Staring at a static screen and listening to a deadpan presenter is not how most of us want to spend our working day. So it’s important that digital events inform, entertain and engage online attendees to ensure they hang around until the end.
Here are a few tips to help your audience to avoid virtual event fatigue and stay engaged for longer.
1. Keep them short, sharp and snappy
Choose the medium that best suits your message and keep your event as concise as possible.
If you’re holding a sales meeting with staff who are on the road, a teleconference might be the best medium.
If you’re going with video, we often advise our clients to make their online meetings and events shorter than a similar traditional physical event. Focusing your attention continually on a screen tends to be a lot more tiring than sitting in a room where it’s easier to shift your visual focus and still keep on top of what’s going on.
For example, CRM giant Salesforce recently announced that it is flipping its meeting and conference model on its head, shifting from massive, multi-day global get-togethers of more than 150,000 people (think Dreamforce), to micro-meetings of up to eight people that run between 12 to 18 minutes in length.
The company, which used to spend 60% of its marketing budget hosting physical events, is now going totally virtual, and doesn’t expect it will ever fully go back to working the way it did pre-COVID.
When it comes to participants, our research has found that most people tend to prefer online meetings and events to run for up to an hour, but interest can drop off pretty quick after that which is why it’s important to plan, and stick to, a firm timeframe and agenda.
Keep track of the time and move on to each agenda item as scheduled. A moderator can be useful to keep the flow going.
2. Schedule events when your audience wants to attend
While your individual circumstances will determine when and what time you hold your virtual meeting or event, there are particular times and days that more people prefer.
Data from the 2020 Redback Report, shows that Tuesday and Wednesday are the preferred days of the working week. Generally, they’re almost as twice as popular as the next most popular day, which is Friday.
Most people generally prefer to join a virtual meeting mid-morning, so they can take care of any immediate work first up, but they’re still fresh enough to take in all the details they need to.
The mid afternoon is also a popular time, but evenings are less popular in a remote working world as people tend to be more protective of their personal time.
3. Choose the format that best suits your meeting type and objectives
One great advantage of the virtual space is the flexibility you have when it comes to formats, content and staging.
Collaborative video conferences are ideal for workshops and other team exercises because they enable everyone to share their screen, add content to a virtual whiteboard and share documents and other files.
For other events, you may wish to film live, pre-record segments, hold an in-depth interview or casual fireside chat with an executive, or feature single or multiple presenters in a panel discussion in a studio.
You also have the choice of situating presenters at a desk for a more formal setting, or have them sitting on a lounge or stools for a more relaxed, casual approach.
If you’re using a green screen, consider changing the background for different segments.
Segmenting your event into short chunks interspersed with brief videos, a poll, quiz, or Q&A will help maintain your audience’s attention.
4. Great content and a great presenter are essential
Take the time to figure out what your audience wants to know about before formulating your virtual event — and then find a great presenter who can deliver that content well in a virtual format.
Whether you choose a professional presenter, or pick someone from your team who is a true subject matter expert, there are a few things they need to do.
The first thing is to make eye contact with your virtual audience. A good presenter should look and speak directly into the camera lens, without continually staring at it.
Don’t lecture your audience. Instead, create a conversation. A good way to start is with an anecdote or personal story that’s relevant to your overarching message or theme.
Smile and relax. A happy, comfortable presenter will help your attendees be more relaxed which means they will be more engaged and your event will be more memorable.
Research has shown that asking questions is a great way to improve learning and retention, so don’t be afraid to build Q&A sessions into your events. Offering a prize at the end may be a good way to keep people tuned in.
5. Get inside your audience’s head
Neuroscience research has shown us that our brains can only take in a limited amount of information in a given period, so don’t go over the top when it comes to the fine details. Break your content down into easily discernible chunks of information.
It’s also important to repeat the key points of your message, because the brain needs meaningful repetition to lay down long-term memory.
Building a strong narrative throughout a presentation is an effective way to keep our audience’s minds on the job, because when we’re absorbed in a storyline we pay more attention for longer periods and we remember key points more easily.
And when we have a strong emotional connection with a narrative, our brain releases oxytocin which creates feelings of well-being and trust.
It’s estimated that 30%-50% of the surface of the brain is devoted to processing visual information so make sure your presentation includes easy to understand images, graphics, charts and graphs to highlight key points where possible.
Research has also shown that because we process words and pictures in different parts of the brain, people are twice as likely to remember your message if you use images and text together.
6. Inject some fun
Virtual events can provide their own unique opportunities to make an online gathering more enjoyable and memorable.
From walking meetings, where everyone sets a target for the number of steps to complete during a team meeting as part of a health and wellness project, to paint and sip social sessions, the different types of meetings and events (or virtual breakout sessions as part of a larger event) you can hold are only limited by your imagination.
A stretching session, yoga or meditation lesson can be an excellent way to break up an intensive strategy workshop, while life skills sessions, book clubs and cooking classes – where everyone is sent the recipe and all the essential ingredients – are great for team building.
Tasting classes – think wine, craft beer and cheese, for example – are becoming increasingly popular, especially when you deliver the beverages and snacks to your attendees before the event.
We’ve already discussed the advantages that polls, quizzes and competitions can provide, but you can also take it one step further and introduce games to your events.
Playing games releases endorphins which create a sense of euphoria and lower stress and anxiety – which is a great mood to have your audience in.
7. Get the audio right
While using the right visuals is an important part of an effective presentation as we’ve already mentioned, making sure you have good audio quality is a non-negotiable.
Almost two in three (63%) respondents to the 2020 Redback Report said the quality of audio was a chief concern when it came to digital events, with being able to see presenters a distant second (33%).
Most people will put up with halting video, or no video at all if their connection is unreliable, but tinny audio is a big turn-off. And five seconds of radio silence is about as much as anyone will put up with before they start thinking about pulling the plug.
Make sure you test the connections of your remote presenters and guests to make sure their audio is up to scratch.
Keep everyone muted unless they’re speaking, and ask all presenters to use headphones and a microphone if possible. As a minimum, make sure everyone can shut their door and block out any background noise.
Research has shown that annoying and unexpected noises such as someone tapping on a keyboard or a squeaky chair can be just as annoying as someone dragging their fingernails down a chalkboard, and can be a big distraction.
8. Technical fallback plan
If you’re holding a small team meeting, a dropout might not be too much of a concern if you can quickly get everyone re-connected.
But if you’re holding an important pitch to investors, it could mean the difference between securing and missing out on a new round of funding.
That’s why it’s important to make sure your video conferencing service is reliable and comes with the best technology and technical support that meets your needs.
The best video conferencing platforms offer live operator support, while others are limited to chat and email, and the most basic only offer online documentation so make sure you choose the one that best meets your needs.
Before you sign up to any service that requires a plug-in or software install, make sure you read up on all the technology and compatibility requirements.
Some only work with particular operating systems, while others might need your users to update their browsers. The best will work with the simple click of a link.
Follow these top tips to ensure your digital events hit the mark and keep your audience engaged from start to finish!