The value of audience engagement and how to leverage it in 2021
By Lucie-Stella Franks, Project Executive at SWM Partners
The events industry has had to rapidly adapt since covid-19, we have had to be flexible and smart with our actions, but our possibilities have grown and everyone in the industry has had to think on their feet to maximise the services they can offer. It goes without saying, the events, hospitality and entertainment market is saturated and it’s not about who can shout the loudest, it’s about who has the best thing to say and who can effectively achieve audience engagement. It is so important to think about the delegate journey from beginning to end, from the first communication they receive to the last and everything in between.
How can you do this? Keep reading to find our top tips below.
Personalising the interaction you have with your attendees goes beyond adding their name into the top of the email. You need to make delegates want to be a part of your event by putting them at the centre of everything you do. Tailor your communications in a way that’s appropriate for your audience. If it’s not necessary to be formal, don’t be, read your audience and respond accordingly. Multiple touches will reinforce your efforts to engage with the audience, an invitation alone is not enough anymore.
SET YOURSELF UP TO SUCCEED
Technology in events is ever growing, with copious numbers of virtual platforms, event apps and entertainment tools to choose from, it is key to choose the options which are the most suitable for your audience. Do your research, investigate the different options that are on offer and think out of the box. Don’t just consider how these tools have been used before, but how you can use them differently and ultimately smarter.
USE AN EVENT HASHTAG
Event hashtags are commonly used during an event to broadcast that it is taking place, attracting an online audience. However, this is not the only stage of the event life cycle when these can be used. Using them pre-event is a great way to begin engaging with your audience and to create a buzz before the event has even started. One effective method is by creating some competition amongst your audience - “who can post the best photo with the hashtag” will encourage the audience to get creative and will produce user-generated content. If you can come up with the right hashtag it could catch on and start a trend.
USE THE RIGHT PLATFORMS AND IN THE RIGHT WAY
Social media platforms are the perfect place to start building anticipation for your event and to tease your audience for what is to come. Drip feeding information will provide a regular stream of content for the audience to engage with – some examples of this are to announce release dates for when an exciting speaker will be revealed, using an event hashtag as discussed, or to do a countdown to the live event. Just remember to get creative, people have done these things before, so you need to do them better to capture the attention of followers. A good place to start is looking at what content your target audience are engaging with and what trends are popular at the time.
TAP INTO TALENT
Securing influential speakers who are experts in the field of your event is the best way to engage with your audience because valuable content will be provided – it is useless getting Beyonce to perform at a medical event, you are better off with a world-renowned surgeon. The key here is to make sure that the presenters are actually engaging to listen to, the way in which they present and how they interact with the audience will affect how the content is received. Plan your event with the attendees at the core and provide content that is interesting and relevant whilst ensuring your meeting event objectives.
USE AN ENCAPSULATING MC
Use a humorous, fun MC to break up heavy content. The MC can act as an anchor between sessions so that the delegate can be directed to and from each session by what will become a familiar face, providing entertainment, and keeping attendees engaged throughout the event.
PLANT SOMEONE IN THE AUDIENCE TO ASK QUESTIONS
This is a key piece of advice which we practise at almost every event we plan. Sometimes it is hard to break the ice with the audience and to reach optimum engagement, especially in larger groups. Having a secret spokesman in the audience, in our experience, triggers other audience members to ask questions and to get the conversation going. This especially makes for a brilliant Q&A session.
INJECT SOME FUN
As mentioned, if appropriate, there are an abundance of entertainment options out there, especially since the world of virtual events has sky-rocketed in the pandemic crisis. Think about waiting times, how can you fill the space? Face-to-face, you can consider queue management entertainment and for virtual meetings you can provide entertainment for those waiting in a virtual lobby prior to the event and of course in the breaks.
PLAY ON THE SENSES
This is not only applicable to face-to-face meetings, although you cannot control some of the delegates senses as easily virtually, you can still make an impact and focus on the ones that you can control. Lighting, production, and AV are still important components to create the full virtual event experience whether it is live streaming the speakers presenting on a stage set or the whole event space for hybrid events, it makes the delegates feel more a part of the event. Good-quality audio is imperative to keep the audience engaged, if they can’t hear properly, they will give up trying. Smell, taste and touch are easier to achieve at face-to-face events, but virtually, this can be a struggle. You could consider sending something in the post that could engage with these senses.
OPTIMISE BREAKOUT SESSIONS
Breakout sessions allow creative ideas to flow and for delegates to focus on topics in more detail, they are the perfect opportunity for attendees to engage with each other and the breakout leader. Whether this is virtually or face-to-face, attendees often feel more comfortable sharing their opinions in smaller groups. Using ice breakers at the beginning of these sessions will help trigger discussions. If delegates have signed up to attend certain breakout sessions, they are more likely to interact and engage as it is something they have chosen to attend and have an interest in. Don’t force people to attend if the breakout sessions are not compulsory, as you aren’t likely to get the best audience engagement rates.
FOLLOW UP WITH ATTENDEES
Thanking the attendees for their attendance makes them feel valued and provides you with an opportunity to share some follow-up content you gathered at the event - images and videos are far more engaging than plain text. Saying thank you also extends the engagement period past the end of the event and can build on the foundations of the relationships you have created with the attendees.
HOST A POST-EVENT NETWORKING SESSION
These ‘after parties’ are a brilliant way to reflect on the event and to build rapport, giving an opportunity for attendees to engage with speakers and key influencers attending the event. This session can be targeted at VIP attendees or everyone, depending on the size of your audience. Face-to-face, this can be a standing drinks and canapés evening or virtually, this could be a cocktail masterclass with time to network afterwards whilst enjoying the beverages that have been made – starting with interactive activities helps to warm the group up.
SEND FEEDBACK SURVEYS
Sending a feedback survey to both attendees and clients provides you with qualitative feedback which is a direct reflection of the event you have delivered and shows the attendees that you value their opinion, encouraging them to engage with you. The data you receive can then be reviewed and reported on to show what worked well, what didn’t and what can be improved for next time.
KEEP IT BURNING
The event doesn’t have to stop there, use the invaluable content that you would have gathered during the event on your social platforms. Share the highlights of the event, including pictures, videos and delegate feedback. This also keeps your audience warm for when you release the next event dates.
SUCCESSFUL AUDIENCE ENGAGEMENT
An engaging event needs to read like a story, each chapter should relate and reinforce the previous and lead on to the next. When you read a good book, you can’t put it down and you don’t want it to end and this is exactly how you want your attendees to feel about your event from beginning to end, so that they keep coming back for more. If you follow some of the tips we have included above and keep audience engagement your target throughout the whole delegate journey you will be on the right track to creating an engaging event in 2021, albeit face-to-face, virtual or hybrid.
If you would like to find out more about other engagement tools, please contact our team today on – email@example.com.