Jan 12, 2021
It’s not easy to keep an audience engaged at the best of times, but Zoom events present a few extra barriers. People are used to the energy of a real-life event and some don’t feel comfortable with technology and virtual spaces. For others, the idea of looking at a laptop screen for entertainment puts them off in a way an evening in front of Netflix never would.
So, what can we do to make our virtual events more attractive and engaging?
With a little planning, creativity and a few Zoom features, your audience won’t just sign up to your events, they’ll want to stay till the end.
Here are our tips:
It doesn’t matter if you’re planning a team meeting or a full-scale event, your attendees need to know what to expect. Plan your agenda well in advance. For meetings, send it out to team members; for larger events, design a visual that you sent out with their invite or nearer the time.
This goes without saying for big virtual events, especially if you have multiple guest presenters and musicians. A technical run-through before you start will iron out any creases and allow your tech team to address issues. Of course, for smaller events, even if you’re not putting on a big production, practise what you want to say and how you say it. For some people, a virtual spotlight is more daunting than a real-life one. If this is you, take some time to run through your part. That might mean filming yourself on your laptop or having a call with a friend or family member to make yourself comfortable.
This only really applies to meetings but if something isn’t relevant to someone, don’t invite them. When one person’s not engaged, it’s obvious to the rest of the team and can really bring the energy down – even through Zoom. Make sure you think about who you’re sending an invite to and what everyone will get out of it.
Decide whether you want participants to have their cameras and microphones on during the event. For larger events and webinars, you’ll probably disable any option that allows your audience to form part of the stream beyond public chat. For small events though, such as workshops, you’ll likely want some interaction to help connect your audience and presenters. Even in meetings, you need to be clear on who gets to talk and when. This keeps communication clear and will help people to focus.
Depending on the type of the event, tech setup and your role, you might want to vary your position. Say you’re compering for several acts - you might want to be sitting at the start, then standing with a different backdrop for the next slot. You’ll need to think about cameras and positioning, but moving your position is a good way of keeping your audience on their toes, rather than zoning out after every act.
If you’ve got the budget, there’s nothing better than tying your virtual event to treats you’ve sent in the post. These could be simple things like branded stationery, a cupcake or a name badge, or you could go for something extra creative. Perhaps home decorations and branded bunting, Christmas jumpers and hats, or even a full meal or afternoon tea? To really keep people engaged, you might want to send packages they can’t open until certain points in your event. Once you start brainstorming at-home elements, you’ll be amazed at just how creative you can be.
How you start an event sets the tone for everything that follows. Your audience needs to feel assured that they’re in the right place, for the right reason and that they’re going to leave it feeling uplifted. You can do this in a number of ways – from your waiting room graphic to an intro video before the camera rolls. If you can see your audience, get them to wave back or give thumbs ups rather than risk muting and unmuting them.
For audiences under 50, set your interface to grid view so you can see everyone and respond to what they’re doing when appropriate. Don’t insist people get on camera and don’t point out anyone who’s got their video off. For those who are in view, a simple thing like commenting on a nice hat or how someone’s drinking a cup of tea helps them feel like you’re not just performing to a camera but to real people, just as you would in real life. For large events where you can’t see the audience, imagine you’re a Saturday night TV presenter and channel your inner Ant and Dec.
Speaking of Saturday night TV, look at the camera, not your face. By now, we can all spot when someone’s look at their face and not the audience. If you’re a presenter, guest speaker or entertainer, build a connection with your audience by looking directly at the camera. If this isn’t natural to you, rest assured you’ll get better with practice.
For virtual meetings, the equivalent of a teaser is the agenda, which you should send round beforehand and go over at the start. For events, however, teasers are about more than what you’ve got in store. Especially for longer events, teasers can keep your audience interested. This might be a reminder about the last performer or even a surprise act, or it could be a pop quiz or a brainteaser with prizes. Anything that keeps people intrigued or desperate for an answer will do the trick.
For big audiences, keep them engaged by using Zoom’s interactive features, such as polls and the chat feed or even third-party web apps and social media. You can time polls with certain segments, or ask them questions and give first-name shout outs too. You should encourage audience participation from the start of the event and respond as you go so your audience feels part of the event.
Think about what your audience will be looking at all night and make it interesting. From virtual backdrops for you and other guests to video breaks. Get a designer to create a vision for your event and identify where strong images will work best. Make sure your logo and the event name are everywhere to reinforce your brand and message.
Not just at the end of the event but afterwards too. Send an email with highlights of your event, and ideally have details of your next one lined up so they can sign up straight away. After the show is a great time to get feedback so you can find out how to make your virtual event even better.