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
Less than six months ago, Lisa Messina joined the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) as the first-ever chief sales officer after leading the sales team at Caesars Entertainment. A 12-year Las Vegas resident, Messina is a graduate of Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration and serves on MPI International’s board of directors. TSNN had a chance to catch up with this dynamic leader and talk to her about her vision for the new role, current shifts in the trade show industry, creating more diversity and equity within the organization, and advice to future female leaders. Lisa Messina, Chief Sales Officer, LVCVA With Las Vegas becoming The Greatest Arena on EarthTM, what are some of the things you’re most excited about in your role? Our team was at The Big Game’s handoff ceremony earlier this month, and I couldn’t help but think, “We’re going to crush it next year!”  These high-profile events and venues not only drive excitement, but also provide unmatched opportunities for event planners. Allegiant Stadium hosts events from 10 to 65,000 people and offers on-field experiences. Formula 1 Grand Prix will take place in Las Vegas in November, after the year-one F1 race, the four-story paddock building will be available for buyouts and will also offer daily ride-along experiences that will be available for groups. And, of course, the MSG Sphere officially announced that it will open in September, ahead of schedule, with a U2 residency. It’s going to be the most technologically advanced venue as far as lighting, sound, feel, and even scent, and it will be available for buyouts and next-level sponsorships inside and outside. There’s no ceiling to what you can do when you’re doing events in Las Vegas.  Allegiant Stadium As the trade show and convention business returns to the pre-pandemic levels, what shifts are you noticing and how do you think they will impact the industry going forward? Our trade show organizers are very focused on driving customer experience. Most of our organizers are reporting stronger exhibitor numbers and increased numbers of new exhibitors, with trade shows proving to be almost or above 2019 levels. Now our organizers are really doubling down on driving attendance and focusing on the data to provide that individualized, customized experience to help attendees meet their goals and get the best value. Some companies continue to be cautiously optimistic with their organizational spend when it comes to sending attendees, but I think it will continue to improve. As the U.S. Travel Association makes more progress on the U.S. visa situation, we also expect a growing influx of international attendees. What are some innovative ways the LVCVA helps trade show and convention organizers deliver the most value for their events? We focus on customer experience in the same way that trade show organizers are thinking about it. We got rave reviews with the West Hall Expansion of the Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC), so over the next two years, we will be renovating the North and the Central halls, which will include not just the same look and feel, but also the digital experiences that can be leveraged for branding and sponsorship opportunities.  Vegas Loop, the underground transportation system designed by The Boring Company, is also a way we have enhanced the customer experience. Vegas Loop at the LVCC has transported more than 900,000 convention attendees across the campus since its 2021 launch. Last summer, Resorts World and The Boring Company opened the first resort stop at the Resorts World Las Vegas , with plans to expand throughout the resort corridor, including downtown Las Vegas, Allegiant Stadium and Harry Reid International Airport. The LVCVA also purchased the Las Vegas Monorail in 2020, the 3.9-mile-long elevated transportation system that connects eight resorts directly to the convention center campus. This is the only rail system in the world that integrates fares directly into show badges and registration. For trade show organizers, these transportation options mean saving time, money and effort when it comes to moving groups from the hotels to LVCC and around the city. Also, the more we can focus on building the infrastructure around the convention center, the more it supports the customer experience and ultimately supports our trade show organizers. Scheduled to debut in Q4, Fontainebleau Las Vegas will offer 3,700 hotel rooms and 550,000 square feet of meeting and convention space next to LVCC.  What are some of the plans for advancing DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) within your organization? We’re currently partnering with instead of working with a leading consulting firm, to lay the foundation and create a solid DEI plan and be the leader when it comes to DEI initiatives. The heart of that journey with the consulting firm is also talking to our customers about their strategic approaches to DEI and driving innovation in this space.  What are your favorite ways to recharge? My husband and I have an RV and we’re outdoorsy people. So, while we have over 150,000 world-class hotel rooms and renowned restaurants right outside our doorstep, one of my favorite things to do is get out to Red Rock Canyon, the Valley of Fire, and Lake Mead. Five of the top national parks are within a three-hour drive from Las Vegas, so there’s a lot you can do. We love balancing the energy of Las Vegas with nature, and we’re noticing that a lot of attendees add activities off the Strip when they come here.  Valley of Fire What advice would you give to women following leadership paths in destination marketing? I think it’s about being laser-focused on what you want to accomplish; building a team around you that lifts you and helps you achieve your goals; and being humble and realizing that you do it as a group. No one gets this done alone. Thankfully, there are a lot of women in leadership in this organization, in our customers’ organizations, and in this city that we can be really proud of. We’re a formidable force that is making things happen.   This interview has been edited and condensed. This article is exclusively sponsored by the Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority. For more information, visit HERE.