Hybrid events are on the rise, and this should come as no surprise. They allow you to roll all the perks of a purely in-person or virtual approach into one unified educational experience. But they do come with a potential pitfall: failing to deliver on virtual audience engagement.
Today, we’ll share a few tips to help hybrid event speakers captivate their virtual audience from afar. But first:
Why Virtual Attendee Engagement Matters for Hybrid Events
You don’t need us to tell you that audience engagement is crucial to the success of any event—be it in-person, virtual, or hybrid. So why should we address engaging virtual attendees at hybrid events in particular?
As the world of events went virtual in response to COVID-19, we saw that this approach was not a temporary inconvenience to tolerate. On the contrary, it’s something we should embrace. Going virtual lets us reach new audiences, opening the doors for unprecedented levels exposure and engagement.
The potential of hybrid events is even greater. But as speakers face in-person spectators once more, they run the risk of forgetting about what will likely be the majority of their audience: those tuning in virtually.
In other words: failing to engage remote attendees does a disservice to the largest contingent of your hybrid event. Reach, impact, and—ultimately—ROI will suffer.
Don’t worry. Over the past year and longer, we’ve learned what it takes to command the attention of remote attendees. And we won’t leave the tools and techniques we picked up by the wayside as events hybridize.
An effective speaker can combat a sense of voyeurism and FOMO among remote attendees. With these tips in mind, you’ll be equipped to engage a virtual audience at your next hybrid event.
Our MediaCenter2.0 tool allows your speakers to engage with audiences both remote and virtual, but here are a few non-technology based methods to keep your learners and attendees engaged.
Acknowledge Virtual Attendees Early
There are two kinds of teachers.
There are those who show up to class right on time and head out the moment the bell rings. Then there are the teachers who arrive to class early, strike up conversations with students, and invite them to their office for a friendly chat after class. Which do you suppose is the more effective instructor?
Ultimately, this is more than a matter of friendliness; it’s about building engagement. The simple act of acknowledgment prevents virtual audiences from feeling like onlookers.
Perhaps you aren’t a teacher by trade. But everyone who engages in public speaking is, in that very moment, teaching.
Take a cue from the playbook of the best teachers. Take time at the beginning of your hybrid event, and take a moment to acknowledge the faces behind the screens. Engaging in a brief dialogue with the virtual attendees will pay dividends.
Break the Ice
But how exactly should you go about acknowledging them? Try a few icebreakers.
The mere mention of the term ‘icebreaker’ can illicit moans and groans from an audience. Don’t describe them as such. Instead, find a more organic way to break the ice.
Educations works best when it’s a dialogue. Communication should flow both ways, if only for a few moments. To get the dialogue going, start out with a couple questions directed at virtual attendees:
Where are you tuning in from?
What’s the weather like there?
What topics do you hope we’ll cover today?
Sure, our first two question seem a whole lot like small talk. That’s because they are. And is there anything wrong with that?
When the world went digital due to COVID-19, we found that what we missed most was human interaction. We could live without the commute, but we grew to miss little exchanges in the halls or around the water cooler. And yes—we even missed small talk.
We don’t want to wax nostalgic. But we do want to emphasize this: small talk is innately human. And when your virtual attendees recognize you as human, they’ll feel more engaged.
Most hybrid event configurations keep the microphones of virtual attendees muted. So how will they respond to your questions?
Chat Box & Polling
Any good hybrid event configuration should have an engagement tool. This could take the form of a polling feature or simply a chat box.
Before the event begins, find out what engagement tools you have at your disposal and give some thought to how you’ll employ them. You should consider using them in support of your icebreaker questions and sprinkling them throughout the presentation as well.
Let’s return to the classroom analogy. Think back to your days in school. On the (rare, we’re sure) occasions when your attention started to wane, few things could jolt you back to reality like the teacher calling on you.
The aim of the chat box and polling features isn’t exactly to put your learners on the spot. Instead, they engage your virtual audience by injecting an element of interactivity and community into the hybrid event experience.
When implemented well, both of these tools will make your remote attendees feel every bit as involved as in-person participants.
Make Eye Contact
Alright, alright. You can’t truly make eye contact with your virtual audience. But you can approximate the sensation of eye contact by occasionally addressing the camera rather than in-person attendees.
Honestly, this may be the most difficult thing for speakers to adjust to. Directing your gaze evenly among the audience is one of the most foundational tenets of good public speaking. It can be counter-intuitive to address an inanimate object such as a camera when there sit real, living and breathing people right in front of you.
