For the time being, IRL events have gone the way of the dodo: right now, we’re all virtual, all the time. But with Zoom fatigue dimming people’s excitement about events, how do you ensure your virtual experience – be it a 30-minute webinar or a full-on conference – attracts the people you want to attract and keeps them engaged from beginning to end?
We talked to Kimberli Allen, CEO & Founder of Everything Webinar and virtual event guru, to get some tips on keeping people energized, connected and feeling like they're getting value. Here are her top 10 “rules of engagement":
1. Set up your “studio.”
When you’re presenting from your home office, it pays to maximize the equipment you have on hand. Start by picking up an external microphone for your computer; it doesn't cost much, but the difference in sound quality is dramatic. Some basic lighting and an external camera will go a long way as well. Finally, adjust your camera to the most flattering angle (it should be looking down on you slightly).
Want some advice on maxing out your setup? Everything Webinar offers virtual office audits for anyone looking to optimize their virtual presentations. Book a Virtual Office Audit here.
2. Offer a variety of content types.
Keep things interesting with a mix of live streaming, webinars and on-demand content. There is nothing wrong with including pre-recorded elements: it's actually a lot easier to control quality and avoid potential technology issues. Plus, the presenter can interact with attendees in the chat during a recorded session, commenting and answering questions on the fly.
But even if everything else is pre-recorded, always include a live QA at the end so you have a chance to interact with participants, see what they found useful and what they still want to know.
3. Keep it short.
Making your presentations quick, punchy and memorable is what it takes to hold on to people's attention. A three-hour presentation will have them dropping off like flies: try a few shorter sessions instead.
4. Set expectations before you start.
People like knowing what's coming and what you expect them to do. So tell them.
“I say to audiences straight up: I would love to engage with you,” says Kimberli. “In smaller groups, I'll even tell them I may call on them individually during my presentation. And since no one wants to be that person who wasn't paying attention when they're called on, it's a great strategy for keeping them engaged.
5. Teach them the tech.
People are using Zoom, WebEx, Adobe, GoToMeeting, Google Meet and more, and each platform is different. Don't assume participants are familiar with the program you’re using to present. Give them a little direction: if you’re using a whiteboard, for example, walk them through the basics of the features you’ll be using. If you want them to use the chat, have them find it and send you a message to ensure they know how to use it – ask for something simple like where they’re from or the top thing they’re hoping to get out of the event.
“Just yesterday, I sat in on a webinar where the presenters assumed people knew how to find the chat panel in Zoom,” says Kimberli. “Not everyone did, and there was a lot of confusion. With a quick intro, no one would have felt frustrated or excluded, and interaction would have been higher.”
6. Line up a strong team.
Choose a great host who's interesting, dynamic and knows how to “work a screen” by making people laugh, have a-ha moments, feel empathy or react with emotion. And having a producer is important, too. That way the presenter can focus on talking and the producer can go through people’s questions and comments and share them where appropriate.
7. Pre-assign breakout sessions.
At an in-person event, people might already be sitting at tables or they’ll naturally gravitate towards each other when asked to form a smaller group. But that’s a lot harder in the virtual world. So channel your middle school teacher and assign people to groups. If you can, assign a leader who will facilitate the conversation and draw the quieter folks out – just make sure you tell them in advance what you expect them to do.
8. Pepper in fun, unique experiences.
Offer a mindfulness or chair yoga session attendees can do at their desks. Delight people with a stand-up comedy session or get them moving with a virtual version of the seventh inning stretch. It’s a great energizer – and who doesn’t appreciate a little fun.
9. Hand out some really good swag.
Whether you ship items to people’s homes or share links to useful downloads, swag can add a lot of value to the experience. To keep costs comparable to an in-person event, Kimberli recommends removing one item from the swag bag and putting it towards shipping.
“It's an opportunity to surprise and delight,” says Kimberli. “About 10 years ago, I did a series of webinars for an orthopedic association, focused on prosthetic knees. Before the event, we sent each participant a prototype knee that they could pull out and manipulate during the presentation, see how it moved, etc. The doctors loved it! A lot of them still have those knees on display in their offices today.”
10. Emulate an in-person experience in any way you can.
Mimic the structure of an in-person event with amazing keynote speakers and focused breakout sessions people can choose from. Host virtual mixers and networking sessions. Play music. Have everyone get together for lunch (send a gift card in advance or have food delivered to each person’s home for a thoughtful touch).
“If you do it right, people will walk away saying ‘I'm never going to an in-person event again!’” says Kimberli. “Why would they ever get on a plane or spend money on a hotel when they can experience something this good without ever leaving home?”
Want more info on creating a great webinar, online conference or virtual experience?
Connect with Kimberli for more great ideas or talk to the B2B marketing pros at Mezzanine Growth for great insights into connecting with your audience virtually.
And stay tuned for an upcoming ebook on acing virtual experiences, with more tips for enhanced interaction, engaging breakout sessions, ideas for promoting your event and more...coming soon!