international associations, governmental organisations and corporations.