But this is something you’ll have to get over if you hope to keep virtual attendees engaged. Keep the location of the camera in mind, and take the time to look at it occasionally—especially when responding to remote questions and comments.
Don’t overdo it, though; just an occasional glance at the camera can go a long way.
Tell Your Story
We’ll close with a bit of advice that will help you engage audiences in general—whether dealing with a hybrid audience or not.
After all, the best way to keep virtual attendees engaged is simply great public speaking. If you can captivate a live audience right in front of you, with a little guidance you’ll have no problem doing the same to audiences both near and far.
To engage your virtual audience, take part in the oldest art form: storytelling.
Time and time again, neurologists have proven that our brains are most engaged when invested in a narrative. This is why you’ll be on the edge of your seat during an action-packed movie, but fall asleep on your text books.
Narratives are a tried-and-true engagement tool that every speaker should employ. They need not take up the majority of your presentation to be effective. But they’re a great place to start.
Use a story to showcase your humanity and reel your audience in. Just make sure it ties in to the ultimate point you’re trying to make!
Create Engaging Hybrid Events with CommPartners
CommPartners powers enduring educational experiences. Our award-winning Elevate LMS gives you all the tools you need to maximize the impact of your next hybrid event. Allow our expert Event Producers to make sure it goes off without a hitch.
When you’re ready for unprecedented levels of reach, revenue, and retention, we can make it happen with our e-learning and events expertise.
2020 has been a year of great successes and great challenges for everyone. CommPartners is no exception. With the sudden closure of place-based events due to COVID-19, we had to quickly meet our Virtual Conferencing clients’ needs while still implementing LMS’ and providing event services. So I asked some CommPartners staff to reflect on 2020 to see what we’ve learned, how we’ve grown, and if any highlights come to mind:
Julie Ratcliffe, Content Production Specialist: What are some highlights from 2020?
Kendra Matarozza, Director of Online Events: If I’m being totally honest, I think my favorite part of the year was getting glimpses into my colleague’s home life to see who is really running the roost. I’m going to fill you in on a secret—the toddlers and small children dominate, and it’s hilarious. I loved seeing them pop up on screen or doing crazy things in the background. They unintentionally bring levity to any situation and brighten the day.
Jill Norris, Project Manager Virtual Conferences: A highlight for me was witnessing the emergence of new technologies and features for the deliverance of online education and networking. Existing platforms such as our own were put on a fast track to release new features to adapt to the abundance of events and needs for delivering education and replace face to face networking opportunities.
Rich Finstein, CEO: The primary highlight for me was seeing our entire team overcome personal challenges from the pandemic to meet a dramatic influx of client requests. Many of us had to work 12 to 15 hour days. One client, in particular, was Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, or LLS. LLS produced six virtual conferences and will be doing six more in the spring. They were able to reach patients and those impacted by the disease with valuable research information and guidance from top clinicians in the field. We received notes from attendees thanking LLS for making this information so accessible.
JR: What are the tiny moments that made you smile?
JN: Haha, not sweating the small things like fur-babies or kids crying in the background when someone was presenting. Pre-COVID-19 that would’ve been a catastrophe to a live online event, and editing hours would need to happen in post-production. Now it’s just “human” and accepted. #2020
JR: How do you think this year has shaped CommPartners as a company?
RF: Since we have years of experience managing virtual conferences and livestream events, we were a company many associations turned to when COVID-19 hit. We supported hundreds of virtual conferences from March to December. While moving from place-based events to virtual was a significant change for many organizations, we saw a secondary impact. Organizations needed to think more strategically about their approach to online learning. Due to this realization, we saw a dramatic uptick in Elevate LMS placements. The synergy between Elevate and online events helped our clients with a strategic approach versus simply an event to event type of offering.
JR: Virtual Conferences were a primary service CommPartners offered this year. How did it feel to provide this service during an uncertain time?
JN: Honestly, I felt very fortunate to be in this line of business this year as many others faced so many unknowns, especially in the events industry. And it was nice to be able to provide our knowledge of virtual education to so many who had never even thought about offering this for their organization. I think my friends and family members finally understand what I do for a living.
JR: What have you learned about yourself, your team, or CommPartners this year?
