Creating engagement during any event is challenging and whether you are a featured speaker, exhibitor, or a panel guest, everyone has different techniques to engage their audience. And when it comes to hybrid experiences, engaging two different audiences at the same time is brand new territory for a lot of speakers and exhibitors.
Virtual Comes First
What people may forget is that the in-person audience is so emotionally invested in the full onsite experience that they don’t necessarily need to be put first because they have the freedom to experience so much on their own. If you prioritize your onsite audience, that can hurt engagement for the virtual audience. When engaging in a hybrid setting, speakers must not forget the group of people who are not actually there, but are there.
Take a second and really think about what your virtual attendee isn’t experiencing compared to that in-person. People don’t always consider the difference between the experiences. An in-person audience can walk around the event as they please, make conversation with others, and they are constantly surrounded by something intriguing to capture their attention.
For the virtual attendee, it's not quite the same.
Most likely these people are in their office, and there is a good chance there isn’t another audience member sitting right next to them. Without the hype music, lighting, smells, and laughter, the virtual experience isn’t as electric.
Accept that virtual must come first. If there is no effort to put virtual audience members first, they might wish they were in person. But if your event can target and create an exciting environment virtually, you can foster digital engagement and, if done right, the virtual and in-person audience can both engage together and no one is left out.
Tips to target virtual first:
Change your mindset: what worked in-person won’t work virtually.
The people who attend events online tend to be different learners compared to in-person attendees. Although attendees will always be attendees, if your event doesn’t acknowledge both attendees separately, who fit into different personas, you most likely are not trying to create a unique experience for both audiences.
Virtual attendees are behind a computer screen, attached to an online profile, and are hidden behind a chat wall. There has to be different engagement opportunities for those who attend online because they are attending a whole different event universe. You must recognize these two different experiences before you can work to connect them together. If you assume your virtual audience can experience a similar in-person experience by just streaming the event, you’re missing the mark.
Recognition: Don’t forget about them!
If you are in an in-person setting, the excitement is generated through the event experience, but a virtual audience must have another aspect to hype it up; there must be a dynamic similar to the experience in person. Speakers must not forget about their virtual audience. Whether that’s getting a group of virtual attendees on the main stage or actively participating with their chat, the virtual audience has to be recognized throughout main stage and roundtable discussions.
Make them feel like a part of the in-person audience.
One great example of an engaging hybrid experience is a Peloton biking course. Peloton Instructors live off engagement. If they aren’t engaging, they aren’t creating a dynamic workout atmosphere. A few ways that they keep up engagement is by speaking directly to the virtual biker. That notion of simply picking out “you” while you workout is a big motivator. Instructors also put mirrors behind them that show the in-person audience which makes virtual bikers feel like they are part of a larger in-person experience. If you can make the virtual audience feel like they are part of the global in-person community, digital attendees will be engaged.
Understand the Importance of Community
You have to see both audiences as two different entities, but both are part of the community that you have to keep engaged. If your attendees, whether in-person or virtual, don’t believe they are part of a grander community, they most likely don’t feel like they are a part of the event at all.
A community is a group of people who feel like they belong to something because they share the same values with other people in that community. Think back to Peloton and their drive for engagement and community. Peloton is all about community and they even advertise people who subscribe to their service as Peloton community members. Community is key because it makes people feel like they belong to something bigger than themselves. The people who attend your event are looking to be a part of something bigger than just a “workout group” or just an average “event attendee.”
People are also looking for other groups of people to connect over different things that they enjoy. But if associations don't see their digital attendees as part of the global community with those in person, digital attendees can feel isolated and disengage.
When you establish community and make everyone feel like they are a part of it, you can increase digital engagement.
One thing that any event planner or speaker needs to understand: virtual attendees have endless entertainment, social media, and other distractions just one simple website tab away. If there is no creativity within the session to keep people entertained, they can easily go find something else that will. If an in-person attendee isn’t excited about the session they are attending, they can get up and explore the other exciting aspects of the event. However, for someone who is a virtual attendee, they may only have one or two hours to explore the digital event, or maybe they are only attending a few live sessions for the day. That means a virtual attendee is experiencing your content with far less time flexibility compared to someone who’s committed to a full day event experience onsite.
The good news is successful hybrid events are all around us to spark creativity. Another great example to look to for virtual creativity and engagement are video game streamers. Streamers often create fun ways to interact with their communities and those silly interactive elements to their stream are what get people to come back. Simply acknowledging a new viewer, actively chatting with community members, and using the platform's engagement tools go a long way when keeping audiences engaged. If your event is using interactive event platforms, most of them offer different engagement tools. Make sure you are using them! Emojis, polling, and rewards all add engagement for your virtual attendees.
Streamers also create a full brand around who they are and what they enjoy. Remember, people are coming to you because they like you and want to hear what you have to say. If you can make everyone feel like they are part of your brand or community, people will feel welcome and they will feel like the host wants them back too. The best way for streamers to get viewers to come back is to create not only entertaining content, but to provide a space where people can connect with one another over the things they enjoy. Sharing the interest of a game, topic, or event with a group of people is what brings everyone together and if that atmosphere is welcoming people to the grander community, people will not feel left out. Look to create out-of-the-box networking opportunities that both audiences can participate in.
Whether your audience is in-person or virtual, engagement is vital. If you can create a community around the event experience by enabling synchronous tools for interactivity, you can change your event beyond tomorrow.