The event scene has changed significantly in the last three years, given the rise of virtual and hybrid formats, and attendee engagement has evolved along with it. So, what is the best way to engage an audience nowadays? We asked marketers and event professionals worldwide for their best event engagement tips. Read on to master attendee engagement in 2023 and beyond.
1. Create a custom hashtag
Create the hashtag way before the event and share it with your attendees on the registration website, any goodie bag materials you give them. Learn how to find the perfect hashtag and how to avoid hashtag hijacking.
Collect all that content that attendees, influencers and speakers post using the hashtag and curate it on a live hashtag social wall that you can then display at the event and embed on any website or event platform.
Owner | Content Specialist | Social Media Guru at WildThorn Media
Creating a custom hashtag is a surefire way to keep your audience engaged before, during, and even after your event. During your event, you can input any content associated with the hashtag using a social wall display; after the event, you can repurpose the content on your social channels to keep the event’s momentum going!
2. Start the conversation early on
You’ve probably heard at least one person rave about the power of email marketing. It’s true. And it extends to event marketing as well. Email is a beautiful channel that you can use to keep in touch with your attendees, communicate your hashtag early on, and ensure that they have all the information they need. The more informed your guests, the better prepared they will absorb and engage in the event.
Different mail merge software can be really useful when it comes to e-mail marketing for events, giving you the ability to send bulk emails while personalizing them individually.
Co-Founder & Event Web Specialist at Bbr Web Design
Right from the moment they register for your event, build steps into your attendee journey, which require your attendees to take action. With small steps, you will be inviting them to engage with you, and you will be training them for the day of your event. This could be asking about dietary requirements or accessibility, getting them to share something on social, inviting them to participate in a contest to win a prize, with quizzes, asking what they are looking forward to at the event.
CEO at bseenlive.com
Don’t wait for the day of your event to engage with your attendees. Instead, send them an email immediately after they register and start a conversation making it easier for them to participate during your event.
3. Make your event accessible
When planning an event, we can all agree that there’s one universal goal — to ensure everyone has a fantastic time. Yet, more often than not, accommodating accessibility is an afterthought in event marketing. If you want everyone to have fun, make sure every component of your events is accessible to every single participant.
Head Of Content at Swapcard
Whether your event is 100% online or whether you’re adding virtual access to your in-person event for those unable to travel, you’re on the right track. By adding an online attendance option, your content and networking become automatically more accessible to a global audience. Your chance of high return on investment increases as you welcome a larger audience than ever before. Making your tickets free does even more for accessibility and community-building. A virtual platform can also offer real-time translation or subtitles for live sessions and the interface can be used in an array of languages.
B2B Marketing & Event AdvisorB2B at myAbility Social Enterprise GmbH
My best tip for event engagement is to make the event as accessible as possible for everyone. Truly inclusive events are a benefit to all, whether they take part online or on location.
4. Make sure you have a great host for your event
To make your virtual or hybrid event a complete success, it is essential to have the right host. The advantages of an experienced moderator are noticeable for organizers, speakers and participants. A good host will guide your participants from A to B, engage them and create the best possible experience. If you’re the host of an event, make sure that you are well rested and relaxed.
Co-Founder & Event Web Specialist at Bbr Web Design
Have a real live element to your event with a host whose main task is to promote interactivity. Having an element that directly speaks to your attendees, asks questions, answers then, mentions people by the name from the chat, gets the audience to do some type of task or game.
Artist at Caricature Art by Dennis Porter
After drawing caricatures at live events for forty years and watching the hosts struggle to make it all work, here is one of my best suggestions… Schedule about 60-90 minutes to rest, eat and RELAX before your big event. Too many hosts work right up to the deadline and end up way too nervous and exhausted to be much fun.
5. Stay concise and relevant
Communication is by far one of the most valuable skills that event professionals need to have. Effective communication is the key to event engagement. There are three communication principles that will help you keep attendees and speakers on the same page and run an engaging event. Just stick to the 3 Cs of effective communication: be clear, concise and consistent.
Marketing Specialist at Stoelzle Glass Group
I like to begin with a theme for the event. Something that ties together all of the speakers, breakouts and activities. The theme is a unifier and can lend itself to many engagement opportunities, such as live-tweeting, a unified hashtag and ice breakers, all stemming from the overarching theme.
Social Media Manager at The Social Lab YYZ
Be concise with the information provided while the event is being held and make sure the content it’s related to the topic of the event all the time.
6. Encourage communication even during virtual & hybrid events
Even though hybrid and virtual events allow us to bring more people together, it can be harder to generate that shared, cohesive experience for all attendees. But virtually, attendees can easily participate if you ask them to. Just make sure that your communication is clear.
Event Planner at CNA Corporation
Encourage collaboration and communication for virtual events by asking attendees to unmute themselves, have the camera on and utilize the chat feature. Start the event with a fun icebreaker to make attendees feel comfortable speaking.
Event Production Manager in Houston, TX
The viewing experience needs to feel like you’re there live for hybrid events. Don’t forget to mic your audience! The energy exchange between a speaker and the crowd is essential; adding live audience audio into the digital event allows you to invite the virtual attendees into the live experience.
7. Do something fun and create a friendly atmosphere
Adding some humor and fun interactions goes a long way to breaking up an event and creating a more relaxed atmosphere. Here are a few great suggestions from our event professionals.
To keep the audience engaged throughout your event, my main tip is to keep content relevant and unique. Games and contests are always great to keep participation high and active during your events.
PhD CFEE, Retired Festival & Event Manager & Professor
Move spectators to be physically and creatively collaborative. Overload their senses (5 basic + modalities). Rollercoaster their emotions. I call this organic festivity.
