Engaging Virtual Attendees
to expert tips on connecting with an audience that isn't in the room.
Both planners and tech suppliers had to pivot in a real hurry this spring, moving events from the physical to digital realm in an instant. By mid-summer, all involved have had some time to contemplate early lessons learned — and share evolving best practices with one another.
In that spirit, we tapped Greg Ellis, COO of streaming platform Dacast, to share the most common mistakes he has noticed among planners as they make the jump to meeting online. His company's virtual-event customer base grew by nearly three times in the three months following the onset of the pandemic, with total audience and platform use exploding by 400 percent. Amid that massive influx of new business, here's what Ellis observed about the learning curve, even for holding the most straightforward of online gatherings.
Most Common Planner Misconceptions When Going Digital
"I don’t need as much event promotion."
The old saying, “If you build it, they will come" typically doesn’t yield great results, especially when you’re relying on virtual attendance. Determine who your target market is, the best promotional channels for your event and the timing of your promotion. Don’t forget to send prior-day and day-of reminders to registered users — everyone is juggling a lot of virtual-meeting invitations these days! If you can include an option for attendees to add a calendar reminder when they RSVP, it will increase the attendance rate.
"Attendees can join the meeting unmuted."
To ensure your event or meeting starts on time, make sure attendees are muted when they first join. If not, users will feel compelled, sometimes obligated, to make small talk while they wait for the other attendees to arrive. It creates an immediate distraction and holds up the start of your event. Your one-hour meeting was just cut down to 45 minutes. Eliminate this by keeping attendees on mute as they join.
"I tested my audio and I'm good to go."
Check your systems to ensure that video, audio and lighting all are optimized for the environment. Check your local WiFi connections and Internet speed as well. It's also recommended that you have a user at a different location test the same systems so you know it's working on both ends. Eliminate the wasted time of working out technology kinks at the start of the meeting by thoroughly preparing in advance.
"Production considerations aren't as important as the platform."
High-quality video should be on every planner’s checklist for great live and on-demand experiences. Viewers have come to expect quality streaming, and when that isn't there, they lose interest. HD video is the benchmark and can be provided indoors with the latest mobile phone. Outdoor video often involves motion, and challenging lighting conditions can require more advanced equipment. Be sure to bring in additional lighting as needed to ensure that the stream is properly lit and engaging. And if you’re planning to capture moving subjects, be sure to increase frame rates to produce smooth video.
But great audio is the top requirement when producing live-streaming content. Even with great lighting and HD video, if your viewers cannot easily hear quality audio, the content will suffer. An inexpensive USB microphone will vastly improve the audio, but if you want to invest in creating a more professional experience, a directional mic is even better. Directional mics pick up only the sound you are creating, more effectively eliminating any outside environmental noise. A business conference might use an external microphone that sits on a table; ensure that the production team tests this audio before the event with every speaker, and reduce background noise as much as possible.
"My attendees are paying attention."
Your audience is in a high-distraction environment; reading their email will be the least of their distractions. Pushing surveys during a meeting can be most effective for large audiences. Creating a chat function and engagement prompts throughout the event will encourage attendees to be present. Be sure to interact with the audience via polling, social channels (via hashtags) and live Q&A. Whether or not your platform of choice offers built-in chat functionality, there are a number of low-cost professional chat applications you can use to sustain engagement. Lastly, to get the right attendees to show up, ensure that your marketing call to action fits the event — and make sure you follow up afterward.