The Virtual Audience: Tactics for tackling engagement problems of the future

The Virtual Audience: Tactics for tackling engagement problems of the future

Hybrid and virtual meetings are becoming commonplace, but both event planners and attending audiences are split on the issue of virtual attendance. In the fourth annual American Express Meetings and Events Report, “hybrid meeting technologies” – in other words, partial in-person attendance coupled with partial virtual audience attendance – were names as one of the four empowering digital event solutions for the current year, but at the same time, as reported by Skift:

The AMEX report asked how many meeting planners offer virtual meetings at least 50% of the time, dependent on the group’s size. Attendees were asked how often they attend online events based on the same criteria. Planners responded that they offer an online meeting option at least 50% of the time for smaller events (10-49 attendees), compared to 42%, 32% and 24% for medium, large and very large meetings (500 or more attendees), respectively.

Meanwhile, 38% of attendees participated virtually in at least half of their small meetings, going down to 18% for very large meetings. It would seem as a meeting grows in size, the perceived value of attending that meeting increases due to higher levels of available networking opportunities and educational experiences.

A total of 68% of planners argue that attendees are too easily distracted when they attend virtual meetings, while almost half (45%) of attendees agreed with that view. Furthermore, 74% of attendees and 85% of planners responded: “In-person meetings are more valuable to me because they allow more social interaction.”

So how do you connect in a genuine, authentic way to a virtual audience? We collected a few tips from the experts and from our own experience.

Match the Experience to Real Life

As much as possible, create an experience online that mirrors the attendee’s experience in other areas, maintaining a thread of familiarity. You can do this by structuring the virtual content to be similar to television programming the viewer is used to seeing, or by striving to keep virtual content as in line as possible with an in-person experience.

Event Production Blog: Virtual Hybrid Meetings Tips

Keep Segments Short

A study conducted in May of this year posits that the average human attention span – around 8 seconds in 2015, down from 12 seconds in the year 2000 – is now worse than the average goldfish. If you present your event in long, unbroken streams, you’re much more likely to lose your audience than if you attack the content in easily-digestible chunks.

Use tech to keep the audience connected to each other…

Not only is it too easy for virtual viewers to get distracted, they can also easily feel disconnected from the events on the ground. The Amex report suggests that event organizers:

Poll the webcast audience live, then push the poll results for the audience to see, and discuss the feedback live. Use polling features that display both percentages and easy-to-read pie graphs, to allow the audience a glimpse of how their fellow remote audience members are responding.

… but structure for response delays.

While snappy back-and-forth dialogues between virtual attendees and live presenters sound great in theory, in real life, delays between attendee input and answer can cause disruptions and lower the quality of dialogue. Even if you test drive your technology, it’s very hard to get a realistic assessment of how your event networks will respond to a heavy attendance load, so it’s best to structure any live-to-virtual back-and-forth so that delay issues are minimized.

Any other tips? Let us know in the comments.

David Sonntag
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