Excitement. Camaraderie. A palpable sense of togetherness.
This is what we feel every time we walk into an in-person event. This is what drives us even more to gather together after two years of virtual solitude.
And yet we’ve found so much value to be had from virtual that the hybrid event format is becoming the gold standard … but only when done well.
Virtual attendees are every bit as important to the success of hybrid events as local attendees are, but all too often can be made to feel like they’re relegated to the cheap seats and their attendance matters little, if at all.
Your online audience is We & Goliath’s primary focus.
These tips and tricks can go a long way towards making a giant impact as you grow a national or even global audience!
Easy Ways to Engage Virtual Attendees in a Hybrid Event
Start Here: No-Cost Methods to Bring the Voice of Remote Attendees Into the Room
The easiest way to go beyond a passive live stream is to forward chat messages and questions from online attendees to speakers, who read those messages from stage.
Don’t forget to verbally ask the online attendees for this feedback so they feel invited and included. It sounds obvious, but many speakers aren’t used to doing it, so it does take some reminders and examples to ensure it happens.
So, how do you get online responses to the speakers?
In a premium production setup, questions are often shown to speakers on confidence monitors (small displays facing the stage).
Or, here are two no-cost methods to forward those messages from remote attendees to in-person speakers:
1. A support staff can filter and read these out to the speakers on a mic (representing your online audience)
2. If you have a podium, the speakers can simply read messages directly off a mobile phone or laptop.
Pro Tip: Don’t underestimate the power of chat. Asking questions throughout a presentation and reading off funny or insightful responses goes a long way to making people feel included.
Offer Exclusive Online-Only Q&A Sessions with Speakers
Make your online attendees feel special with some exclusive speaker access. This helps overcome the FOMO of not being in-person.
Here’s an easy way to do it:
Consider asking speakers to join the chat after their sessions and reply to some questions and comments from the virtual attendees that didn’t have time to be answered in person.
Pro Tip: Take it a step further by hosting an exclusive Q&A on video! Right after the speaker comes off stage, they’re usually fired up. Capture that energy in a rapid fire Q&A just for remote attendees.
Collect Comments & Takeaways As Social Post Replies for Tons of Free Views
At the end of a session, ask everyone to share their takeaways as a reply to a post you make on your favorite Social channel.
What’s so special about that?
This is a great way to hack the social media algorithms because, by getting a high number of replies and reactions to a single post, your post will be shown at the top of people’s feeds, piquing new interest in your events.
Pro Tip: For bonus points, request the social post replies from the stage, and flash a QR code that links right to the post on screen with a matching link in the chat; then watch the engagement roll in from both audiences!
Give an Attendance Award to Keep People Watching
One way to maximize viewing time is to announce that at a few random times throughout the event, you’ll be giving out secret keywords people can use to enter a prize drawing. Use survey software to capture and score the responses. Pick a random winner from the list of everyone who gets a 100% score and get ready to watch your average session view time skyrocket.
Pro Tip: This same method works great if you need to verify attendance to give out CEUs (continuing education units).
Customize Instructions for Both Audiences from Stage to Prevent Confusion
If you don’t have a dedicated virtual host, you’ll need to give speakers a script to announce any special instructions for virtual guests like what to do during breaks, and how to interact at key times – such as responding to questions or polls.
Pro Tip: If you have a producer running a custom livestream you can show instructions on slides for virtual attendees only so your host doesn’t have to read them off. And of course, those same instructions and any action links should be placed in the chat.
Use Hand Raise Polls for Instant-Feedback
Run a quick “pulse-of-the-room” poll asking your virtual attendees to raise their hand and then do the same for your in-person attendees, showing each audience on screen. Asking people to do simple physical actions keeps them awake and engaged too.
Offer Virtual-only Content like On-Demand Videos, Breakouts, Workshops, and more.
Give attendees opportunities for deeper levels of engagement with each other and your content with virtual-only workshops, breakouts or networking sessions. This can be offered while similar content is happening in person or during breaks and mealtimes. If your whole event is in Zoom or similar software, virtual production staff can push people to and from breakouts, sending messages, and countdown clocks. At larger conferences, you might have multiple simultaneous virtual workshops, which each offer small group breakouts. With a custom livestream, you can introduce this virtual-only content on screen along with chat messages to guide attendees.
