How to Drive Engagement, Interaction and Energy In Online Events

June 4, 2020

Jen Laloup

Jen Laloup is CEO of Mobile Growth Association. She brings to Mobile Growth Summit a wealth of experience spanning, publishing, media and news. Her skill set focuses on driving growth and performance, operations, organizational management and content strategy and distribution.

The COVID-19 crisis has forced physical events all over the world to go digital for the first time. Tasked with making this approach work, many event organizers are now seeking innovative ways to recreate in-person engagement in a virtual environment.

While this is no doubt a challenge that requires a carefully thought-out strategy, there is considerable potential for driving interaction and audience participation within digital conferences. In fact, research has shown that 47 percent of people are more likely to ask a question at a virtual event and 37 percent are more likely to speak to a person in a virtual booth than a real one. 

With all this in mind, what techniques can organizations use to ensure maximum engagement during their events, provide real value to attendees, and make sure the experience is just as memorable as a physical event would be?

Allow for real-time conversations

During online sessions — be it a talk or moderated panel discussion — audience interaction is key. By giving attendees the opportunity to make comments and ask questions in real-time, event hosts can ensure that the interaction isn’t just one-way.

Event planners can do this by integrating a chatbox into the virtual event software and having someone moderate the chat function and ask those questions to the speakers as they come up. Organizers can further add to this experience by allowing audience members to upvote their favorite questions so the most popular get asked first, democratizing the session in a way that would be impossible in person.

Add in gamification

Event organizers can promote audience engagement by introducing gamification techniques that generate competition and offer rewards to the most interactive attendees. For example, events can incentivize audience participation by providing awards for people that comment the most across different forums, or attend the most booths in the virtual exhibitor hall.

Event planners should look at other platforms that have successfully leveraged gamification to get inspired, such as gaming apps that include certain UX design techniques and understand which levers to pull to get more users involved. Another potential way to gamify the attendee experience is through raffles, where people buy a ticket and organizers create a mini-event that captures the magic of choosing the winner of the draw.

Create the space for networking and downtime

Much of the interaction that takes place at physical events is during downtime — the opportunities that attendees get between sessions and in the evenings to network and mingle with others from their industry. In fact, 76 percent of conference attendees cite networking as a top driver to attend an event.

Recreating this atmosphere in a digital space is difficult, but not impossible, and there are a number of ways to enable engagement outside of formal sessions. For example, online events can add in additional Q&A sessions after certain talks and run real-time polls during screen breaks.

Another approach that events can adopt is the virtual business card. This functions in a similar way to a physical card but includes live links to attendees’ LinkedIn profiles or company websites. Business cards and labels have traditionally been helpful in jump-starting conversations and breaking the ice between event attendees, and can serve the same purpose online.

There’s no doubt that physical events are able to generate a unique level of audience engagement that cannot be 100 percent imitated online. However, there are numerous ways to promote attendee interaction in the digital space, with some even providing benefits unavailable to physical conferences. By thinking about these methods innovatively, event organizers can be sure to engage their audience in surprising and creative ways.

 

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Partner Voices

As event professionals and destinations adjust,  adapt and evolve in these uncharted waters,  it is imperative that substantial resources be put in place for all of the people responsible for planning and executing tradeshows and expositions.   At Mohegan Sun we have built an industry-leading COVID-19 Resource Center,  with a combination of pictures from recent successful events held since our reopening on June 1st,  along with several easy to share,  downloadable documents such as our Operati