The convergence of events in the last few months (global pandemic, travel restrictions, protests, hotel shut-downs) have led to a very sobering fact for associations – the new normal is virtual meetings. While virtual meetings will not completely replace face-to-face meetings, it is clear that almost all meetings will need to feature at least a hybrid option. The challenge now for the association community is to create virtual options for members that are not just educational, but also interactive and engaging.
The creative geniuses that live amongst us disguised as marketing executives and chief experience officers have come up with some great ways to engage attendees and make webinars and other digital offerings enjoyable. We’ve gathered a few of those ideas and listed some tips to assist you in delivering engaging virtual events.
Tip #1: Choose Your Title Carefully
When choosing a name for your presentation make sure the title is catchy, timely, and relevant, but not too “salesy”. With so many digital courses to choose from nowadays, your title should be clever enough to catch the eye but precise enough that it is accurate in what it offers.
Tip #2: Get Straight to the Point
Your program description should be inviting yet accurate and concise. Association webinars tend to center around an educational opportunity, therefore, learning objectives should also be well-defined. Let’s be clear – folks have a lot to choose from and they want to make quick but good decisions on how they spend their professional development time and money, so in this instance verbosity is not your friend. Work with your marketing team to use words that are descriptive, inviting, intriguing, and professionally appropriate. You’ll need to sell them on not only is this webinar beneficial to my professional development, but also, I’m going to enjoy participating.
Tip #3: Content is Still King
The bottom line here is work closely with your speaker(s) to ensure that whatever is listed in the program description and learning objectives are provided in the presentation. Plain and simple, deliver the content you promised.
Tip #4: Choose Your Speakers Wisely
Just because someone is a subject matter expert does not mean they can successfully deliver the educational content. Encourage speakers to avoid monotone voice or read word-for-word off their presentation slides or from their document. Here are some tidbits to help your speakers – even if you have to use the not-so-great expert:
- Make sure the lighting and audio is suitable for the presentation venue and that the speaker can be seen and heard clearly
- If at all possible, have the speaker do the presentation without notes; if notes are a must have them out of sight
- Provide a rehearsal (or more than one) for the speaker who is not comfortable presenting remotely or being live-streamed
- If the speaker is presenting from his laptop, place an arrow above his web-camera so that he always knows where to look
- Include audience participation segments (polls, queries, scenarios) or live product demonstrations to engage attendees
- If your digital platform allows, embed videos to change up the visual and audio flow of the presentation
And don’t forget about your moderator! This is an important role that shouldn’t be overlooked. They set the tone of the presentation, introduce the speaker(s) and guide them through the program, highlight sponsors, inform attendees about available resources, and manage audience participation.
Tip #5: Networking – Virtual Style
While it is widely felt that the downside to virtual meetings is the limited opportunity for networking, but there are ways to network that will please attendees, exhibitors, and sponsors alike. The use of virtual chatrooms, breakout rooms and roundtables are making networking possible, but …you must have a digital platform (Zoom, Digitell, Inc., WebinarJam, etc.) that allows for these types of engagement forums. At the very minimum chatrooms are a must for conversation and email exchange, and if possible, have attendees upload their photos and contact information. Breakout rooms and roundtable can be sponsored, topic specific and/or used for product demonstrations. All are viable options for networking and are fast becoming mandatory in the virtual world, not just a nice accessory.
Tip #6: Tick Tock, Watch Your Clock
We all that the digital age has ushered in the “I need it now” mentality, so many folks don’t have hours of time to spend consecutively. Face to face meetings gave you no choice, and even now they include longer breaks to check emails and respond to office and home issues. You need to be extremely mindful of how long you can keep folks actively engaged and still provide the content you promised. Webinars are usually 90-minutes at the longest. This provides time for a thorough presentation, attendee engagement activities, and a healthy Q&A session. When you get into lunch or bio break pauses, you tend to lose a percentage of your audience.
Tip #7: Assess and Improve
Create a post event assessment tool that is easy to use, and addresses all the major points: video and audio quality, speaker performance, pre-event communications, content quality, networking opportunities. For example, SurveyMonkey offers free and premium accounts to set up various survey questions. In addition, secure the event analytics from your platform provider to assess attendance and attendee engagement levels. Once you have reviewed the data, include what you learned in future programs. This is a way to learn your audience and respond to them.
Tip #8: You’re Only as Good as Your Team
Let’s face it, virtual attendee engagement is difficult: people get easily distracted with what’s going on around them; you can’t see their faces or reactions to gauge their understanding or lack thereof. All you can do is to put forth the best product possible and hope it pays off. So make sure your tech person is knowledgeable, your platform performs every function you need it do, your speakers and support staff understand their roles, your marketing team is on point, and your leadership is supportive. And of course, don’t forget to manage your checklist. Checklists will never go out of style!