While virtual events came to prominence due to the COVID-19 pandemic, their popularity has only continued to rise. According to a recent survey from Markletic, 55% of organizers say they’ll be investing more in virtual events. Additional research forecasts that the virtual event market will hit $504.76 billion by 2028. And it makes sense why. Virtual events are safer and can accommodate larger audiences.
However, maintaining your audience’s attention can be a Herculean task—after all, audience engagement is also the biggest challenge organizers face with virtual events. About half (49%) of marketers use attendee engagement as a primary indicator of a successful event.
If you want to take advantage of this growing trend (or already are), you’ll need to differentiate your events to rise above the noise. That’s why we’ve compiled a dozen virtual event engagement ideas to help you improve your events and enhance attendees’ experience.
In this blog post we’ll cover 15 ideas to improving virtual event engagement:
- Trivia and polls
- Live and on-demand content
- Get your virtual event attendees engaged on social media
- Conduct a virtual icebreaker activity
- Live performances and a virtual event host or emcee
- Swag bags
- Breakout discussion rooms
- Carried presentation types
- Put out a call for questions in advance
- Allow — and encourage — “chatting”
- Facilitate in-event networking
- Ask attendees for their input
When it comes to engaging event ideas that benefit both you and sponsors, giveaways make the top of the list. To get event attendees buzzing and keep them rapt, set up a giveaway to raffle off a physical item or service from one (or several) of your event sponsors.
You can automatically enter anyone who registers for your event or you can use the giveaway to help encourage engagement. For example, you can enter anyone who asks a question during the Q&A at the end of a speaker session.
If a giveaway with your sponsors isn’t a good fit, you can also raffle off gift certificates to local businesses, cafes, or restaurants.
2. Trivia and polls
Trivia and polls are two great ways to get virtual event attendees listening and engaged in your presentation.
Trivia questions are sure to pique your attendees’ competitive spirit. Your questions could be about speakers at your event or hot topics in your industry. You can create the questions yourself or ask sponsors to submit questions to get them engaged.
Offer the winners a variety of prizes like gift cards, products from your sponsors, or even a discount on membership to your organization. We recommend using a platform like Kahoot or Crowdpurr, or your virtual event’s live chat to help facilitate your trivia sessions.
Polls help in live events in three ways:
- They help your audience feel more engaged.
- They help you get to know your members better.
- They help your attendees see where they stand in relation to their peers.
Get attendees to ask questions ahead of time or preplan polls to ask as a part of the virtual event. Most virtual event hosting platforms have tech in place to make polling easy so it doesn’t require a lot of extra planning work on your end. You can look for these features when planning your virtual event.
3. Live and on-demand content
Another way to encourage ongoing engagement is to offer a mix of different content types. During your virtual event, provide attendees with options for live presentations, panels, and speaker sessions.
We also recommend including access to on-demand content. It allows attendees to review material in between live speaker sessions, or continue their learnings after your event ends. This is especially helpful for those who are unable to attend a session they’re interested in. On-demand content can include pre-recorded videos or ebooks that supplement their takeaways from live sessions.
4. Get your virtual event attendees engaged on social media
Social media is where many of your members are likely already engaging. Keep the conversation going by encouraging your attendees to share details about your event. They can post about their experience on social along with a custom event hashtag (think something brief like #CTAConf or #Inbound2022).
To incentivize your attendees, host a contest. Offer a chance to win prizes from your sponsors or products/services from local businesses in exchange for engaging on social.
5. Conduct a virtual icebreaker activity
Virtual events can feel like you’re watching a tv show – attendees can feel disconnected from the host, other attendees and the event itself. Kick off with an icebreaker to get people engaged.
You can host a virtual icebreaker using virtual video features like:
- Chat box
- “Raising hands”
- Breakout rooms
If you get your audience engaged before you kickstart your event, you will have higher rates of engagement in following polls, discussions, Q&As and even in the chat box throughout the event.
During this icebreaker, encourage attendees to use the chat feature and to ask questions. All of these sets the stage for your event to be engaging, welcoming and fun to participate in.
While most typical live events provide the opportunity for guests to ask questions at the end of the session, it’s wise to do the same for your virtual events. At the conclusion of live online sessions, ask the speaker to take a select number of questions from attendees. Speakers can also answer questions posted in the session chat.
Offering a Q&A not only helps keep attendees engaged, but it can also ensure they don’t leave with any lingering questions about the topic discussed.
