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The COVID-19 pandemic has been a key driver in the rapid adoption of virtual environments. 

This is not to say that their rise in popularity was unforeseen — the format has carved a niche in the events landscape and will continue to alter the DNA of physical events in the future. Hybrid events are expected to continue to gain relevance, catering to both on-site and remote attendees.

And for some time, multinational enterprises, smaller businesses and events companies have opted for the online sphere when physical events didn’t make logistical sense.

The ongoing crisis has only hastened the need to pivot to digital-first technology.

But with rapid adoption comes teething issues — one of which is online event engagement. Without the stimulation of a real-world environment and face-to-face conversation, how can organisers make their online events more engaging and interactive for attendees?

 

In the face of online fatigue, organisers are stepping up their game

In addition to the challenges of hosting an exciting, stimulating event online, we’re seeing a rise in ‘Zoom fatigue’. 

From non-verbal cues to body language, humans rely on more than words to understand what’s being conveyed. In the virtual environment, however, we’re missing out on critical information to decode body language, which forces our brains to work harder and can lead to exhaustion.

These challenges are driving innovations and inspiring event organisers to ‘level up’. Offering a glimpse into what the future of online event engagement might hold, the recently announced NVIDIA Maxine platform is a cloud-based suite of GPU-accelerated, AI video conferencing software that aims to enhance streaming video and engagement. For instance, the software’s “face alignment enables faces to be automatically adjusted so that people appear to be facing each other during a call, while gaze correction helps simulate eye contact, even if the camera isn’t aligned with the user’s screen”. 

What’s more, Zoom has released the Beta version of OnZoom, which is a marketplace for immersive experiences offering a host of additional features to boost engagement. As is Microsoft, with its rapidly expanding range of integrations for Microsoft Teams. As part of its integrations offering, Microsoft has recently announced that they have invited Interprefy to build an RSI integration for Teams.

All evidence points towards the major players upping their game to improve the online event experience.

 

Global repercussions of in-person events cancellation

We have yet to see the impact of in-person events cancellation on our global economy. A study commissioned by the Events Industry Council in 2018 illustrates how international events have been key economic drivers up until now:

  • Business events were responsible for $1.07 trillion of direct spending.
  • These events supported 10.3 million direct jobs worldwide and produced $621.4 billion of direct GDP.

Looking ahead, Bizzabo research points to a shift from in-person to virtual events. Their statistics highlight the general sentiment in the business landscape at the moment:

  • 93% of event marketers plan to invest in virtual events moving forward.
  • 89% of businesses save approximately 200 hours per year thanks to event technology. Moreover, 20% of businesses benefit from saving 360 hours or more per year with event technology.
  • At 57%, the majority of event marketers believe their event budgets will decrease for 2021. 

 

As we enter an era of digital interactivity, it’s up to event organisers to find novel ways of generating the same kind of economic benefits listed above. This is why online events must provide — and exceed — the value, engagement and interactivity that their live counterparts do.

It follows that the more engaging events are, the more people will register for them.

 

The importance of online event engagement

You can almost feel the air sucked from the room when a speaker loses an audience’s attention. It’s hard enough to keep a crowd of people hanging on your every word in a ‘live’ setting, so imagine the challenge of commanding a room when a person can simply turn off their camera and let distraction take hold.

Audience engagement is one of the most critical factors for event success. Not only does engagement help ‘break the ice’, it also makes for a better experience as a whole — one that people are more likely to take valuable learnings from.

However, generating engagement is easier said than done. Event MB’s State of the Industry Report illustrates event organisers engagement concerns: 

  • Nearly 50% of event planners say that their biggest frustration is virtual event technology’s perceived inability to match live engagement.
  • Furthermore, 21% consider lack of experience/knowledge with virtual technology to be their biggest challenge.

Looking at those statistics, it would seem that the answer to generating engagement is twofold.

1) Organisers and hosts need to immerse themselves in the technology to truly harness their potential for online events.

