how to engage an online audience

Engaging an online event audience

So you have managed to get a bunch of people to log on and watch your online event. You have done all the hard work and congratulations! But don’t celebrate too soon. Engaging an online event audience is not as easy as you think.

In June this year we ran another online seminar for our client Practically Perfect PA. We attracted over 500 paying attendees.

The event was over seven hours and had over 15 separate sessions. We learned a lot from our first online summit (17 things in fact) and similarly our second outing provided a lot of food for thought.

So in this post I wanted to look at one particular area that I know other online events will find challenging: engaging an online event audience.

We are very confident to say that: online audience members who engage will be more likely to attend the next event. Being able to do anything to encourage an increase in take up is event GOLD.

Engagement should start a week or so before the event

We started to engage our audience the week of the event. We invited the attendees to log on and familiarise themselves with our chosen platform (we used Crowdcast and you should definitely check them out!)

After a short “tour” of the site, provided to every attendee they landed on our page with our holding slide. We could of course have left it there but we wanted to have some meaningful engagement.

So we wrote a few posts on the chat panel that sat next to the holding screen: “Say something nice…” is how Crowdcast amusingly title this section.

We also opened up a poll “Let us know where you will be viewing the summit from?” was what we decided to go with. We of course knew the answer but we wanted our online audience to appreciate how global the audience was!

So, even before the event started we had:

  • invited all of our attendees to log on and see the platform
  • an active chat section
  • interactive LIVE poll

This was all very easy for us to do on the Crowdcast platform and as way of a benchmark should be the basic offering of any online broadcast platform.

Of course engagement isn’t just emailing people or posting comments, it is important that you find the time to actually engage.

So we made sure we hopped back on throughout the days leading up to the event and thanked people for commenting, said hello and responded to any comments or questions.

This initial, pre event engagement, really helps with engaging an online event audience.

Ramp up the engagement as you get closer to the event

Our online event started at 11am and we came online around 9.30am. We opened up another poll and responded to all the comments / questions that had come in over night.

We could see who was “live” (the people who were on the site awaiting the start) so we were able to do shout outs to those individuals. We also dropped in a few “only an hour to go, hope you are all getting ready”, type comments just to freshen up the chat panel.

Thankfully, and surely down to the pre engagement work we had done, the chat box was very lively. Our online audience were all happy to share where they were watching the feed from, and in some cases what they were wearing (about 25% of the audience had either a very early or a very late shift to join us, so some watched while wearing pyjamas)

We also had a countdown clock. It’s a little detail but we think it was a good way to show that we were all slowly ticking down to the event.

engaging an online audience

How do you engage the online audience?

Engage the audience as soon as the event starts

Here are our tips for engaging an online event audience when your event starts:

1. Have an online host and make sure they are brilliant

Luckily for the PPPA Virtual Summit we are able to call on the founder and editor of PPPA to host the seminar. Your Host should be the first face they see on screen and their most important job, first and foremost, is to welcome the online audience.

2. Act as one of the audience not as the curator or gatekeeper

We made the mistake of trying to be the gatekeeper during our first online summit. This time round engagement blossomed when the audience had a free reign.

We were able to delete any comments once they were made and to block users however we never used these failsafes; the online chat was better than we could have hoped.

Our team felt that we were getting much more honest and helpful engagement when we freed ourselves from our gatekeeper role.

3. Continue to use polls and relate then to upcoming sessions or as the content unfolds

Polls proved to be a really useful way for us to engage with the audience and we used them to best effect when we linked them to the session content.

So for example, before the office move session, we opened a poll to ask how many attendees had been involved in the office move. Before the session on “dealing with multiple executives” we polled the audience on how many executives they currently had.

We kept up our involvement in the chat but we decided to be more reactive than proactive and prioritised our output on the polls.

4. Encourage your speakers to engage LIVE

Most of our sessions were prerecorded so some of our speakers were not online. But some were, and we would definitely encourage any organiser to gently persuade their speakers to join the online event live- even if it is just for their session – as this adds a great deal of interaction and engagement for the audience.

One of our speakers displayed an absolute masterclass on how a speaker should engage online and I am going to summarise his approach in another blog post. He added so much extra value on top of his session.

5. Encourage your audience to engage with your speakers

If your powers of persuasion have worked and you have a speaker joining you online, make it easy for your attendees to ask your speakers questions and for them to be able to respond.

This adds a lot of value: allowing the audience to be able to delve down into some of the content is vital if you are going to encourage interaction.

Crowdcast had a very useful “question” function that helped us compile questions for each session and this saved us having to scroll through the chat to find the relevant questions among the comments. It’s important to consider this functionality when choosing your platform.

6. Include a LIVE feedback session within the content

Three times throughout the live broadcast we paused to consider and discuss the audience feedback. This is where the Host (tip number one) comes in to their own. We had 3 x 10 mins to 15 mins of content generated by our audience. Our content expert (our Host) dissected the results from the polls and put the findings into context. They also answered questions and provided their expert input into the online discussions.

This approach “closes the loop” on the engagement of the audience. All too often a poll, or something similar, is opened, and no conclusion is drawn, or even results shared!

7. Thank the audience for their engagement

As your event draws to a close and your audience starts to head off, it is a great idea to thank everyone as they leave. On a good platform you will have an idea of the number of attendees you have online, so if you notice a drop off (maybe because it’s end of the day in the office) make sure you say good bye to those leaving you.

Of course if individuals are using the chat room to say their farewells, make sure you respond on the chat.

The important point is to say thanks for them spending that extra effort to engage with the event.

After the event is finished complete a questionnaire

For almost every event you should have a feedback form and thankfully for an online event it is easy to create one (no printing, dropping off and collecting from chairs at an online event)

It’s easy to send (and resend) a link to attendees to make sure you get feedback. If you want to see how to do event feedback check out this post: How To Deal With Event Feedback.

Is engaging an online audience at your event worth it?

We really believe it is worth that bit of extra effort. Throughout our years organising events we have observed that events are always better when there is an engaged and interactive audience. We have also noted the likelihood of attendees to rebook events were they felt like a participant rather then just a member of the audience.

Just because your online audience may be stretched across the globe with individuals viewing from their home, a coffee shop or their office, it does not mean that they do not want to engage with your content.

If you make it easy for them to join, brief everyone involved on the importance of engaging the online audience and trust your audience, the number of attendees will likely grow and grow.

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