Meetings

How to Keep Your Virtual Attendees Tuned In

By / Jan 7, 2021 (AleksandarNakic/E+/Getty Images Plus)

Although it can be difficult to keep virtual attendees engaged, it’s imperative that you do—and it must go beyond a chat feature. A look at some investments for associations to make to improve engagement.

As I wrote in my final blog post of 2020, associations really need to adjust their virtual offerings so they better meet attendee expectations this year. Complicating that, however, is that people are sick of sitting in front of their computer screens.

According to the 2020 Redback Report, 86 percent of respondents said they have left a virtual event early—up from 66 percent a year earlier. So, what can associations do to ensure that participants don’t tune out during their virtual events? Here are three ideas.

Invest in Production

If we’ve learned anything from working remotely for almost a year now, it’s how to make yourself look good when videoconferencing. (Hello, ring lights and high-definition external webcams.) That means that your attendees aren’t going to put up with speakers who look like they are in the Witness Protection Program or whose sound is muted or garbled. That’s why associations need to help their keynoters and other speakers look their best, whether by providing specific instructions for sound and video or by sending them recording equipment.

The American Academy of Pediatrics did the latter for its plenary and VIP sessions at its 2020 Virtual National Conference & Exhibition in October. AAP sent speakers recording packages that included a high-end laptop, high-end webcam, nice microphone, and a hardwired internet cable. These speakers also recorded their sessions with a producer and technician. Other breakout session presenters could schedule an appointment with a technician prior to the event to get feedback on their setup.

Encourage Creativity

While your attendees will appreciate speakers who look and sound good, they’ll get tired of sitting in front of their computers watching presenters who are also just sitting in front of their computers. In-person keynotes and education sessions are compelling partly because dynamic speakers walk around the stage or even draw a picture or do something else creative while presenting. Find a way to get your virtual presenters to do the same.

For example, during his prerecorded keynote for the Turnaround Management Association’s IMPACT 2020 virtual meeting, Duncan Wardle, former head of innovation at Disney, walked around, used different camera angles, and had large paper slides hanging behind him that he illustrated himself. (He did something similar at ASAE’s 2020 Virtual Annual Meeting last August.)

Try Something New

Some things that may have been huge successes—and revenues wins—for your association at your in-person annual conference just won’t translate to the virtual environment. So, now is the time to experiment and try something new that will appeal to your attendees.

For example, next week’s CES 2021 will feature CES Live, a new livestreaming hub for news and interviews. Shot from Microsoft’s production studios in Redmond, Washington, according to Variety, the news desk will be anchored by talent including YouTuber Justine “iJustine” Ezarik and “The Ready Room” host Naomi Kyle. Karen Chupka, the Consumer Technology Association’s executive vice president for CES, told TV Technology that they’ll provide continual updates throughout the show and talk about what’s “new and hot at the exhibits and conference sessions.”

What have you found successful for keeping attendees engaged for duration of your virtual events? Please share in the comments.

Samantha Whitehorne

Samantha Whitehorne is editorial director of Associations Now. More »

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