The shift from in-person learning to digital requires a different strategy and approach. Let’s take a look at some of the ways we’re approaching learning in a virtual setting and the tactics we’re brainstorming to keep the audience engaged.
Approach Learning Differently
A learning strategy designed for a face-to-face event does not always translate into a virtual event. Be purposeful in your approach; focus on why your attendee is present and how you will keep them engaged. Consider your audience and develop content in formats they’ll engage with and appreciate. Here are a few tips:
Incorporate Human Engagement
Include an interactive host to facilitate the event. This person participates with attendees throughout the event by introducing speakers, topics, and concepts and helps with transitions between sessions. This can’t be just anyone. The host should be engaging, lively, and well versed in the subject matter.
Ask them to take the reins between sessions to moderate and watch the clock on breaks, answer questions that come in (if they’re qualified to do so), facilitate the chat room, provide anecdotal information for those who hang on the line during breaks, etc. Speakers can also remain engaged during the breaks that follow their sessions to answer any lingering questions. And don’t forget to have someone on the tech side around throughout the day to address any technology issues attendees may encounter.
Restructure the Day to Combat Virtual Fatigue
Attendees will not stay focused and engaged with a virtual event for 8 continuous hours. Even at physical events, there are breaks and transitions that allow for stretching, bathroom breaks, and chatting with fellow attendees. A recent industry conference offered a mid-day hour-long break offering sessions that included yoga, meditation, a concert by a known artist, and relaxing spa music.
In a virtual setting, modify the structure of your day to promote overall content engagement. This can be achieved by moving towards 3 to 4 hours of content comprised of a good mix of session types and interactivity. The goal is to provide an agenda structure that keeps the content coming while also keeping your audience engaged and focused.
Traditional 45-minute sessions should also be condensed. Aim for 20-minute sessions with 10 minutes of Q&A. If a session needs a longer amount of time, break it up into 2 parts. Mix up session formats the same way you would in a face-to-face environment. Consider:
- Traditional sessions
- Fireside chats
- Birds of a Feather
Bring Hands-on Learning Home
To enhance participation through hands-on sessions, consider shipping physical materials out to ensure the attendee is prepared to engage. You may also consider holding a pre-event podcast to get attendees excited about what they will learn and what tools will be utilized during the session.
Engage Your Audience
With any virtual event, there is a higher potential to lose engagement from attendees due to distractions like emails, phone calls, family demands, etc. Content and engagement go hand-in-hand in the virtual sphere. Consider the following:
Networking & Interactivity
Networking is a valuable aspect of in-person events that conference-goers look forward to every year. In a virtual environment, identify ways for speakers to interact with their audience prior, during, and after the session. Consider building in time for attendees to find connection points with one another.
Some examples include:
- Meetings with experts
Provide 1:1 or 1:Group settings where attendees can get more up close with the experts who present during the event
- Peer meet-ups (sometimes called Birds of a Feather)
Build in options for attendees to find connection points with like-minded peers
- Topic-based chat rooms
Create spaces where participants can go more in-depth with their peers on topics that interest them and consider setting up this space to utilize audience-driven content. For instance, a facilitator can move the conversation along, based on feedback from the participants (e.g. “should we stay on this topic or move on to XYZ?”). Giving the audience some control over the material presented—even just yes/no feedback—allows them to feel like they are getting the most of their time.
- Meetings with experts
Engagement & Focus
Make speaker engagement a mandatory component of each presenter’s session. Speakers should try to incorporate chat features and polling throughout their presentations as well as be available for a live Q&A after every session.
Consider collaborating with your speakers on creating education tracks that follow along with a specific topic, where each session builds together to create a cohesive presentation. When going from one session to the next, try switching up the content delivery format to keep attendees engaged.
Rewards & Incentives
No matter how well put together your presentation is, a little bribery always takes engagement to the next level. You can reward attendees with things such as prizes, conduct content scavenger hunts, and provide industry educational credits.
Find Ways to Incorporate Fun!
No one enjoys sitting through dry presentations for hours on end. As an event planner, you play an important role here. Break the mold of the same old, same old, and plant some surprises along the way. After all, just because you’re virtual doesn’t mean you’re not human. Play ice breaker games before a session, create a “would you rather” game with the polling functionality during breaks, play music, and encourage attendees to dance it out – get creative! And then report back on all the success you have. I’d love to hear what you come up with – please comment below and share your stories and results.