In-person events are back. But there’s no ‘business as usual.’
“It’s evident that the events industry is still finding its feet, post-pandemic,” says General Manger of Concise UK Jim Hughes. “Whilst many venues and planners are seeing a return to near 2019 business … the world is different. The pandemic has encouraged even the least tech-savvy to master the basics of technology. We can’t think of returning to the old world of paper-based events and printed agendas.”
Additionally, audience attitudes have evolved. “Over 70 percent of Americans list Family and Physical Health and 67 percent list Mental Health as their priority over work, career development and travel opportunities,” Hughes adds.
The most successful events will be the ones that can integrate the easy connectivity and interactivity of virtual events into the in-room experience and cater to audiences with these new priorities. Let’s look at how organizers can do this by engaging audiences before, during and after the event.
- Pre-event engagement strategies and tools
- Event day engagement strategies and tools
- Post-event engagement strategy and tools
Pre-event engagement strategies and tools
Your event website is the best tool to use to encourage pre-show audience interaction. “Extend the access to your event site or event app platform,” counsels Encore Digital Solutions Product Manager Ryan Sheehan. “Your attendees can have access to sneak-peak content, surveys, even pre-work on the registration site. Going live before your event … allows attendees to learn about your speakers and sessions beforehand. You can generate buzz and by the time the event pulls into the [venue], excitement can be high.”
Gathering data pre-event can also help organizers customize the onsite experience. Encore Director of Sales Engineering-Digital Solutions Rob Wilcox says that pre-event engagement should be part of a multi-pronged and multi-channel marketing approach. “It is an opportunity to listen to your audience with polling and surveys. That helps event organizers gain input that addresses [audience] needs and ‘what’s in it for me.’ It sets the tone and expectations for the event.”
Pre-populating online event websites and app platforms with agendas and other tools that allow participants to plan their ‘personalized’ experience in advance, is another effective way to engage future event audiences. Wilcox recommends that in addition to event sites, organizers should also leverage social media and emails to increase event registration and build buzz and momentum.
Case Study: Using pre-event engagement data to increase the effectiveness of regional road shows
Hughes says that the engagement metrics collected pre-show or during previous shows can be used to increase the effectiveness of future events. One of his clients did this for a series of roadshows they produced.
“The organizers were able to identify what areas of the program and learning were consistently well-understood, and any topics needing more follow-up or support,” Hughes says. “From their data collection, they also realized that there were some regional differences that meant they needed to adjust their approach in those areas.”
The event organizers were able to subtly adjust elements of their program to embrace these regional differences and preferences.
“Their roadshow was particularly successful because the client identified their objectives and understood the data that they wanted to collect in advance of their event, and so were able to build a program that measured what they needed to know.
Event day engagement strategies and tools
During the pandemic, many event organizers relied on online polling and chat tools to engage audiences. The great news is the technologies developed to engage online audiences can be and are being adapted for in-person use.
Sheehan points out that Encore has several digital tools that can provide polling functionality for in-person events. “What you are looking for will determine which solution is best,” he says. “But at a high level, we can integrate polling into your event app, help you design content around digital audience response system tools or even engage your in-person and remote attendees with low-latency streaming.”
Hybrid Latency — the lag time between when something is happening on stage and when it reaches the remote viewing audience — is a huge challenge to engaging hybrid audiences. Current streaming platforms tend to have a latency lag of 40 to 50 seconds. That makes it hard to get remote viewer responses to polls, Q&A and chat responses that sync up to what’s happening in real time for the in-person audience.
“Encore is just about to release a new low latency streaming option, reducing latency delays to around three to five seconds, which will radically change the opportunities for interaction and gives remote attendees a near equitable experience,” Hughes says.
“When using the Chime Live℠ engagement platform’s new ‘Low Latency’ streaming service, we also [can] track an individual’s dwell time, and see who is participating, measuring down into two-minute time blocks. This means that you can see who has watched what, and if at any point there was a significant drop-off.”
Presenters often use polling to keep audiences engaged during presentations. But organizers can use polls to tailor the conference content.
“When you have too many experts or too much content for the time that you have available, you can poll the audience to identify the topics that are of most interest to them – before or during the event – and pick the content most relevant to them and focused on what they want to hear about,” Hughes says. Because adult learners only retain information they’re interested in learning, this technique enhances learning and retention as well as content engagement.
Polls also can be employed to take participants’ ‘pulse’ to measure sentiment throughout the event. “These check-in/check-out questions help the meeting planners understand where they need to focus their message, so that it connects as best as possible with the audience,” Wilcox says. “The last thing you want is to spend a lot of time and effort producing an event only for the message to fall flat.”
