If you’ve ever been to a live talk show—or even a taping—you might recall that they usually have a person come out to warm up the crowd. She or he might tell a few jokes and let you know how to engage and get involved—applause signs, audience participation cues. I recall this from attending The Late Show With David Letterman once—that and how cold the Ed Sullivan Theater was. Apparently David liked it chilly.
I read something this week in Associations Now that reminded me of that, in respect to virtual events, including webinars.
“It’s very important to bring a specific level of intention to your virtual event to help your audience understand how they can have the best experience,” said Beth Surmont, 360 Live media director of experience design, in a recent ASAE webcast. “Tell them how to engage. For example, submit your questions here. Raise your hand this way.”
Surmont offered four dimensions to think about: engagement: physical, physiological, intellectual, and emotional. For the physical dimension, for example, consider where people are participating from and offer tips on how they can create the best environment for themselves, light, sound, etc.
Here are more engagement tips for virtual events:
Polling questions. These “are super helpful when it comes to engaging with a live audience,” writes Omeda. “It allows the audience to provide their own feedback when a speaker poses a question and to feel like they are a part of the conversation. Not only do they make the virtual event more personal, but the information can also be used for research on a specific topic that you or the speaker may want to know more about.” Adds Jeffrey Cufaude from Idea Architects: “Polls can be used… at the start as a ‘pre-test,’ throughout the webinar to assess needs or facilitate content application, and/or at the end as a review. Announce a response rate goal to prod recalcitrant folks to engage.”
Open mic night. I haven’t seen this phrased this way, but it makes sense. “This is a tricky, scary and exciting idea!,” Omeda writes. “What better way to allow your audience to have their voice be heard than with an open mic session? Have an open mic night or forum with a group of people to share what trends, good and bad, they are seeing, and invite audience members to join the meeting to listen.” I’d say 4 or 5 pm would be best, and bring your own beverage of choice.
Build a virtual environment that’s conducive to conversation. “While pre-recording sessions often gets a bad rap,” said Matchbox Virtual cofounder and CEO Arianna Rehak, doing so allows speakers to engage actively in the conversation that is going on while attendees are watching their session. “The speakers love this by the way,” she said. “They are seeing their content come to life.” Of course, you want to add a live Q&A after, if possible.
Offer amusement or trivia between sessions. Just like we might gamify attendees’ visits to exhibitors with a check-off list, we could run a trivia contest with questions between sessions. And then give a prize at the end to who got the most questions right or some equivalent to pieces of candy in the giant bowl. “Really, the world is your oyster in terms of what you can offer attendees during these breaks,” Rehak said, adding meditation to the mix.
Make the comments visible. Seeing a steady stream of comments should be one of the advantages of a virtual event. “If you can see the chat, that’s fun; it gets the audience interested and engaged through the Q&A,” said Christine Weiser from Tech & Learning. I second that!
Share all follow-up resources in the community. “This way, you can continue to engage attendees even after your event ends,” said Kaila Timmons, Higher Logic’s community manager, strategic services. “They can discuss ideas with each other, ask for notes on sessions they couldn’t attend, and find all presentation materials in one place. Ask the speakers to share additional resources in the resource library that complement their presentation.”