Thanks to COVID, massive changes swept through the events industry in 2020. On the heel of a global pandemic that effectively shut down in-person gatherings, professionals in charge of conferences, trade shows, summits and more had to scramble to adjust to a virtual world.
People quickly realized that there are pros and cons to virtual events. One major pro, for example, is that virtual events can theoretically support larger numbers of participants and allow new audiences to join in. Another is that there is tons of money to be saved when expensive physical spaces don’t need to be rented as they would for in person events.
But the biggest downside to the virtual event migration is that they are inherently more difficult to make engaging for participants. Without the chemistry of in-person interactions and the magic of hands-on product demonstrations, event planners had to get creative to find ways to keep their audiences engaged with the content of their events. Event content changed a lot.
Audience engagement strategies for online events must deal with shorter attention spans: event organizers using engagement tools that were built for live events can’t expect the same attendee engagement over Zoom.
Unsurprisingly, event planners were able to pivot their deep creativity in some pretty awesome awesome ways in 2020. From top-quality video content, to gamification, to interactive discussions and even pizza giveaways, here are some of our favorite virtual event engagement ideas from the year’s best online events:
Event: Adobe Summit
Creative Engagement Idea: Produce a series of high quality content to break up live streams
Why It Worked:
Livestreams for speakers, product launches and more are the bread and butter of virtual events. Traditionally, speakers have formed the most important and marketable component of big events, and it’s no different now that they are mostly online.
However, what Adobe realized for their yearly Adobe Summit event is that livestreams can fall a little bit flat in terms of excitement. The content of the keynote speakers’ talks are what’s important of course, but watching someone speak into a camera or (even worse) a webcam can be a bit static for audiences. Adobe’s solution to this problem was to come up with tons of pre-produced video content that they could sprinkle throughout their conference to break up the monotony of watching people talk at the screen for long periods.
By introducing highly-produced and engaging video content on subjects relating to different themes of the event, Adobe was able to bring some variety and pep to their event. People are always more likely to stay engaged if they can break information up into different mediums.
Event: Salesforce World Tour Sydney
Creative Engagement Idea: Use “trail maps” to suggest participants’ activities by their role
How It Worked:
Even if you go above and beyond to create tons of content for virtual audiences to engage with, people can easily miss out on what you have to offer if there is not a clear blueprint for interaction.
Salesforce figured out a great solution to this by creating “trail maps” for participants at their Sydney World Tour event. These were essentially guides to the different speakers, activities and breakout sessions that were tailored to the professions of the different participants. What was genius about this strategy is that it helped make participants feel like navigating between virtual activities was an adventure of sorts (trail map, get it?)
In general, offering up multiple ways to take advantage of the content of your virtual event will generally allow people to engage in their own way.
Event: Call of Duty Warzone Launch
Creative Engagement Idea: Send participants a free pizza when they engage on social media
How It Worked:
So technically this was not part of a single virtual event or conference, but it’s too genius to leave out! The same strategy can easily be adapted to any virtual event, too.
The marketers behind the hit video game series Call of Duty came up with a brilliant way to engage with their audience and provide a physical connection to the brand while promoting their newest game: send players a free pizza. Participants would tweet about the game, which would begin the process of signing them up for a Call of Duty themed pizza (the box, not the flavor) to be sent directly to their door.
Sending items to participants is a surefire way to create engagement with your event, especially if the items are related to an activity or theme. In this case, a pizza allowed players to engage with the game for even longer without worrying about their next meal.
Event: Microsoft Build
Creative Engagement Idea: Have virtual content hosts that lead discussions and engagement from a studio
How It Worked:
Microsoft wanted to take the production value of their virtual event to the level that attendees had come to expect from their lavish conferences in previous years.
Creating a system of in-studio video hosts allowed them to recreate some of the magic that comes from watching brilliant people have compelling conversations in person. The issue with webcam conversations is that they can feel quite boring, or pedestrian, even if the speakers are celebrities or prominent business leaders. By having a physical studio from which hosts chatted with speakers, Microsoft was able to elevate excitement around the speakers, even if they were still just being heard through a screen.
Hosts can also be in charge of introducing video content and non-live assets.
Event: Apple WWDC20
Creative Engagement Idea: Provide virtual classes and developer labs for small breakout sessions
How It Worked:
Apple’s successful virtual conference was rooted in a good understanding of the goals they wanted to accomplish. In order to get their massive audience to participate in the way they had in years past, Apple created a series of classes and development labs where engineers led info sessions on how to engage with new Apple tech.
These sessions were small, limited to specific use cases, and clearly organized so that participants could find the exact thing they were looking for. These small classes were perfect for boosting engagement because they provided an opportunity for an actual back and forth between participants and experts at Apple. They also provided informal networking opportunities for attendees.
It will always be difficult to connect virtually with a large audience: follow Apple’s lead and break yours up for your next successful virtual event.
Creative Engagement Idea: Host roulette chat groups where participants are matched randomly for short discussions
How It Worked:
What better way to make the most of being online for a conference than by playing with some of the internet’s most interesting concepts!
By using a randomized pairing software, participants could meet virtually with a random partner to talk for short conversations. These three minute chats could be professional or personal: the goal was simply to get people to interact! Bits and Pretzels, which is focused on networking events, found an amazing solution that also made the most of the medium they were working under.
This is one of our favorite solutions to the networking problem faced by events going virtual.
Event: SBC Digital Summit
Creative Engagement Idea: Create an interactive virtual event space that mirrored a traditional conference layout
How It Worked:
Imagine being able to get the same feeling of walking around an awesome event hall decked out for an exciting conference, without ever having to leave your couch.
SBC pulled this off by recreating an entire event space for participants to move through on their computers. This virtual space looked and felt a lot like the real thing, with a massive lobby being the main gathering point, and several small rooms for breakout sessions also available. Additionally, there was a virtual conference room and virtual exhibition hall. Though not everyone will be able to recreate this particular tactic, the idea of using existing infrastructure to organize the content of your virtual event is an adaptable tactic sure to boost engagement.
These are just some of the best ideas we’ve seen to make virtual events as engaging as the real thing. Remember that Swag.com can help you boost engagement for your next event by letting you design fully custom swag boxes you can send directly to participants. Whether they are small tokens of appreciation or fully interactive components of your event, Swag.com will make physically connecting your attendees a breeze.
What are you doing to make your virtual events more engaging? Reach out to email@example.com for a chance to be featured.