How to communicate key messages—even when you’re not meeting face-to-face.
ENGAGING ONSITE ATTENDEES—LIVE AND IN PERSON—IS CHALLENGING ENOUGH. Engaging participants we can’t even see—the virtual attendee—may seem even harder. Yet, the better we are at engaging “invisible” attendees, the more our meetings engage everyone, no matter where or how they participate.
Whether you plan all-virtual or hybrid events, the rules of engagement may best be categorized as those to use before, during and after events.
- The most common error, according to live and virtual event host Glenn Thayer: deciding how the material will be delivered (your online “platform”) before choosing content and format—and then getting fenced in. Instead, think first about the content you want to communicate, and then choose your platform. After all, if you were writing a play, you’d first develop the script (content), and then design the set (platform).
- Once technology is set, let online attendees experience a trial run: send them a test link to the exact format, software and platform to which they’ll link during the meeting itself.
- For the trial, consider producing a video that showcases an influential person who shares compelling reasons to attend. This step serves a dual purpose, says Erica St. Angel, vice president of marketing for Sonic Foundry and an MPI member: Attendees can check their settings and optimize their devices before the live event. This type of video is also a more buzz-worthy way to promote your event.
- While you design the onsite agenda, decide what the online attendees will do, too, St. Angel recommends. Distinct groups need not always be involved in the same activities.
- With so many electronic tools available for online meetings, it’s tempting to use them all: Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Google+/Docs/Hangouts, Skype, Instagram, PiratePad and the ol’ “raise your hand” button (an embarrassment of riches!). Instead, survey where most attendees are naturally gathering and go to them, so messaging and the event vibe are more cohesive.
- If any portion of your event is broadcast, be sure to design event elements for broadcast and live, face-to-face experiences. This includes getting releases from audience members who grant permission to be recorded (get these during online registration), professional lighting and sound, as well as quality staging.
- Consider hiring both an onsite emcee and an online emcee. Each has its own skill sets and demands.
- Begin with your most provocative and freshest content, Thayer says. (HINT: It’s not sponsors’ remarks, a long string of thank yous or welcoming your new president.) Dive right in to your best takeaways. This bills your event as not-to-be-missed and ensures your recording can be effectively used as a promotional teaser (“Bummer you weren’t here!”) for the next event.
- Gamify your event. Whether app-driven or more low-tech, games are the perfect win for engaging attendees. They also boost, test and reward learning, all while making your event cutting-edge cool.
- When designing virtual and in-person segments, add fresh formats that allow active rather than passive ways to learn: pre-recorded or live custom songs about your organization, drawings that reinforce key points or real-time polling to get buy-in and air opinions.
- Are you charging for virtual attendance? Then design content that’s worth paying for. Otherwise, you’ll pay the price in reduced engagement, attendance and buy-in among future stakeholders. Indeed, if content is bad, you prove to the audience and perhaps to the world that your organization is boring, not leading.
- Double engagement by combining online with the onsite experiences: invite pods of virtual attendees to gather in groups by city, neighborhood or country. During EventCamp 2011 in Vancouver, for example, those in Montreal “camped out” together in the same room, watching the live stream via a Mediasite webcast and connecting with the live event for conversations via Skype. This Montreal Pod also had its own #hashtag to make ongoing contributions to the back channel.
- Can onsite and online attendees hear each other? Have mic runners onsite and advise camera crews to show people as they ask questions. When online attendees participate or make comments via the webcast player or social media, have the onsite concierge raise her hand and use a mic, so both audiences hear the contributions.
- Increase buy-in and personal expression by having online attendees post Instagram photos from their individual locations.
- Remind speakers to regularly acknowledge the online audience by directly answering their questions, and by periodically looking into the camera to connect more intimately with those who are otherwise “invisible.”
- When onsite folks are on break, post messages for online attendees rather than blank screens. You can even add a revenue stream, says St. Angel, by turning otherwise “dead air” into vendor-sponsored “commercial breaks.” How about behind-the-scenes interviews and other bonus content just for online viewers?
- Ensure engagement efforts don’t end when the live event ends. Afterwards, hold virtual meet-ups online (via Google Hangouts, TweetUps, etc.), so real and virtual attendees continue to connect, learn and network. You’ll also boost in-person attendance over time as relationships crystallize.
- Attendees at EventCamp Twin Cities 2010 came up with 37 ways to keep conversation going after your event.
Implement one or more of these strategies, and you’ll gain a clear through-line to engaging attendees—both visible and invisible. One+
Crave More Engagement?
One+ October 2012,