How to Engage Your Audiences: In-Person and Virtual

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Why Virtual Events May Not Always Work

The pandemic brought with it a tremendous increase in virtual events. However, the hype seems short-lived, and even with the pandemic decreasing in severity, many

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When it comes to captivating a room, your presenters know how to engage an audience, adjust their body language, work a stage, and help forge meaningful connections with every audience member; but what happens when there are two stages to command – one in the physical space and one in the digital?

Enter hybrid events, where participants can join in-person or remotely through a virtual event platform. Speakers will need both face-to-face and virtual presentation skills to bridge this gap and create an engaging experience for both groups. Help your event attendees enjoy their experience in-person or online with these essential audience engagement tips. 

#1 GUIDE YOUR AUDIENCE: LET THEM KNOW WHAT TO EXPECT

When questions like “Does this venue validate parking?” or “Do I need a password to access the virtual event?” are clouding your audience members’ minds, it will be more of a challenge for them to be present in the event experience. The more informed your guests, the better prepared they’ll be to absorb and engage in the live presentation

shutterstock 1707351922
shutterstock 1707351922

Make sure you provide information on:

  • What digital tools your live presentation will be using
  • How to use those digital tools
  • What to bring or have on hand to participate in event activities
  • Any logistical details such as parking and venue maps for the live presentation and web links for the virtual attendees 

Hybrid Event Tip: Create an FAQ for your audience members before the live presentation, broken down into three sections:

  • General Questions
  • Virtual Attendee Questions
  • In-Person Attendee Questions

That way, your audience members can easily navigate to the information that’s most relevant to them. 

#2 IMPROVE ENGAGEMENT WITH YOUR EVENT TEAM

A presenter is just one piece of the event puzzle. It requires a whole team to make a live presentation successful and engaging. When it comes to hybrid events, you’ll need a specialized team to ensure a smooth user experience for your in-person and virtual audience members.

  • Online moderators: The presenter’s job is to present. Having to scroll through a chat log to find relevant audience questions slows the pacing of a live presentation and can diminish the energy of the room. Instead, try having online moderators collect audience questions and the names of the people asking the question. For a bonus, and if your live presentation technology is capable, be sure to put a face to a name by displaying the individual’s video on the big screen for the presenter to address.
  • Tech support: The live presentation’s chat function should be a space for exciting ideas, connections, and audience questions about the topic—not technical troubleshooting. Ensure your online attendees access a separate technical support contact when logging in or participating in activities.
  • In-person floaters: When it comes time to engage in digital-to-in-person activities, have some enthusiastic staff float between sessions to inspire conversation and answer audience questions

Hybrid Event Tip: Engagement is essential during an event and virtual presentations and will help the audience better remember the information down the road. Before the live presentation, provide an overview via email or mail (i.e. topics that will be covered in the live presentation) and encourage your audience to brainstorm a list of potential questions they may want to ask. Additionally, inform your audience of the above resources that will be available. 

Lastly, set aside some time for your audience to take short breaks between virtual presentations to get a drink of water or speak with those around them. This way, they are more likely to stay focused when the presenter speaks and can have a moment for themselves and regroup. 

#3 CREATE DYNAMIC, ENGAGING CONTENT FOR VIRTUAL AND IN-PERSON AUDIENCES

When working with an in-person audience, your presenter must hold the room’s attention to keep your audience engaged. When working with a virtual audience, the presenter must be the most compelling thing in every room that your guests are calling from.

What is the key to holding a hybrid audience’s attention and encouraging engagement in a virtual presentation? Content. 

Here are a few ways you can bring dynamic content to virtual presentations to keep your audience engaged during your hybrid events:

  • Keep the slide pace fast and the information sparse: Every time your presenter changes from one slide to the next, the audience re-engages. You can use fewer slides during an in-person presentation because it’s easier to measure your audience’s engagement through body language. To keep your audience engaged, experts recommend creating virtual presentations with 2-5 slides per minute. For an hour-long virtual presentation, that may sound daunting—but it really shouldn’t be. The key is to ensure each slide presents one idea as succinctly as possible that the presenter can verbally elaborate on. That means:
    • An image or graphic 
    • A handful of bullet points 
  • Mix up your media mediums: In this new era of event evolution, stagnant images on PowerPoint virtual presentations just won’t hold your audience’s attention. Keep your audience engaged by mixing up the media in virtual presentation materials by using:
    • Video
    • Audio
    • Animated infographics
  • Offer multiple angles: It’s a lesson we learn as early as grade school—a slideshow isn’t nearly as engaging as a dynamic speaker. Your virtual audience shouldn’t be forced to just hear your presenter while staring at a full-screen virtual presentation. The latest streaming software allows your virtual audiences to watch the live presentation from multiple camera views and see the presenter’s virtual presentations through a screen share. Switch between multiple camera views so that the presenter can make “eye contact” with the live presentation listeners and virtual attendees at different places in the space. To help immerse the virtual audience in the experience, set up another camera facing the in-person attendees.

    Broadcasting software that offers multiple screen-views and have the ability to switch between camera angles include:

    • OBS
    • Streamlabs OBS
    • Switcher Studio

Hybrid Event Tip: Establish a consistent font and branding colors throughout the entire virtual presentation to establish professionalism. All images should not overcrowd the slide, have a high resolution, relate to the key messaging of the slide, and appeal to all audiences. Additionally, consider editing all images and graphs with a drop shadow or border to distinguish them from the slide’s background. 

