Keeping guests engaged was challenging even before the events industry had to adjust to the COVID-19 pandemic. Your ability to enable guests’ enjoyment of the event and ensure they or their company representatives come back year after year is essential to the longevity of any conference. The switch to remote operations has meant that organizers need to make certain visitors are engaged even when they are just sitting in front of a screen — no mean feat.
While you might have made adjustments to deal with temporary changes, there are signs that hybrid and remote events are likely to be permanent parts of the landscape. This means that you need to enact reliable methods to maintain engagement in meaningful and repeatable ways.
Let’s take a moment to review how you can best approach this new challenge.
Understand Visitor Needs
When you’re trying to boost engagement, one of the mistakes it’s easy to make is to operate in an echo chamber. After all, there are certain priorities that your company has, and in many ways, you’re trying to shape your remote or hybrid events to meet your goals. Engagement is about making connections with your clients. You can’t accurately do this without understanding what your visitors value in their remote event experiences.
Remote events are relatively new, so there may be little in the way of market research specifically on events. It’s worth taking some time to reach out to your current customer base and invite them to provide you with insights. You can even reach out to the wider community via your social media channels to get responses. Find out why your visitors attend virtual events — a recent study found that 80% of those surveyed attend for educational reasons. This can help direct your content choices. Don’t just focus on what keeps them connected to remote events, though. Find out specifically what disrupts their engagement or what they find off-putting.
Optimize the Content
While a lot of effort is being put into making remote and hybrid events more like live events, that’s not necessarily the key to maintaining engagement. Rather, there has to be a focus on what makes the remote approach different and enhancing the positive elements here. One of the ways remote and hybrid events diverge from live versions is that there is greater attention to the content aspect — seminars, guest speakers, roundtables — rather than the overall experience of walking around, chatting with vendors and other attendees. As such, your need to optimize this content for engagement.
You should certainly still be putting the same effort into finding speakers that are relevant to your attendees. To optimize their talks, some additional attention needs to be placed on staging. In all likelihood, your speakers will be joining from their home or office, so make sure that the background they use communicates professionalism. Work with your speakers and moderators to make sure there isn’t a lot of distracting clutter or objects around. Send guidelines to achieve good lighting, and test this alongside other equipment beforehand. Where possible go for a neutral-colored background or arrange to provide images for a drop that features the event logo. These actions help to give the atmosphere some consistency and maintain the professional status of the event and the speaker.
Remember too that part of optimizing the content is how it is delivered. When attendees are all in the same physical location, there might be a certain obligation to attend workshops and talks that all have similar formats. This isn’t the case in remote or hybrid situations. You can be effective here by switching up the style of activities within the event. Make panels more interactive. Keep speeches and seminar lengths shorter or interspersed with opportunities for related activities. Shake things up and you can find you can improve the level of engagement.
Create the Right Team
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that engagement is entirely dependent upon the guests and what you can offer them. Your internal operations make a significant difference to the quality of your event and the way people connect to it. The most important aspect here is the standard of the staff you bring on to run the remote or hybrid event.
One of the great things about a virtual event is you can still be effective when you build a small team. This also means that you have to make sure that each member you hire has the experience and talent to succeed. While you can certainly find quality within your own industry, it is vital to look beyond this into candidates with a background in more diverse, virtual spaces. Consider those who have experience in wrangling crowds in digital environments — forum moderators, streaming hosts, digital marketing experts.
Even when you’ve chosen your staff, you need to shift the way you lead them. It is unlikely you’ll all be in the same place, and it can take a whole new skill set to effectively manage a remote team. Your success will hinge on establishing clear channels of communication with your team and protocols for these. You’ll also need to create individual goals for each aspect of the project, and push a culture that provides mutual encouragement and support on the way to achieving these. When you have a team that is positive and feels supported, they can focus on the tasks to boost engagement.
Remote and hybrid events are likely to be a core part of the events landscape for the foreseeable future. Therefore, you need to start implementing practices and policies to ensure visitors stay engaged. Take time to understand your visitors’ needs and priorities, include creative content approaches, and build a positive and diversely qualified team. With some small shifts in your focus and methodology, you can be ahead of the curve.