KM: This year I was amazed at the resiliency of all of my coworkers. This was a challenging year professionally and personally with the madness, but it really highlighted the importance of our internal relationships. I also came to realize that there is this familial bond that forms when you see people on a daily basis, for years on end- it was nice to see how we all cared for one another and really worked to back one another up, jumping in wherever was needed.
RF: CommParters has been around for over 20 years. We have built a reputation for excellent customer care and integrity in how we support our clients. When COVID-19 arrived, organizations were seeking a company they could trust. We received over 1,000 organizations reach out to us in March and April. This made me realize that our years of investing in our clients and the reputation we created made us an obvious choice during the initial months of the pandemic. We needed to match client faith in us with a successful conference experience. While you always look back and think of things you could have done better, as a whole, we feel we came through for our clients.
CommPartners is ready to take on 2021 and continue meeting our community where their needs are, providing outstanding online education services. If you’re interested in learning more about CommPartners’ services, please contact Meghan Gowen at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Whether COVID-19 restrictions have eased in your area or you’re planning for the future, hybrid events are a great way to blend in-person and virtual events.
What is a hybrid event?
A hybrid event is a conference, tradeshow, webinar, meeting, etc., that brings together on-site and virtual elements into one event.
How to choose a virtual event platform:
For a hybrid event to be successful, identifying a user-friendly platform that parallels the in-person event for the online audience is just as important. Here are some features to consider when looking into a platform:
Engagement Tools: Engagement and networking tools for your virtual audience are critical, be sure to find a platform that meets your interaction goals.
Event Management: Determine if you need assistance from an event production team. A hybrid event has many moving parts, and it’s sometimes helpful to have a team apart from your own who knows the ins and outs to manage this kind of event.
Customization Options: To present a clean and professional look, you’ll want to make sure your platform can be customized to your organization’s branding.
Broadcast Capabilities: Decide how you plan to broadcast your event. Are you streaming live? On-demand? Streaming to social media? Will it be a single session or a multi-room conference? Be sure your platform and multimedia team can handle it.
Registration and Analytics: Find a platform that can process registration and track key analytics all in one place.
How to create impact with a hybrid event:
Once you’ve chosen your platform, it’s time to plan an impactful hybrid event. Hybrid events are unique because you can reach larger audiences, increase engagement and ROI, and allow flexibility and creativity. As the event host, you can create an engaging event for your attendees with these tips:
Blend your audiences: Find ways to combine your in-person and virtual audiences. If your in-person audience engages directly with the presenters, be sure your virtual audience can respond virtually through chat, social media, or any other tools your platform offers. You may need special moderators to ensure your online audience is seen and heard. Consider a live and/or virtual emcee to create personal connections with both audiences
Present Creatively: Use a myriad of presentation options from live presenters to videos, demos, PowerPoints, and screen sharing. Switching up your presentation style will keep your audiences engaged in your content, whether on-site or enjoying the event from their own home.
Sponsors, Sponsors, Everywhere: Your hybrid event opens the doors for lots of sponsorship opportunities. Offer both in-person and virtual expo halls, ad spaces before livestream and pre-recorded content, and create visibility packages that put your sponsor’s logo throughout the place-based event as well as your virtual site.
Turn your event into on-demand content: Turn your event evergreen by recording sessions and repurposing them later. If you have an LMS or Learning Management System, you can store event content within the LMS as a non-dues revenue source.
Don’t forget to market your event: Understanding your audience and marketing your event is an essential step to creating an impactful hybrid event. Don’t stop at email and social media campaigns before the event. Livestream the most exciting parts of the event to your social channels to encourage engagement. Try providing your virtual attendees a newsletter directly to their inbox so they know what to expect each day of the event. There is a lot of opportunities to market your event, so get creative!
Ensure your in-person audience is safe: Every state has different guidelines for in-person gatherings. If you decide to have an in-person audience, be sure you follow all the health and safety guidelines for your area to keep your audience safe. If your organization isn’t ready for a hybrid event just yet, there are entirely virtual options.
To plan, execute, and deliver an impactful hybrid event, it’s important to find the right solution that meets your organization and event’s goals. Learn more about CommPartners’ hybrid solutions and contact email@example.com for more information.
A Learning Management System, or LMS, is software designed for online training, tracking, and reporting that supports content creation and storage for continued learning. An LMS provides your organization or association an opportunity to create a learning community on an eLearning platform. Sound like something that would benefit your membership?