Advanced Engagement Strategies for Hybrid Events
Project Virtual Attendees & Their Reactions into the Room
Instead of the no-cost approach of having speakers check virtual responses on their phone we can project content from the virtual attendees to confidence monitors or screens around the room. This could include featured questions and comments being shown on screen. A gallery view of attendees on the side wall for example is a great way for speakers and in-person attendees to see and interact with the virtual audience, and is a pre-requisite for our next strategy…
Have Fun & Liven Things Up with Follow the Leader Dance Breaks
Many long events have guided stretch breaks to wake people up. Let’s take that up a notch! Liven up an event and give the virtual attendees some love with “follow the leader” dance breaks between sessions where you spotlight some of the best virtual dancers making them full screen, and have everyone else (including the in person attendees) follow their dance moves. Each time the spotlight changes, the audiences follows the new leader. This is a super fun, empowering, and bonding activity that literally puts your virtual audience in the spotlight.
Tip: Have a few initial dance leaders planned who will set the tone with fun, easy-to-follow moves.
Merge Your Audience Input with Combined Chat, Q&A & Poll Data
It sounds simple, but one of the best ways to get virtual attendees to feel included is by, well, including their opinions on equal footing with your local audience. By posting a QR code on screen and matching it with a clickable link in the virtual chat, you can gather heaps of aggregate data from both audience segments and discuss it in real-time. Make sure your local attendees can submit and upvote questions in the same Q&A space as your online attendees, and give your presenters an opportunity to answer those questions both on-stage and off. Encourage your local attendees to jump into the online chat with their phones so all your attendees have a chance to interact. You’ll be amazed by how many, “Hey! I see you’s” pop up when friends recognize friends.
Tip: Be sure the app/link you give local attendees doesn’t easily let them unmute the livestream or you’ll have a lot of “ssshhh”ing going on.
Hire a Virtual Emcee to Maximize Engagement & Interactivity
Want to truly maximize interactivity for your online attendees? Provide a dedicated remote host or emcee to augment your on-site presenters. This person would occasionally take over the livestream to help give some extra, specific attention to your online audience, helping to add some additional value to the virtual content. By including a virtual emcee, you can turn time that’s otherwise wasteful to your online attendees – such as on-site announcements, quick coffee breaks, or even long pauses between on-stage speakers – to your advantage by flipping their experience from passive watching to active engagement.
Tip: Ideally, the virtual host is counted in and out by a technical director to maintain a tight run-of-show. Otherwise, they may accidentally talk over main-stage content, or stop talking too early and leave everyone with an awkward gap.
Multistream Teaser Content to Social Channels to Increase Reach & Registrations
Even at a paid event, you might consider streaming out your opening plenary or keynote to social media for free. We can “multistream” to one or more Facebook, YouTube, Linkedin, and Twitter pages simultaneously! Livestream video gets the most organic reach of any content on social media, so you’ll reach followers who may not have seen any of your pre-event messages. Of course, you’ll want to include a shout out to the social audience and invite them to sign up to join the rest of the event. This can be a great way to capture last minute registrations.
Get permission to stream to the pages of your key speakers, sponsors and partners to increase your reach to the fullest.
Offer streams in multiple languages with a real time interpreter.
Use a tool to aggregate and reply to comments from those social platforms in one place and even show them on screen with the person’s name and photo!
Mail Your Remote Guests an Event Kit & Tell Them When & How to Use It
Send a virtual swag box with branded and sponsor gifts, snacks, etc.
Consider including physical reaction cards with words or emojis allowing you to visually pull the audience from the stage. These are great when glued on popsicle sticks so attendees can easily hold up a visual response. If you’re projecting gallery view into the room, you could pan through 50 attendees at a time, showing your speakers and in-person attendees the virtual real time responses. And if budgets are tight, offer up a web page full of free, printable “reactions” that attendees’ children can color in advance of the event, adding an even bigger personal touch to the experience.
In summary, the main way to engage your virtual attendees is simply to pay an equal amount of attention to them as you will your on-site audience! It’s about making all of your guests feel seen, heard, and included.
With all the details of a hybrid event to manage, it’s often easy to overlook the less quantifiable metric of emotional value your audience is going to place on the event. In other words, most of your competitors aren’t doing it, and that gives you a chance to surprise and delight. We say, let next-level engagement become your competitive advantage!
By making your events equally as memorable for each segment of your audience, you’re investing in their buy-in for the next event. That is the most important investment you can make in your events, and often the easiest way to make a GIANT impact.