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Hybrid Event Survival Guide Series: Maximizing Engagement and Interaction

Virtual attendees need to know that they are an integral part of the event, and want the opportunity to speak, to be heard, and to interact. There are a number of ways to increase the level of engagement, and your choices as an event organizer will depend on your specific goals, technology available, time, and budget.

A major challenge when designing a virtual or hybrid event is creating engagement and providing opportunities for interactivity. Virtual attendees need to know that they are an integral part of the event, and want the opportunity to speak, to be heard, and to interact. There are a number of ways to increase the level of engagement, and your choices as an event organizer will depend on your specific goals, technology available, time, and budget.

There are a number of different methods for your attendees to interact within the event, both in the real world and virtually.

Q&A sessions usually occur after a talk, where all attendees can participate by submitting questions through text chat. When dealing with large groups, it’s important to have a moderator who can present the questions that come in through chat, along with allowing live audience members to deliver the questions themselves. As a moderator, it can be helpful to have pre-prepared questions to get the Q&A session started. Q&A sessions can also be used when panel discussions are live streamed during your hybrid event. It can be more engaging when audience questions are introduced throughout the panel presentation, not just at the end.

A networking lounge is one way to promote attendee interaction and provide a number of ways for attendees to communicate. Some available features include: facilitated discussions that encourage attendees to informally share their experiences; happy-hour group chats and roundtables; instant messaging; ‘who’s online?’; and vcard sharing.

In support of networking, some platforms offer matching services. When registering for the virtual conference, attendees are asked to answer a few questions about their interests. They are then automatically matched with other participants so they can chat, share schedules, and interact as they choose. In some cases, participants may also have the opportunity to network with conference co-chairs and speakers throughout the event.

Speed networking is often jokingly referred to as the business version of speed dating. It allows participants to connect with many people in a short amount of time. The short, time structured meetings usually happen one-on-one for brief info exchanges. After the event, individuals have the choice to decide who they will follow up with. Another advantage is that they can be held on a regular basis, not just in conjunction with an annual event, keeping your brand in front of attendees and potential attendees throughout the year. These frequent events can be broken down by various themes, such as specific areas of interest, stage in the career path, or physical location. Speed networking can be a great way to meet potential business contacts, clients, leads, or jobs.

A breakout session is a short session where a specific group of attendees gather to discuss a specific topic within the conference’s broader theme or topic. Usually, several breakout sessions happen in parallel for a designated period, after which everyone rejoins the larger group, sometimes sharing their feedback and conclusions.

Breaking up a larger group into smaller focused groups can be a challenge, and will depend on the nature of your audience. Pre-registration for sessions can be useful to define the group. Some factors that can be used to form the breakout sessions include interest in the topic; experience in the industry; region; language; gender; and more.

Participants will gain the most benefits from a breakout session if there is a defined objective such as a discussion or brainstorming of a specific topic, or an activity to complete.

A virtual event manager will handle everything on the digital side so that your real-world staff can stay focused on being physically present. This person will be responsible for handling the set-up of the event and ensuring that all is running smoothly throughout the event duration. Their role may include assisting in the design of the login page for your event’s website, with instructions for navigating and participating in the event. They will be responsible for making sure all set up and testing has been performed in advance of the event; create an event checklist; and ensure that all has been completed. This role may be combined with that of a…

During a long day of attending sessions, a quick game can help break the ice and bring your attendees together. For instance, you can have attendees group themselves and play pub trivia. You could also have your attendees perform pixel art using online spreadsheets. Online bingo is another trending game you could play with your attendees to keep them live and entertained. The goal is to break the monotony and bring life to the virtual sessions.

Virtual event gamification takes the traditional elements of games, gaming, and competition and adds them to your event. Attendees have the opportunity to collect points that can be used towards prizes and/or raffle entry tickets. Scavenger hunts, trivia questions, exhibitor passports that are virtually stamped by exhibitors or by session moderators, contests, and awards for defined actions – such as participating in a Q&A session – can all be used to engage your audience. Event games can run throughout the whole event or just for a specified time. When planning games, it’s important to be sure that the rules of the game are provided in writing, with clear instructions. And, prior to the event, play the game amongst your team to identify any problems.

Polling offers a great way to measure how engaged an audience is with content. It gives your speakers and moderators the ability to ask pre-planned, uniform questions with single or multiple choice answers. The moderator can share the poll results for a period of time and present the live results as they come in from the audience. These poll results can be used to change the presentation on the fly, and can also aid in planning future events. It’s important to create your poll questions and surveys before the event and test them on your event platform to be sure that they look and perform the way you expect. Your live polling app should have features such as polls that can be activated at the exact moment they’re required during your session, and the ability to show the attendees’ answers in real-time.

When concluding your event, be sure that your attendees know how to easily keep in touch with you, your exhibitors and sponsors, and with each other. Let them know how to access any content you have available, whether in the form of a library or videos on demand. And, if you are planning mini-events, speed networking, or other events throughout the year, make sure they are on the calendar!

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