Have you ever been to an event that was a snoozer — complete with people practically racing to the coffee station between sessions? Of course you have, and that’s why audience engagement is so critical.
Garnering and maintaining an audience’s attention, especially during long meetings or intense conferences, is one of the major challenges event planners and meeting coordinators face. Even galas and charitable events can quickly turn into a drag if the speeches run long or the video presentation has poor production value.
As an event planner, though, there are plenty of ways you can prevent the clock-watching and get your audience energized, whether you are looking to increase event audience engagement at a larger-scale conference, a medium-sized meeting or simply want to boost participation at any kind of event.
1. Content programming
Whether it’s an off-site company meeting or you’re bringing professionals together for an intense, multi-day educational conference, creating a balanced program is key to preventing audience burnout and increasing event audience engagement.
Instead of forcing people to sit through hours of speeches and demonstrations, mix up the itinerary with hands-on workshops, entertainment, social breaks, food and even exercises. If possible, you should also consider changing scenery by bringing the audience into new rooms or outdoors for some sessions.
Allowing guests to move around, fuel up and participate will increase their patience and energy levels during parts that require them to sit, listen and focus. It can also help them to retain more of the information.
Some ideas to add to your content programming are:
- Hands-on activities or workshops during or after a speech or demonstration to reinforce key concepts
- Longer breaks between sessions to let attendees socialize and recharge
- Social hours with ice breaker activities
- Group stretching or breathing exercises
- Snack breaks and open lunch hours … it’s scientifically proven that people think better and have more energy after eating
- A guest comedian, musician, live art or another form of entertainment to get their creative right brain stimulated
2. Speeches and presentations
A good public speaker understands their content, presents it well and engages with the audience. While this doesn’t always mean they have direct conversations with audience members, it does mean that the content should feel personal, fresh and entertaining. When choosing and prepping your guest speakers, you should inquire about how they plan to engage with their audience and maybe even offer suggestions.
Some great ways to cue in the audience during a speech is to:
- Ask audience member questions
- Conduct electronic surveys
- Invite audience input or even participation
- Encourage social shares
You should also ask your speakers what they plan to present and request to see early drafts of their speech or presentation to make sure their content is engaging and is at the right level for your audience. This is critical in that the content should be at or above your audience’s knowledge level of a subject so that they feel like they are truly learning something new.
3. Interactive technology
For most of us, we turn into kids on Christmas morning when presented with the opportunity to play with and experiment with new technology. Furthermore, as we become more and more comfortable with emerging technologies, audiences expect to interact with technology at events. Including event technology into your design, programming and communications can help to increase audience engagement.
Here are a few ways to do that:
- Second screen technology – Give the power to the audience by conducting polls or Q&A sessions that are displayed on a large screen and discussed on stage. You can also use technology to create gamification experiments or allow audience members to up-vote content topics.
- Virtual reality – Do more than explain your point, immerse them in it. Drop your audience into another world with a pair of virtual reality headsets. You can walk through a historical timeline or drop them in your future vision, like a live tour of your yet-to-built, groundbreaking building design.
- Digital displays – Trading static posters for digital signage gives you the power to quickly and strategically change your messaging through the event. It also makes it more engaging for your audience members, who will be reengaging with the digital sign regularly throughout the event. With a digital display, you can schedule your content to present updated and necessary information for upcoming workshops or to rotate between fun facts, schedule info, advertisements and art.
- Touchscreen displays – To take your digital signage a step further—and gain some more audience engagement points—consider touchscreen digital displays that allow your guests to guide themselves through your content in order to find important maps, schedule updates and additional information. You can even place these on tables and display graphs, videos, presentations or other content related to the speech.
4. Event design and layout
Where and how you place furniture, stages and other pieces of your floor layout plays a large role in event engagement. Too much in one space can create distractions, while uncomfortable chairs or awkward arrangements can increase an audience member’s desire to get up and move. For better event audience engagement, you should design your event layout in a way that brings attention to where it is needed, while still allowing your guests to determine what is more comfortable and appropriate for them.
Some tips for designing for audience engagement include:
- Variety of seating options—From theatre-style seating to small tables and even lounges filled with couches and chairs
- Maintaining access to coffee stations and snack tables for mid-meeting refuels
- Secluded areas for audience members to step out for emergency phone calls or breaks without distracting other audience members
- Position tables and seating in a half-circle around the stage to optimize views
- Eliminate or minimize visual obstacles or distractions
- Include overhead or individual video displays for guests in the back of the room
- Create unique break off spaces for event engagement with other audience members
5. Bonus – Increasing virtual event audience engagement
If your next event is online and not in person, breaking that audience engagement barrier can be even more difficult. However, with the right tactics, you can overcome that computer-screen barrier and pull your attendees into the conversation, directly or indirectly, and increase virtual event engagement.
Here are some great ways you can spice up your next virtual affair and increase event engagement:
- Virtual event gift bags – Who doesn’t get excited when a package arrives? Send your guests an “event kit”, complete with a few swag items and materials they can use to help them stay engaged throughout the programming.
- Communicate clearly – Virtual events are relatively new to most audiences, which can cause confusion and anxiety over what to expect. Fill your guests in by letting them know exactly what to expect from you (and what you expect from them). You can throw in tips to help them feel more comfortable and engaged throughout the event.
- Virtual roundtables – If your group is relatively small, you might want to make your speech/workshop/presentation more intimate by starting or ending with a virtual roundtable. This gives audience members an opportunity to ask questions, discuss concepts or share ideas with the presenter and other guests.
- Break-off groups – For larger digital gatherings, you might create break-off groups to allow audience members to connect directly in roundtables, workshops or to compete against other teams.
- Audience engagement on message boards – If your digital setup doesn’t allow for direct participation, you can still utilize message boards. Pay attention to comments and questions coming in from viewers and refer to the person’s name when responding.
- Gamification – Increase vendor event engagement and audience engagement by offering points and prizes for each virtual booth your attendee visits and interacts with.
- Digital Swag – For digital events, vendors can replace physical swag (pens, bags, phone covers, etc.) with digital ones, like coupons, special offers, free trials, coupons and more. This is also a great way to get your sponsors and exhibitors involved with giveaways to their products/services.