#4 BRING ENERGY TO PRESENTATIONS

When giving a live presentation, body language and physical movement are important components of engaging your audience. The same body language tricks your presenters use to liven up a disengaged audience will work for virtual presentations and on-site events.

  • The “Ten Times” rule: The speaker is the energy hub in an event. The amount of energy in the room will determine the level of engagement in your audiences wherever they are, which is why presenters rely on the “Ten Times” rule.

    What is the “Ten Times” rule? Think of the normal level of enthusiasm someone might have for a topic they know. Now multiply that excitement and enthusiasm times ten by focusing on vocal variety and body language. When presenters bring peak energy, that translates to engagement through face-to-face presentations or virtual presentations and audience interactions. 
  • Show investment in both audiences: Presenters know they aren’t speaking to an empty room—they ask questions, reach out, and speak directly to their audience members. Make sure your presenter is honing in on both virtual and in-person audience members, so everyone in the crowd feels prioritized, no matter how they’re attending the live presentation
  • Roll with the punches: Despite perfect planning, anything can happen during an event. There may be problems with the mic, slow internet, or the presenter may accidentally show a slideshow of a family vacation instead of the event topic—mistakes happen. By tackling unforeseen issues with humor and a positive attitude, your audience members won’t remember the snafu. Instead, they’ll remember your presenter’s poise under pressure. 

Hybrid Event Tip: It’s important to start the event with a lot of energy. Play upbeat music as both audiences are taking their seats or logging onto the virtual event platform. Additionally, have your in-person audience introduce themselves to their nearby neighbors and answer a question or two, and have your virtual audience type their answer into a group chat. Then, the presenter can call out a few attendees to share their answers. This way, both audiences are energized and prepared to get called on.

#5 CREATE INTERACTIVE EXPERIENCES

Create opportunities for audience participation in the physical and virtual worlds with interactive experiences that bridge the gap between the two viewers and attracts your audience’s attention. Those may include:

  • Polls: Polls in virtual presentations can help your presenter gauge an audience’s understanding of a topic, prove a point, or even serve as a virtual ice breaker. Create digital polls so every audience member can participate. 
  • Digital and in-person partnering: In break-out sessions, partner digital participants with in-person ones through computer chat, live video conferencing, or phone calls.
  • Let the people chat: Encouraging your audience members to engage with each other, break out into side discussions, or ask follow-up questions through an online chat service can help them interact with the topic more dynamically.

Hybrid Event Tip: Create an event kit for every attendee to feel more involved in the event. Include things like branded pens, pencils, notepads, activity props, or even an auction-style paddle for virtual and in-person audiences to use when they want to raise their hands. 

#6 REWARD ENGAGEMENT

Creating a reward system for engagement incentivizes participation for in-person and digital viewers. Take the lead from one innovative kindergarten teacher’s handbook. To help keep an engaged audience consisting of virtual students, the teacher put a sticker on her face every time a kindergartener participated.

While your target audience may not be as excited by a silly placement of stickers, you can still spark the reward centers of your audience members’ brains by incentivizing engagement. 

  • Gamification: Create teams of both digital and in-person attendees. Every time someone participates in that team, they get a point. The team with the most points at the end of the event can win exclusive discounts, coaching sessions, or even branded merchandise.
  • Recognize active participants: A reward doesn’t have to look like a carnival toy. A simple call-out, thank you, or compliment can encourage engagement. 

Hybrid Event Tip: If your event technology is capable, enable your remote audience to “raise” their hand, and your online moderators can call them out for the presenter. Depending on how formal you want the event to be, you can encourage the audience to either ask questions throughout the entire virtual presentation for a more conversational environment, or you can wait for audience questions at the end of the virtual presentation. Make sure the presenter asks for the attendees’ name and repeats it, so they feel welcomed, and thank them for attending the event. 

BEST PRACTICES FROM VIRTUAL & HYBRID EVENT EXPERTS

The hybrid event format is certainly taking off, and some event managers have already paved the way for your future successes. Take your cues to keep your audience engaged from some of these hybrid event leaders:

  • Lean into the beauty of a hybrid event: HubSpot INBOUND 2020 took advantage of smaller in-person numbers by finding original venues like baseball stadiums to host their events.
  • Make the most of the first 15 seconds: Neil Gordon, a communications consultant, espouses the 15-second rule. Presenters tend to spend the first portion of a virtual presentation diffusing the tension with an icebreaker. Gordon says don’t diffuse it; milk it.
    Gordon recommends the presenter stroll onto the stage, then wait for half a beat confidently, ensuring all eyes are on her. Then, she can start with a captivating story, compelling issue, or statement that hooks the target audience right away—wherever they are. 
  • Create space for breaks: Whether they’re staring at a screen or sitting in a venue seat, long events can decrease your audience’s stamina for engagement. That’s why CEO & Executive Coach Rasheryl McCreary recommends leading a guided “body break” for all audiences. That can include a few stretches, a sitting or standing yoga pose or two, or even a mini dance party to help give your participants a welcome refresher. 

CREATE ENGAGING EXPERIENCES ONLINE AND OFFLINE WITH VARIO

Embarking in a whole new world of hybrid event engagement can be exciting, but there’s still so much to discover. That’s why you should trust Vario to be your event production partner. No matter the format, webinars or a virtual conference, creating an engaging presentation should be the top priority as event organizers. With over 20 years of event experience— virtual and in-person—Vario can elevate your audience engagement in this new era of hybrid events. 

Talk to the experts at Vario today.

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