How to Incorporate Gamification Into Virtual Events

Gamification can be used to deliver short bursts of content and make digital gatherings more engaging. 

More companies are coming to grips with the reality that their annual slate of in-person events is likely to be virtual or hybrid because of the Covid-19 pandemic. But rather than waste time fretting over Zoom fatigue, why not use a proven tool to help get attendees excited pre-event and ensure continued engagement throughout? 

Over the last several decades, there has been increasing recognition of gamification as an effective method to encourage innovation, productivity and engagement. Scientists, video-game makers and educators have refined gamification tactics, and it is now regularly used in the educational and training space. Now that the pandemic has all but guaranteed that digital events are here to stay, it's time to tap into principles of gamification to level up your virtual events.

How Gamification Works

Gamification is the use of game elements, mechanics and principles, such as scoring and competition, in a non-game setting. Game elements include delivering short bursts of content, instant gratification, rewards and recognition, and continuous rapid feedback.

Scientists know that dopamine, the feel-good hormone, is released whenever we are rewarded for a specific action. Gamification focuses on giving participants instantaneous feedback in the form of virtual rewards (points, stickers, a scoreboard, etc.), which generates positive emotions and keeps participants engaged.

Another key hormone triggered by game elements like badges and rewards is serotonin, which governs our overall mood. Lots of serotonin makes for a sunny disposition, while a decrease in serotonin might leave you feeling out-of-sorts. Serotonin release can be triggered by remembering past successes, so even just looking at your rewards — like checking your place on the event leaderboard — might make you feel better.

Why Gamification Eases Cognitive Load 

New ideas, new skills and new contacts are the hallmarks of any good business event. But how do your attendees hold onto these benefits — especially now, when that event is likely to be virtual?

Your brain can handle only a certain amount of information at any one time, a phenomenon which scientists call "cognitive load." One way that gamification can help participants deal with cognitive load is to present learnings in a more game-like, challenge-based format, which helps chunk the lessons into smaller pieces that are easier to digest and retain.

How to Gamify Your Event

You can incorporate gamification thinking into your event in many ways. Take a step back and assess how your event could be structured to include the following critical components: 

1. Build in Small Boosts

Keep the dopamine flowing by rewarding people for the desired forms of engagement. For example, if you'd like participants to visit all your vendors, you could create a digital passport or interactive bingo card and encourage them to complete it in order to be entered into a sweepstake. 

2. Invite Interaction

Rather than have speakers talk at your participants, ask audience members to be hands-on and cameras-on. Give participants a short amount of time to write their responses to questions (short time frames are essential because they encourage people not to edit themselves) and then call on a few respondents to share their answers. Add interactive activities such as polls or breakout rooms for discussions, and reward those who participate with prizes or points.

3. Create Team Spirit 

Add a competitive element to the event by assigning participants to teams, which could be based on something simple like a theme/color, or could be tied to the meeting content and session tracks. Have attendees work together to achieve a goal, solve a problem or complete an event scavenger hunt. Small to mid-sized teams are best for getting everyone involved.

4. Encourage Self-Expression

Allow your participants to customize their experience. Enable them to get creative with their profiles, assign themselves a nickname and share some fun facts. Deliver a sense of autonomy by permitting them to choose which content tracks to attend, or introduce a sense of random adventure by distributing codes that take people into mystery breakout sessions.

5. Solicit Social Sharing

Incentivize behaviors by gamifying social media activities. Encourage participants to share their event experience on social media in order to unlock prizes, such as exclusive content or celebrity-speaker access. Or, you can raise money for a charitable cause by committing to donate a certain amount when social posts from participants reach a designated target. 

6. Reward Winners

Think about ways that your event can celebrate game "winners." Can you give them special access to the speakers? Share their winning moments on social media? Could you highlight participants on a leaderboard that updates throughout the event? Prizes might include a digital swag bag with product offers and discount codes. 

Michele Martell is a media and technology attorney and a brand marketing strategist at Martell Communications. She has worked with a variety of clients, including Crayola, Hasbro, the Jim Hanson Company and many others.