7. Live performances and a virtual event host or emcee
Just because your event is online doesn’t mean you have to forego live entertainment. To really keep your audiences engaged, dedicate a portion of your event budget to hiring a live musician, band, or other performer to entertain your attendees between sessions.
Live music or entertainment can keep your audience’s energy up while also giving them a break after all the great takeaways from your event.
Having a host or emcee for your live event can keep performances on track, help the event feel more organized and help hype up attendees so they stay logged in and online for the entire event.
Use gamification to reward engagement. For example, award badges or points for asking questions or joining discussions. Reward the “most engaged” person with a prize at the end of the day.
Attendees can earn points for participating in engagement opportunities like polls, discussion rooms, Q&As, etc.
9. Swag bags
Everyone loves free gifts! Offer your attendees a little extra incentive to stay engaged. Provide free gifts to those who ask good questions during Q&As, attend multiple sessions, or as a prize for trivia.
You can use branded gifts such as pens, T-shirts, stationary, water bottles, and more. You can also send every attendees a small bag of these items before your event even starts as a sort of “survival guide” for your event. Swag bags can also be sent after events with follow up information as a “thank you”.
10. Breakout discussion rooms
If you’re hosting a virtual event with hundreds (or even thousands) of expected attendees, then congrats! While plenty of attendees is something to celebrate, having an effective discussion with hundreds of engaged attendees is impossible. That’s where breakout rooms can help.
After a larger speaker session on a topic, you can split up attendees and move them into different breakout rooms. In these more intimate online settings, it’s easier to discuss topics discussed during the larger session, have brainstorming sessions, or collaborate on an idea.
11. Varied presentation types
It’s easy for attendees’ eyes to glaze over when they’re being talked at by speaker after speaker for hours straight at a virtual conference. To keep them engaged, mix up the type of presentations during your event. For example, you can schedule a high-energy keynote bright and early on event day to get everyone buzzing. Follow up with a speaker presentation, then throw in a panel discussion.
The variation in presentations engages attendees in different ways and helps ensure they don’t get bored.
12. Put out a call for questions in advance
When sending reminder emails, encourage attendees to send in questions! These questions can be used for polls (as mentioned before) but you can also phrase it as opportunities for attendees to highlight topics they want covered. Share snippets about your speakers and what topics could be covered. Get in the habit of directly calling out any questions that were asked during the actual event so people see that their questions are seen and answered. This can encourage them to send forward any questions for future events.
Getting questions ahead of time can also help to identify any gaps in your conference topics so you can fill them before the actual event.
13. Allow – and encourage – “chatting”
As mentioned before, the chat feature in many virtual event tools is the best tool you have. If people aren’t typing or responding, get the ball rolling yourself. Small comments, emoji reactions, and little responses can go a long way to make a virtual event feel more personal.
14. Facilitate in-event networking
When you encourage attendees to chat and to engage in breakout sessions, phrase it as networking opportunities. It will get participants to look at these features as an opportunity for them to connect with others.
15. Ask attendees for their input
Check in on how attendees are enjoying the event throughout the day. It’s also a good idea to give them a clear way to chat with you or with speakers during the event so they can contact you with any questions, thoughts or if there are any technical issues that pop up.
BONUS: Best Practices for Hosting The Best Virtual Event
Need a little extra help keeping your attendees’ attention? In addition to the ideas above you can incorporate into your next virtual event, you can also follow these best practices to make it your best event yet:
- Provide multiple pricing tiers: Not all attendees may want to join every session. So, cater to different levels of engagement by creating a few pricing options.
- Promote details of your event in advance: Don’t just post about your event on your organization’s site the week before. Build a promotion strategy against a timeline leading up to your event and let prospective attendees know about engagement opportunities.
- Avoid technical issues: The last thing you want on the day of your event is for your attendees to experience technical hiccups. Ahead of your event, send out thorough instructions to attendees about how to access your event and participate.
- Solicit attendee feedback: Send out a post-event survey to attendees to ask for insights and feedback on your event. Then, after reviewing their feedback, use this information to improve future events.
Moving Forward With Your Own Virtual Event Engagement Strategy
Now that you’re inspired with our 12 virtual event engagement ideas, you can begin incorporating the tactics that work into a strategy for future online events.
Need a little extra help with the planning process? Check out our downloadable virtual event playbook for more in-depth guidance.