Before the pandemic, virtual corporate events were far and few between. But now they have become the norm in this era of social distancing. It is hard enough to encourage engagement and participation during in-person events and now many are struggling to find ways to boost audience engagement during their virtual events.

Since this is such a new way of hosting events, it’s crucial to step outside of the box as well as utilize your resources. Most modern platforms have features to encourage engagement such as polling, chat boxes, break-out rooms, hand raising features and Q&A sessions. However, most of the time these features aren’t quite enough. Here are 9 ways to boost attendee engagement at virtual events.

1. Host Interactive Real-Time Sessions

This is our most crucial tip for hosting online events. Nobody wants to sit through an endless array of pre-recorded webinars, so it’s important to customize and tailor some of your sessions for real-time. Some ways to promote real-time engagement include real-time polls and surveys and Q&A opportunities. You could also give your attendees opportunities to take over portions of your virtual event. This would, of course, require notifying them ahead of time so they are prepared and not put on the spot. You’ll also need to make sure that you’re ready to share virtual hosting capabilities. Incorporating real-time engagement opportunities helps to close the gap between people who love virtual meetings and people who hate them. This helps attendees to feel like they are a part of the event.

2. Provide Access to Digital Content

If you’re joining a corporate event, you’re usually there with a desire to learn, grow and reach goals. It’s important to make the event worth it to your attendees. Easy access to useful content will help to elevate their experience and enable them to fuel their interests with helpful resources. This might include published online work, pre-recorded sessions from previous events, tips, guides, outlines that can be printed and organized pages to record thoughts. It’s important to provide materials that can be in digital or print form as many people still prefer to have a printed copy to write on. You might also provide calendars with future events filled in to entice your attendees to come back. Depending on the event you’re hosting, you may decide to incorporate humor and provide everyone with some humorous quotes or memes to break the ice. Tangible elements will help the event to feel more personable.

3. Give Quizzes to Break up the Event and Keep Attendees Alert

It’s important to plan activities so that attendees aren’t sitting and listening to a talking head the entire time — we all know that is a snooze-fest. Quizzes can be a great way to keep attendees engaged and alert. If people know they might be quizzed, they’ll make sure to follow along and absorb the information. Quizzes can also be very insightful and educational, which is what corporate events are all about. Those who are exceptionally competitive will love the idea of quizzes. An effective method might be using a pop-up feature that appears on screen and gives attendees a few seconds to plug in an answer and show they are participating.

4. Provide Awards

It’s a universal truth: everyone likes rewards. One way to provide awards for engagement is to use gamification. Gamification is the use of mechanics traditionally associated with video games in non-game scenarios. This usually entails assigning points, ranks and badges to attendees based on their participation levels. You might take it a step further and organize an interactive game like a virtual scavenger hunt. All you have to do is provide a list of items that your attendees will have to find in their home, office or wherever they are tuning in from. Scavenger hunts allow attendees to use their minds, be creative, break out of their shells and get involved. The winner will earn a prize.

5. Incorporate Social Media

Our world is constantly immersed in social media, so there’s no better way to promote your event and encourage networking than to set up personal social media channels on all the popular platforms. You can set up dedicated LinkedIn groups or Facebook pages based on the topics being covered at your virtual event. These groups and pages can be used before, during and after your event to encourage engagement, connection and unity. This could also be a great way to post updates and materials for your event. Social media is also a perfect place to post surveys and questionnaires prior to your virtual event to better tailor your event for your participants.

6. Make Accommodations

A major perk of virtual events is that their reach is basically limitless. If your attendees include non-English speakers, no problem. They can easily be included–just make sure you provide accommodations such as translations. If you are using Zoom for your event, you can turn on interpretation in the meeting controls to have certain people act as interpreters for those who don’t speak English. As black-owned event planners, we strive to promote diversity, equity and inclusion for every event we plan. It’s important to make every single attendee feel like they are an important part of your event. This might also include providing tech instructions for attendees who are not particularly tech-savvy. Taking some extra time to provide accommodations will always be worth your while.

7. Give Breaks Throughout the Event

One of the biggest downsides of virtual events is that they can lose people over time due to screen fatigue. However, events won’t seem as long and draining if you give breaks in between sessions. Try features like breakout rooms for group yoga, show-and-tell, paid entertainment, virtual happy hour, and virtual games. Or you can give “free time” breaks to allow attendees to go to the bathroom, grab lunch, tend to their family, make a phone call or whatever else they need to squeeze in between sessions.

We know it may be hard to adjust to the new norm of virtual everything, but if executed well, virtual events provide many creative opportunities for corporate conference planning that in-person events don’t. We have loved helping our clients plan hybrid and virtual events. Creativity and organization are the name of the game for a winning outcome. Questions on how to make it happen? We’re always here to help you step outside the box and plan the virtual event of the year!