While event organizers are getting good at planning in-person, hybrid and online events, booking the right speakers and keeping attendees engaged are still some of the biggest challenges. With online events especially, attendees can get distracted by looking at their phones or trying to multitask during presentations. Moreover, attendance rates for online sessions can be low: Registrants are less likely to show up, as they may get pulled into meetings or simply forget to add events to their calendar. That’s why securing an exciting, engaging speaker and creating a compelling, concise agenda is even more critical than for in-person events.
Here are eight tips from the team at video communication company Livestorm to ensure your event delivers engagement.
1. Find knowledgeable, diverse speakers
Similar to in-person events, online events typically consist of solo presentations, panel discussions and fireside chats. Without audience interaction and engagement, solo presenters have to be experts in their fields who can share personal experiences and stories to keep the audience interested. Speakers should also be diverse and reflect the audience’s makeup, keeping in mind that online events tend to attract an international audience.
2. Keep your event topic and session descriptions very specific
If you’re looking to attract the right audience for your sessions, keep your topic focused. Each title of each session should be clear. Professionals are being pulled in many directions and are invited to multiple events and webinars every day, so it is crucial for them to know exactly what they are going to learn during the session or they will ignore your event. To ensure your event topic matches the audience’s expectations, you can directly ask attendees what they want to see! If your company creates recurring online events, send out a poll to the audience at the end of the event to ask them what they would like to learn about in the next session. Event organizers will then be able to deliver an event agenda that easily responds to their audience’s expectations.
3. Structure the flow of your agenda to keep your attendees engaged
If there are multiple sessions, set them up in order to keep a deeper, heavier presentation or workshop at the beginning of the day when participants are fresh and active, and plan for a lighter topic towards the end of the day. Fireside chats tend to work well toward the end of the day with a more informal, lighter subject as people’s attention span tends to dwindle. It’s also recommended to keep sessions short, around 30-40 minutes.
4. Create interactive content during sessions
Once you get attendees logged into your session, keeping them interested throughout the presentation is the challenge. We recommend launching polls at key moments of your speaker’s presentation on a specific topic. Speakers and event organizers can start the event with a poll, asking questions to attendees at the beginning of the event to create initial engagement, but also all along the session to keep them interested. Allow yourself to digress and have a proper conversation with your audience either by responding to them, bouncing back on the polls or even asking them to join the stage. For example, the speaker can invite everyone to draw on a Miro board in order to add a bit of fun to the session.
Organizers should also brief the speaker to react to the polls and adapt the presentation based on the results. Planning a 15-minute Q&A session at the end of each presentation is also a great way to make the conversation a two-way street. Choosing a platform that allows attendees to upvote the most interesting questions for speakers to answer first can help to keep a lively conversation going.
5. Go social
Build excitement for your speakers and sessions by creating a buzz on your social channels. Create hashtags that are close to the title of the event and easy to promote on social media. They also serve as a good reminder to people who have already registered to show up for the event. After your event ends, you can also host an afterparty on social media to chat with attendees in real time. You can take this time to answer any leftover questions and build relationships with your audience.
6. Use tools from your online events platform to boost attendance and attention
Ensuring a high attendance rate, especially for online events, can be a hurdle for event organizers. That’s why it’s important to adopt an end-to-end platform that has all the integrated features to send reminder emails to all registrants. At Livestorm, we recommend sending a reminder one day before the event and another email one hour before the event starts to make sure that most registrants will tune-in.
Add visuals from your event platform like photos, graphs, charts, video clips or use a digital whiteboard to create visuals, write notes or highlight things during your events. All of these will help you to keep participants engaged.
Finally, follow up with your attendees consistently. Send out an email thanking them for coming and include a survey where they can provide their feedback on the event. This information will be essential when you’re planning future sessions. These emails can also go out to no-shows, especially if you can provide them with the replay of the event.
Online events should continue to be a draw for people post-Covid. From a logistics and cost perspective, they have a clear advantage over in-person events because they can attract a wider, more diverse international audience. But the engagement piece is still a challenge because of all of the distractions of participating remotely and trying to pay attention behind a screen. Exciting speakers, very targeted content, and a tightly crafted agenda is crucial, as much as using tools like online polls and interactive Q&A to transform the attendee experience during online events.
Gilles Bertaux is CEO and co-founder of video communication company Livestorm, which was co-founded in 2016 with Robin Lambert, Tom Forlini and Vincent Garreau. He raised $30M in series B to accelerate Livestorm’s presence in Europe and the U.S.