Hundreds of people have joined your digital event. But are they really listening? Chances are, some are laser-focused on content and connections, others are checking email and taking calls, and a few are scrutinizing every element of the gathering so they can lodge their complaints in great detail.
To engage a wide-ranging audience, it's important to understand the many personas showing up. How to do so was the topic of a session at The Meetings Show, an annual Northstar Meetings Group event that brings together buyers and suppliers from Europe and around the world. This year's gathering, virtual for the first time in its eight-year history, welcomed 2,700 unique attendees who exchanged 52,822 messages and held 4,226 individual video meetings lasting more than 36 minutes each. The secret to such high-level engagement, say organizers, was the show's ability to appeal to meeting professionals of all types.
"Understanding your virtual audience is key to delivering a successful event that resonates with them and drives behavior change," notes Patrick Rush, senior director for American Express Global Business Travel, who presented the TMS session. American Express Meetings & Events recently identified seven common attendee types based on internal meetings and those of clients, and designed advice on how best to engage and satisfy them.
Characteristics: This is your ideal attendee — super engaged and professional, willing to participate in all polls and surveys, stays on-camera during presentations and asks thoughtful questions. The A-student wants to learn, share and hear what others have to say.
Engagement strategies: Be punctual and respectful of their time. Provide content before, during and after the meeting, along with opportunities to follow up with presenters or seek more information. Acknowledge the value of their participation and invite them to get more involved, perhaps by joining the organization's advisory board or serving as a future speaker.
Slow to Warm Up
Characteristics: They're paying close attention but not likely to express themselves at the outset; they're judging whether this event is worthwhile. If it passes muster, these sharp but reserved attendees will be valuable contributors. When they do speak, fellow participants will want to listen.
Engagement strategies: Create a welcoming environment by asking participants to join the discussion, and offer a variety of ways to do so, such as polls or Q&A sessions. Be sure to have open-ended seed questions to get the conversation started. For large groups, smaller breakouts might appeal to the less-outgoing participants. Thank them effusively for contributing.
Characteristics: Their intentions are good, but good luck keeping the multitasker focused on your meeting. They'll join willingly, expecting that it will be worthwhile, but minimize the window so they can work on something else simultaneously.
Engagement strategies: Don't let it be boring! Pack the program with high-energy speakers, a strong emcee, and sessions formatted to require participation. Encourage attendees to keep their cameras on throughout the event. Small discussions or brainstorming sessions will keep the multitasker on task.
Characteristics: Like a mentor or a good friend, these attendees are supportive of your organization and pleased to have joined the event. They'll watch and listen without getting involved. Any comments will come as a direct message, not shared in the general chat.
Engagement strategies: While they don't want to be the center of attention in a group, Silent Partners will engage one-on-one. Ask them directly for honest feedback on the event and suggestions for future content. They'll appreciate being tapped for their opinions and will likely have valuable insights to share.
Characteristics: They've been there and done that – even better than you have. This is just one of many digital meetings they've experienced, and they're waiting to pounce when this one doesn't live up to their high standards. They'll be the first to point out any glitches, often in the chat for all to see.
Engagement strategies: Invite your Fussy Friends to join your advisory committee or take a pre-event survey; you might get helpful suggestions that can be implemented. They'll appreciate being tapped for their expertise. If they go a bit overboard with suggestions or criticisms, be prepared with a polite way to exit the conversation with grace.
I Have to Be Here
Characteristics: These folks are obligated to attend the meeting, and they're not happy about it. They have better things to do; this is a waste of their time. They'll participate at a bare minimum, nodding now and then when appropriate.
Engagement strategies: Your challenge is to convert this skeptical contingent into A-Students. Impress them with an element of surprise. You'll need to exceed their expectations for this contingent to be satisfied. Keep sessions brief, and even end a few minutes early. The "Have to Be Heres" of the world will thank you.
Out to Lunch
Characteristics: Unlike their Have to Be There cousins, attendees who are Out to Lunch have no intention of listening, let alone participating. They'll log on to prove they showed up, but if there's no video requirement, they're tuned out and doing something else — maybe event taking a lunch break.
Engagement strategies: You're not likely to convert these folks, but you might want to know who they are. Throw in a pop quiz or something else that requires an action or response. Those who don't reply are probably Out to Lunch.