How to create more personal and interactive virtual events
Elevate your engagement by using these eight recommendations.
By Chris Elliot, Group Creative Director
“We have to remember that the exit door is now 200 pixels away.”
—Arthur Yasinski, General Manager, Developer Relations
Current virtual events are jam-packed with quality information and plenty of knowledgeable and enthusiastic presenters, but they still lack the interactivity and personalization needed to really shine. We see the same mistakes and missed opportunities again and again in virtual events. There’s too much “sameness” in the presentations, low production value (lighting and camera quality), highly scripted PowerPoint presentation styles, low interactivity, and minimal user agency (a user’s ability or empowerment to impact their experience on their own).
It’s easy to see what’s wrong with virtual events, but how do you make them right?
Here are eight recommendations to increase engagement and create a more interactive and personal event:
1. Adopt a pre-event strategy
A pre-event strategy allows you to focus on increasing engagement and attendee agency before the event begins. Start by creating pre-event content and a pre-event landing environment. Ideally, this environment would be the same as the environment seen during your event, giving your audience “early access” to the event and familiarity with where the event is taking place. The timeline for launching this will vary with each event, but it should generally be launched along with your event promotions.
Add a variety of content to this environment, including trailers for key segments and speakers, microcontent, and downloadable event guides. Pay attention to which pieces of content seem to be resonating with your audience the most. If you weren’t planning on touching heavily on those topics during your event, you now have time to quickly add them in before the event starts.
2. Create virtual tables and a gamification strategy
For small to medium-sized events (less than 200 people), consider splitting your audience into virtual “tables”—groups of 10 or 20, according to your own demographics or insights gained from your pre-event efforts. Give each group their own private (moderated) chat room so they’re able to network faster and have richer conversations with each other and your experts.
This approach not only enhances connection and gives everyone (through the moderator) a VIP experience, it also helps people at the tables become teams—progressing through the content, earning swag for their engagement. Leaderboards show how teams stack up against each other with the top percentage of attendees unlocking special swag, content, or even exclusive VIP sessions. Accent this with hourly fun, addictive challenges that attendees can look forward to throughout the event.
3. Create shorter, more diverse content
There’s an inverse relationship between the amount of digital content that viewers can absorb and their attention span. While virtual audiences can “binge” on large amounts of content, they have significantly shorter attention spans for the same types of content.
There are several tactics you can easily use to combat this fatigue. Consider breaking larger content into smaller segments, breaking up content with video, incorporating gamification “breaks,” adopting “just-for-fun” segments, and more.
4. Create a cinematic opening
First impressions are everything. The opening moments of your event not only need to be well delivered, they also need to have significance and production value to give them the emphasis your brand, content, and audience deserve. To do this, consider opening your event with a one- to two-minute vision video. A short, well-made vision video not only sets the tone for the event, but it also gives your initial keynote speaker momentum going into their performance.
In addition, be sure to take the time to uplevel the keynote to be unique, engaging, and well-designed/animated.
5. Ensure your presentations are also great TV
Virtual events have been rightly rephrased as “interactive television.” While in-person events have a theatrical quality, virtual events are a cinematic medium. Attendees need to have their attention held by more than just the speaker’s charisma—slides need to be animated, compelling, and graphic. Presenters need to be trained to have a relationship with the camera. Consider virtual presentation training for your experts so they become comfortable delivering their content in front of a camera. Also, enhance your slideware to ensure that the way your information is presented is as compelling as the content itself.
6. Bring your key speakers into the studio
Audiences react more strongly to events with a high production value. While most of your speakers will be remote for quite some time, you can break up the sameness of the event and increase its value by adopting a studio approach for select segments, such as:
Keynotes: Literally set the stage with the best lighting and multiple camera angles to enhance the event and the audience’s connection with the speaker.
Panel discussions: Take your host into the studio and hold panel discussions with virtual guests. This adds an air of professionalism and smooths out the variations seen with in-home camera and lighting quality.
Live demos: Give your presenter and the product they’re featuring a moment of focus and stagecraft.
While not always feasible, booking time with a full production studio can help land marquee moments like keynotes speeches. Small local studios can be found in any urban environment and, combined with the proper safety protocols, represent a convenient, economical, and safe option for live and semi-live moments.
7. Enhance your event with a professional host
Audiences can get lost, even in short events. Mitigate the potential for confusion and increase the professionalism of your event by using a professional host to bridge and promote segments. This also gives you an avenue to add a topical nature to the event, providing news and updates in real time.
Aside from adding personality, a professional host can also own and improve various activities, including VIP interviews, pre- and post-show summations, exclusive access opportunities, an ongoing weekly podcast, special “on-location” tours, and much more.
8. Dial test your key moments to help define the event
Giving attendees agency over the event content itself is a growing trend. While pre-event polls are a tried-and-true method of gathering audience expectations, consider adding a more interactive element. Techniques like dial testing (think political speeches where focus groups turn a dial, indicating which parts of the speech are more or less relevant for them) allow your audience to designate what they find most interesting in the event’s opening (keynote) moments where you’re exploring multiple themes. This uniquely digital engagement helps keep the audience’s attention, and the data you gather can be used to focus the remaining event, informing the speakers or sessions that follow. By letting your attendees know they were heard (and valued), you’ll also be able spin up topics of high interest that will improve your event (or future events).