Audience engagement tools can also be used during presentations as knowledge checks to gauge the level of understanding on the subject they are presenting on. For example, presenters can ask the audience a question to test how much they know about a topic before diving into it, then test them after to see how much they retained. “This technique can help presenters customize how they deliver the content, which is another win for event participants,” Wilcox says.
Another technology that enhances audience engagement during the event is second-screen technology. “Second screen technology refers to the use of a mobile device to provide an enhanced viewing experience for a television broadcast or live presentation,” Sheehan says.
One technique event organizers can borrow from television producers is to embed the stream with special content that encourages the audience to interact with the stream as they’re viewing it live. An example of this is the ‘Story Sync’ content broadcast alongside “Breaking Bad” episodes during its fifth season. During the broadcast, an icon on the screen let viewers know that there was an Easter egg they could unlock on their mobile device. This special content included behind-the-scenes photos, trivia, interviews, and more.
“The coolest part [of] using second-screen technology, such as iPads, for events is the ability [of] your attendees to pinch and zoom presentation content to get a better look, skip backwards for a moment to catch something they may have missed, and ask questions right in the moment without stepping up to the mic,” Sheehan says.
One of the best examples Sheehan has seen of this was at a client event for doctors. “While facilitating the training, the presenter provided an image of an x-ray used for a diagnosis discussion. The doctors were able to pinch and zoom and get a great look at the x-ray,” he says. “Normally, they would have been limited to what was on a projection screen.”
Case study: Polling event day audiences for input and buy-in
Polling helps everyone at the event have an input and say in decisions that impact them. One client Hughes had wanted to revive and relaunch its company’s environmental, social and governance (ESG) policy.
“They wanted to get more buy-in from the staff and collaborate on solutions,” Hughes says. “Teams worked in small groups to come up with ideas at an organizational level, branch level and department level that supported their ESG policy.
Then each team pitched their ideas to the whole group, who used the polling function to rate and prioritize the most appealing and viable solutions.”
Post-event engagement strategy and tools
How do you keep people from forgetting your event? Use a different version of the same strategy you used to engage them prior to the event, Sheehan says.
“Whether your event is fully in-person or mixed with hybrid attendance, you can provide extended access to an event site with cool stuff like archived or on-demand session recordings, PDF copies of speaker presentations, and even post-event debriefs with polling or surveys. To be honest, this is also the perfect time to start teasing about your next event.”
Wilcox points out that if you want to gauge event return on investment (ROI), post-event engagement is just as important as pre-event engagement. “The sales and real work happen after the event, so your post-engagement strategy is key to optimizing your results.” You want to keep the event’s themes and core call to action items front of mind until your next event.
Here are a few examples of how organizers do that:
- Send ‘thank you’ emails to those who attended
- Send ‘sorry we missed you’ emails to those who could not attend with an invite encouraging their attendance next time
- Encourage participants to share feedback through surveys
- Create a post-event page with relevant event highlights and content, key downloadable materials, and a post-event report out
- Create a community forum or other way(s) to facilitate networking beyond the event walls
- Celebrate key successes around high performance relevant to event goals
- Have sales or customer teams personalize their own follow-up/touch-base communications
Don’t forget to analyze the data received from your audience engagement efforts. “Going through post-event survey data to learn how participants felt about the event [will help you] gain insight on how to improve the next one,” Wilcox says.
In addition to the quantitative metrics of event platform dashboards and surveys, incorporate qualitative data, like anecdotal feedback gathered onsite through conversations with event participants, the pulse surveys, chat streams and feedback shared on social media about what participants liked, what went well and what needs improvement.
Case study: Using data to increase post-event revenue
A client using the event platform Chime Live for a product launch wanted to track post-event revenue. The client took the sales team through all the sales aids and support materials using Chime Live to house all the resources.
“Immediately after that session, they used a ‘Chime feedback form’ to ask the 200 attendees to identify three clients that they would pitch the new product to, in the three weeks immediately following the meeting,” Hughes says. “As the attendees had interacted with all the content, and felt confident in the product, it was easy for them to identify and capture 600 opportunities for the new product.
“The organizers had an action plan and immediately hit the market and generated opportunities and revenue as a direct output from that session.”
It’s clear the meeting industry has changed due to the pandemic, and this has a lot to do with the mindset and behavioral changes of event participants. What kind of strategies and tools are you using or planning to use to keep participants engaged at your events going forward? Let us know by commenting below or tagging us @encore on social media.