2) Like it or not, the virtual environment is different from the live stage. Instead of trying to replicate it, organisers have a chance to grab the attention of much wider audiences.

All it takes is some out-of-the-box thinking...

 

Tactics to engage an online event audience

Creating a space in which people feel comfortable enough to interact and share their insights starts before the event. Luckily, event organisers have several creative channels and strategies at their disposal.

1. Build up anticipation

When it comes to generating hype in the lead-up to an event, social media and email are your best friends. Facebook and LinkedIn allow you to target the people most likely to register, using paid media ads, sponsored posts or pop-up forms. These can whisk potential attendees off to a landing page with valuable content, or an events registration page. Once registered, email nurturing can deploy timed communications to build excitement and provide readers with content that will enrich the actual event experience. 

2. Create a seamless onboarding experience

Before the event, it’s a great idea to onboard registered attendees so that they know how to use the platform and its interactive features. This ensures your audience can concentrate on the presentations, instead of growing frustrated with not being able to figure out the chat feature.

3. Allow for some 'downtime' through gamification

Gamification is another great way to get your audience involved, both before and during an event. Having trivia, puzzles and quizzes on the itinerary also lets people know that the event will allow for some ‘downtime’, which can come as a relief if an event is expected to be particularly taxing on the mind. 

Attaching prizes to games in the lead-up can incentivise people to register and share event content to drive further sign-ups.

4. Keep slots to digestible lenghts

Lastly, keep things short! Allow for break-out sessions and ensure that there is allotted time at the end of each presentation for Q&As. By trimming the fat and keeping slots to digestible lengths, audience attention is less likely to waver. When selecting hosts, don’t leave anything to chance — they need to have experience with the platform, working knowledge of the tools you’ll be using, and a demonstrated history of delivering slick content that engages audiences.

Keeping the event short also ensures your attendees will commit to blocking time for active engagement during the event. Imagine you’ve signed up for an 8-hour virtual event — what are the chances that you’ll sit in front of your screen for the full duration? Or will you switch between daily routine, meetings and popping in and out every now and then?

 

Pick your platform carefully

The platform you choose will have a direct impact on your online event engagement. It should be able to handle the attendance you expect without suffering a decrease in visual and audio integrity. It should feature an integrated chat or Q&A tool that allows for quick-and-easy engagement with presenters, as well as an easily accessible hub that houses resources, documentation and content that attendees will find valuable and informative.

To drive networking before and after the event, look for functionality that helps attendees schedule one-on-one meetings with speakers and/or attendees without having to leave the platform.

 

Real-time translation tools for multinational events

Online events make it easier than ever to bring people from all corners of the world together. For people of different nationalities to engage in real-time, they require intuitive tools and software that offers seamless translation as the event unfolds.

Real-time translation tools for multinational events promote inclusivity and ensure that everyone can engage throughout the event. Being able to enjoy an event in a language you’re comfortable with — hassle-free — is an effective way of creating a great experience, which can stimulate word of mouth and potential brand ambassadorship.

 

Increased engagement can lead to higher attendance rates

Event organisers who adapt to new technologies and presentation methods will ultimately benefit from increased engagement and higher attendance rates in the future. 

One of the most effective ways of creating online event engagement is ensuring that all attendees of all languages and nationalities are catered for.

From a turnkey Remote Simultaneous Interpretation platform (RSI) to adding real-time interpreting to leading platforms, Interprefy has the tools you need for event success. By leveraging our cloud-based, live interpreting solution, you can provide more languages to participants, increase audience engagement and ensure content is delivered to a diverse audience.

Have an upcoming event? Book your 15-minute introduction call with an Interprefy sales consultant about how you can add a stunning multi-language experience to promote online event engagement.

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Markus Aregger

Written by Markus Aregger

Markus is Head of Marketing at Interprefy, on a mission to help people and organizations connect by breaking down language barriers.