Knowing some advantages of an LMS can help your Development Team determine if an LMS is a right fit for your organization:
Create Customized Learning Paths: Create a customized learning journey for each of your members using curated content stored in your LMS. Each pathway can be adjusted as a member’s role within the organization grows and changes.
Avoid Skill Gaps: Skill gaps are the abilities a new hire might not bring to the table, but the position requires or would benefit from it. Offer training and courses to membership that creates a well-rounded professional and encourages continued learning.
Doubles as an Event Platform: An LMS can serve as an event platform. Host relevant webinars or a Town Hall once a month. Take it a step further and host your next conference virtually through your LMS.
Develop an On-Demand Learning Catalog: As your learning community grows, your resources will grow. All the content from previous events can be repurposed and reused. Upload podcasts, relevant media links, anything you think your learners will benefit from. Soon you will have a robust catalog of knowledge within your LMS to draw and learn from at any time.
Measure Performance: Track and report the performance of members to watch growth, target weak points, and acknowledge achievements.
Onboard Members: Create learning paths for membership onboarding, so each new member is familiar with organization culture and procedures.
Certification Opportunities: Allow members to keep up with professional certifications easily.
Reach Membership Virtually: For organizations with wide-spread membership, an LMS provides a way to reach each learner. An LMS prepares your organization for online learning.
When considering an LMS for your organization, do your research. Understand you are creating a knowledge community for your organization while reaching membership in a new way. To find out more about CommPartners’ LMS, Elevate, click here or contact Meghan Gowen, VP of Client Development at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As you transition your on-site event to a Virtual Conference, it is important to consider how you will include the sponsors and other revenue opportunities your organization was counting on while providing a resource center for attendees. In a previous post, we touched on how to monetize your Virtual Conference, including integrating a Virtual Exhibit Hall into your Virtual Conference. Exhibit Halls can be converted to an online format easily and can be just as informative for attendees.
Designing Your Exhibit Hall
A Virtual Exhibit Hall is a home base for all your sponsors. The exhibit hall and each booth can be personalized, depending on the needs of your organization and sponsors/exhibitors. Before designing your Exhibit Hall, identify what features and customization you will be offering to sponsors/exhibitors in their booths.
PDFs, links, or any other resources that would typically be provided to attendees can be housed here. Video and photo assets like commercials or instructional videos or even photo albums can have a dedicated section apart from the downloadable assets and links, all within the individual booths. Going virtual doesn’t mean you lose all the exhibit’s visual and branding opportunities; sponsor logos can be presented in a carousel or posted in various positions around the conference site. Informational and educational posters can be displayed in each sponsor booth, or you can show them all in a collection on a separate posters page
Additional booth features include options for exhibitors and attendees to interact. In each exhibitor booth, there can be a dedicated section for exhibitor staff to “man” the booths and network with attendees via a chat feature. A successful virtual booth should be customized to match the sponsor/exhibitor branding. Have them submit logos or supporting images for greater brand presence.
When it comes to transitioning an Exhibit Hall from in-person to virtual, it just requires some creativity. Use this guide to see how easy it is to transform your on-site Exhibit Hall to a Virtual Exhibit Hall.
Make it Interactive
Once you’ve designed the perfect virtual hall to display your sponsors/exhibitors, the next step is to make sure your attendees interact with the page and the exhibitors. Sponsors are an important part of the vitality of your conference and learners should engage with them. Unlike at an on-site event, where exhibitors are confined to Exhibit Hall hours, your Virtual Exhibit Hall will be open 24/7. Use these tips to encourage activity on your Virtual Exhibit Hall:
Chat Feature: Whether it’s instant messaging or a discussion board, provide ways for attendees to interact with sponsors.
Scavenger Hunt: Organize a scavenger hunt around the entire Virtual Conference website leading attendees to the Virtual Exhibit Hall. You can make higher-level sponsors a required stop on the scavenger hunt!
Credits or Certifications: Offer your attendees a certificate or credit opportunities if they network or interact with sponsors or exhibitors.
Giveaways/Specials: Encourage your sponsors to offer specials or product giveaways when attendees visit their booth.
Surveys: Include a survey on your expo page.
Forms: Embed a Contact Me form to grow your subscriber list.
Including a Virtual Exhibit Hall can be a creative solution to include sponsors, provide more educational resources, and deliver a community-building opportunity. Create a stronger learning community with an interactive Exhibit Hall.
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To learn more about Virtual Exhibit Halls, contact email@example.com