During the plethora of free webinars and events happening right now, how can you help your virtual event stand out from the crowd?
We’ve heard a lot about how difficult it is to keep people engaged when they’re participating at their desks. It’s probably even harder when they’re working from home, due to all the distractions.
To counter this, try adding an unexpected element: community engagement.
An event community can help you create that sense of connection and engagement that you miss by not being in person.
But it’s not just “feel-good” results. Engagement helps you accomplish your larger goals for the virtual event. Whether you’re running your event to:
- Reach new audiences
- Drive new leads
- Grow your brand through thought leadership
- Educate customers or current members
- Turn freemium users into paying subscribers
The more engaging and valuable your event is, the stickier your event’s impact will be, and the closer you’ll be to achieving those goals.
We’re sharing specific tips for using a community to create an engaging virtual event experience.
By the way, if you’re considering moving your event virtual, we’re offering organizations a free event community to help engage your audience before, during, and after your virtual event, from May through December of 2020.
Host your event on a virtual conferencing tool and then invite attendees to join each other in a community where they can network, exchange ideas, and support each other professionally.
7 Ways to Create an Engaging Virtual Event Experience with Community
If you’re new to the concept of an event community, you can think of it as the event’s digital “home.” You’d run your event with a live conferencing tool and pair that experience with all the engagement tools the community has to offer, like a discussion section and a resource library.
Imagine ending every session at your virtual event with, “Ask your other questions directly to our speaker in our event community.” This is access and connection.
Not sure where to begin with engagement in general?
Your event community can help you make sure attendees continue to find value in the event even after it’s over. They can discuss ideas with each other, ask for notes on sessions they couldn’t attend, and keep up the connections they made at your event.
The event community can also reduce the amount of follow-up work you have to do after the event. You can guide members’ questions to the community, where you can upload presenters’ slide decks and other relevant information.
Try these tactical tips for weaving in community engagement into your virtual event.
1. Turn the Community into a Resource Hub
Do some post-event footwork by uploading your materials and webinar recording to your community. This way, you can continue to engage attendees even after your event ends. They can discuss ideas with each other, ask for notes on sessions they couldn’t attend, and find all presentation materials in one place.
Ask the speakers to share additional resources in the resource library that complement their presentation. Link continuing discussions to your event community and encourage people to share any thoughts or further questions in the discussions. This spurs engagement and the community becomes a source of knowledge for the event.
2. Involve Your Speakers and Experts
Make sure the presenters get involved in the online discussions before and after their sessions. This extra contact with experts is a huge value-add for the attendees. Consider making it part of their speaker agreement.
Create a discussion thread that’s accessible as soon as your session ends, where attendees and speakers can discuss the session. If you can, have your speaker post the initial content so that attendees can respond.
Both you and your presenter should be monitoring the post event thread a few times a week to ensure that all post event questions are answered. This keeps your webinar content relevant and gives the members a sense of direct communication with the presenter.
3. Run “Ask Me Anything” (AMA) Sessions
Following your event, start an AMA thread where your staff and presenters are available in the community to answer questions on an ongoing basis. Ask a couple of other subject matter experts (even experts among your member or customer base) to help your presenter field questions and keep conversation flowing. Pro tip? Tap a couple of attendees that you know are all-in to get conversation started.
4. Create Seed Questions
You can use pre-prepared questions, or seed questions, to help keep contact going. For example, if you have a live webinar, use the questions from your chat log that you weren’t able to answer during the session to create conversation in your community afterward.
Even if you think you have identified a topic that will lead to audience interaction, it’s always best to be prepared to fill those awkward silences especially when moving your event to a virtual format. Collecting seed questions prior to your event will not only avoid that silence, but will also give your speaker an opportunity to prepare responses and give you insight into the interest of the audience.
5. Create More Personal Meetups
For virtual events, try creating smaller online meetups with limited entries so people can connect virtually. Keep the groups smaller so people can interact without a lot of noise. Record those meetups and share with your community or create write-ups of tips and tricks learned from them.
Share a coffee (or beer) with your attendees. Plant informal ice breaker questions to get the conversation going and make the interaction more personal, for example: “Where do you see the future of the industry?”
6. Gamify the Experience
If you want to add a little fun to the day and further encourage engagement, take the opportunity to award people a virtual badge in the community for attending your conference. Another idea is to let your audience know you’ll be randomly awarding prizes, like gift cards, a coupon code for a free course, or LinkedIn Premium memberships to participants on threads throughout the day.
7. Ask for Attendee Feedback
As long as you’re prepared to hear the good and the bad, using your community to seek attendee feedback can be very helpful. You could post a survey in the event community, start a discussion thread specifically for suggestions, or even get one of your super users to start the discussion, in case attendees feel more open sharing when it’s not to you directly.
Lean on Community to Create an Engaging Event Experience
The current crisis makes in-person events difficult – but you can still create engaging, valuable experiences for your audience and reach your overall goals. Try these techniques to make your virtual event stand out.
The COVID-19 crisis is teaching us how the connections we have built and the digital landscape we’re living in can help us stay strong, together, but it’s also proven that engagement is mission-critical.
Online Community Manager
Kaila is a community manager at Higher Logic, concentrating on working with the IBM Community. She specializes in helping local software user groups and their leaders and enjoys bringing the benefits of online collaboration to thousands of IBM Community users around the world. When not supercharging community member engagement, Kaila enjoys a mango White Claw and spending time with her fish, Steven.
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