Hosting a virtual event in 2020: Five tips to keep your audience engaged

Virtual events have been a hot topic for the industry since the beginning of the pandemic and into the foreseeable future. Andrea Dixon writes about how to deliver a successful virtual event that has measurable outcomes.

This year will go down in history as a significant moment in time for many reasons. It’s been a year of rapid change and steep learning curves for most marketers – and we’re only 6 months in! In the wake of COVID-19, many businesses have been forced to postpone or pivot upcoming events by shifting to an online format. While webcasts provide another way to host an event, marketing teams are under pressure to keep audiences engaged without being physically present.

Being creative with the format and understanding what your customers and prospects really want to hear and see at the time you broadcast will ensure that businesses continue to captivate and engage the audience, despite being stuck behind a screen.

Let’s take a closer look at how to do exactly that:

  1. Determine if your brand narrative warrants an online event

As a first step, marketers need to evaluate if a business will benefit from hosting an online event and whether their audience will leave with the desired key learnings. Marketers must ask themselves whether the content they are planning to offer is still applicable in light of COVID-19, and if it will remain relevant in the future.

For example, at DocuSign, we moved our annual Momentum AU event online and shifted the theme to address the COVID-induced challenges many businesses were facing. Because we pivoted the event to be more relevant to attendees, as well as accessible despite social distancing regulations, we saw eight times more attendees than previous events.

  1. Find a unique approach

Events don’t have to be bound to lengthy webinars or live streamed conferences. Thanks to technology, virtual events have become the ultimate platform for marketers to exercise creativity. Events can include a mix of interactive workshops, how-to product demonstrations, social networking sessions with the ability to incorporate Q&A live chats, and live competition and polling opportunities, just to name a few.

A stellar example is Salesforce’s annual World Tour Sydney Reimagined, which hosted a live ‘battle of the apps’ competition between exhibitors. This event gave the audience the opportunity to watch hands-on product demos in real-time and vote for their favourite app, with the winner announced on Twitter the following day.

Using interactive measures, like social media, is an easy way to engage audiences. according to research by EventMB, 50 percent of marketers use social media to engage attendees during an event and 37 percent use social media to continue to engage audiences post-event in the form of quizzes, polls and more.

  1. Offer insights from credible spokespeople

Many businesses are under pressure at the moment, from turning over a profitable bottom line to looking after staff. With this in mind, it’s important to ensure that speakers have something valuable to say – talking to challenges as well as successes. This will foster a dialogue between speakers and attendees.

Interestingly, 33 percent of organisations who have hosted webinars say that audience engagement is primarily driven by enthusiastic and expert presenters. Inviting guest speakers into the presentation brings credibility, trust and a fresh perspective which can ground the audience’s attention and keep them engaged. Experts deliver an abundance of industry knowledge and direct experience stories. This provides another layer of motivation that will resonate with listeners.

It’s much easier to lose your audience to distractions during a virtual event so keeping the energy high is key and offering a variety of speakers will help keep your audience engaged.

  1. Create measurable deliverables to track the success of the event.

Virtual events are extremely measurable and offer insights that can help improve your next event. Using digital event management tools such as Brightcove or Pigeon Hole, you and your team can measure things like which sessions were the most popular, the number of people who registered their interest and actually attended, and the demographics of attendees.

With only 18 percent of professionals measuring the success of their event accurately, brands need to drill down on what specific outcomes they want to achieve when hosting a virtual event. Goals such as ‘maxing out registration’ or ‘ensure attendees enjoy the presentation’ will not help define your event, nor provide beneficial insight for the wider business. Marketers need to set defined measurables to determine what elements of the event helped drive interest and become a part of the agenda for the next event.

A great example of a measurable outcome is to examine the average viewing minutes of each event session. For instance, if your event is an hour, you could measure how many people joined for 40+ minutes, which would inform the engagement rate of your audience. If viewing minutes are less than half of what they should be, it is clear that something isn’t working.

Of course, this is just one of the many stats you could point to – there is an endless amount of quantifiable stats that can be pulled to measure success, depending on what you are looking for.

  1. Broaden your horizons.

The wonderful opportunity virtual events provide us is to expand our audience to locations beyond what we would have been constrained by hosting a physical event. This is also true of your spokespeople. Think outside of the box and physical location by reaching out to thought leaders, customers and partners who you may not have considered as an audience or spokespeople previously due to geographical constraints.

Looking ahead

It’s important to remember that the factors that determine the success of an online event are different to those that guarantee the success of a physical event. Practice makes perfect, and the more virtual events you do, the more you will learn. The important thing is to give it a go and refine your content and delivery over time. As events continue to move to the virtual domain, now is the time for marketers to get creative and rethink their strategies to ensure they deliver a noteworthy, engaging influential experience.

Andrea Dixon is the marketing director APAC at DocuSign.

Photo by Jason Leung on Unsplash.