Event Director at Faversham House
Do something fun that will give visitors a reason to stop at your stand. Anything with a competitive element always works. The best one I saw was 2 arcade-style racing game chairs – visitors were challenged to beat the MD of the company. A scoreboard was kept and people kept coming back to have another go.
Marketing Manager at Fraunhofer Austria
Never stop engaging your audience by simply creating a friendly and pleasant event atmosphere and specifically asking them to participate.
8. Reward engagement, but keep it all sustainable
If you’re rewarding your attendees with cool swag, consider eco-friendly swag items that your attendees are sure to use and re-use! People feel bad throwing things away, and it’s also not eco-friendly. Some options include eco-friendly/recycled notebooks, plants and seed packets, reusable tote bags, recycled backpacks, and more. If you want to provide branded clothing, consider sourcing from companies that ethically and sustainably source their items. Also, check to see if they print using environmentally friendly inks.
Senior Product Marketing Manager at FireStart
Show your participants ways to have fun sustainably. That makes them proud of themselves too.
9. Create breathing room in your agenda
The attention span of the human mind is limited, so sessions shouldn’t run more than an hour and a half without a break. During conferences, guest participation can be very static, so it’s a good idea to balance that immobility. Dynamic activities will make your guests feel renewed vigor.
Content Marketing Manager at Walls.io
Hire an instructor and schedule a 15-minute workout session during some of the breaks. The best workout option would be accessible for all audiences, such as an easy dance, light yoga or simple exercises targeting one part of the body (such as back pain) — and offer alternatives for all abilities. Everyone will be thankful for the active break, and their brains will be fully oxygenated and ready to pay attention to the next speaker.
Head of Content at Swapcard
Create breathing room in your agenda (one we learned first-hand while running Evolve virtual events over the past two years!). If you have several hours or days of content in your schedule, chances are your audience will need a break. Leave space for calculated coffee, email, and lunch breaks as well as some breathing room before and after sessions. You’ll not only relieve the production crew’s pressure of sticking to a tight schedule, but you’ll also improve the experience for your attendees
10. Use an app to engage attendees
A few years back, an event app was essentially the digital version of the event’s agenda. Today, it’s so much more. It’s an essential tool for anyone attending your event: attendees, sponsors, speakers and exhibitors, plus your team members and sales representatives. An event app is a unique communication channel. It helps you keep your audience alert and engaged with live polling, well-timed push notifications to announce important sessions and surveys to capture valuable feedback.
Marketing Manager at We Market Events
There are many creative ways to adapt an event app so that your attendees can engage with the event via the app. Another great way to boost event engagement is to host in-event activities or competitions that are linked to relevant social media pages.
Marketing Specialist at Stoelzle Glass Group
As you come across attendees with a variety of engagement interest levels, is to utilize an app for the event. Even those shy folks who tend to steer away from in-person engagement will interact. Especially if prompted to post about favourite moments or takeaways of the event on the app.
11. Connect your virtual audience with your in-person audience
Events with mixed virtual and in-person audiences are a great way to expand your reach and make your gatherings more accessible. However, this format has its unique challenges as there’s always the risk of favoring one audience’s experience over the other’s.
Head of Content at Swapcard
Use group chats increase networking and open feedback. On an event platform being used by your in-person and virtual audiences, there are many “places” where people can interact and network. A group chat is a conversation with a specific topic where people can post messages, respond, and meet like-minded people – no matter if they’re virtual or physical visitors. Think of creative subject lines like “Share your best & worst experiences in (choose your topic)” to bring people together around a common theme. You can also create a group chat specifically for feedback about the event. This creates a sense of transparency and trust and shows your audience your team is open to hearing what they have to say. Bonus points if you respond quickly and make suggested improvements during your event!
Events & Marketing Manager at Klir
Connecting the virtual audience with the in-person audience as events become more hybrid is crucial to event success through technology and smart thinking. Some thoughts are having matchmaking or networking events so that a live audience can connect with a virtual audience and walk them around the trade show floor so they can experience it as if they were in person.
12. Understand your audience and meet their expectations
There are few more disappointing things than going to an event and hearing speakers give sales pitches about their companies or products. Instead, gear your content to your listeners’ knowledge, experience, and interests. Having your speakers deliver exciting and inspiring talks is a significant engagement factor.
Director at IQPC Exchange
My biggest tip would be to understand your audience. Spend enough time speaking to the market – understand who they want to hear from and why, really dig into the challenges your end-user audience are facing and build your content around this. The rest falls into place.
13. Always have a plan B
For peace of mind, always try to have a plan B handy in case something doesn’t go according to the initial plan. Live events are challenging and things will not always go the way you want them to.
Creative Director, Event Producer and EA
Always overprepare. More is definitely more. The problems or plan B’s, might not occur, but knowing exactly what you will do should they arise, will make you feel calmer and things will run smoothly regardless. Having a contingency plan is no good, if the contingency plan has flaws.
14. Don’t forget to thank everyone
A happy attendee will likely share their experience with their colleagues or their social media network after the event. Make sure that you ask for their feedback and, most importantly, thank everyone for their participation.
Communication and Event Manager at Lexogen GmbH
No matter if you are preparing a virtual or hybrid event or an in-person gathering – don’t forget to go the extra mile and thank all of the people who have attended your talk, your webinar, your meetup. After all, the most valuable asset we can share with others is our time, so a tiny goodie or a thank you note can give your event that personal touch we are all missing in this weird pandemic time.
Over to you
These days, planning an event without considering attendee engagement is pretty much impossible. Planning your side of an event is important, but you shouldn’t forget about your audience either. Many hybrid and virtual events severely lack engagement. Give your audience a way to become a part of the event, paving the way for a dialogue.
We hope that these tips will help you run engaging events, no matter if it’s in-person, virtual or hybrid events.