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Tech Talk: Experts discuss engagement ideas for digital events

A stellar line-up of event tech experts shared ideas on engagement before, during and after digital events at the Virtual Events Institute’s (VEI) latest Tech Talk.


Tech Talk: Facilitating Engagement Before, During and After the Event featured five panelists from ON24, Brella, Twigged, MeetingPlay and Matchbox Media. ON24 was the platform partner.


The event’s moderator Emma Hilditch, also VEI’s content director, opened the hour-long session by asking the speakers what they believe is crucial to engaging digital event audiences.


Audience-first thinking


The first to answer was Cheri Keith, head of strategy at ON24. She told viewers: “Think about your audience. You cannot expect different audiences to engage with your marketing in the same way. The engagement that follows an event can be more important in a way. Contextualizing your follow-up – based on people's behavior during the event – is paramount.”

Arianna Rehak, Matchbox Virtual Media

The opportunity to engage attendees pre- and post-event is as much about content as it is about bringing the community together, said Arianna Rehak, CEO and co-founder of Matchbox Virtual Media. “For one of our events, we had a forum for people to interact in advance and drive excitement about coming together. Encourage participation during the event by using tools, such as a chatbox, where people can post their own ideas and questions. Post-event, we created ebooks out of the content from the community.”


Is content still king?

Matt Coyne of Twigged

Matt Coyne, co-founder of Twigged, agreed that understanding your audience and the micro-tribes within is key to offering the right types of engagement at every step along the delegate journey. He also added that if “content is king, distribution and delivery should be queen.” Coyne explained that distribution is about focusing on how audiences engage with content, and delivery is about offering the very best content, as well as curated content.


Jyrki Paananen of Brella

Whether content is still king was questioned by Jyrki Paananen, co-founder and COO of Brella. “There's almost an inflated volume of virtual events at the moment and it is challenging to make content the differentiator, so perhaps connections could be the new king.”


Coyne agreed that there is an “overindulged amount of content but it's about how it is curated. Content must be highly relevant.”


'Signalling' is vital for digital events


Signaling is vital in a digital environment, too. People know what to do at physical events, but online they need clear signs and signals. Rehak gave an example of poor signaling where a chatbox helped a few attendees with technical queries at the beginning of an event. It then became the go-to place for technical support and not for conversation and networking as it was originally intended for. Rehak explained: “If there are certain ways you would like attendees to use the different tools in an online environment show them by having people in your team jump in early to use the tools in the desired way.”


‘Surprise and delight’ tactics were advocated by Joe Schwinger, CEO and co-founder of MeetingPlay. “Surprise and delight attendees along the way to make it interesting. Those are the types of points in live events that kept people going throughout the day.”


Choosing an event tech platform


Hilditch then asked the panelists to share their key criteria for choosing an event tech platform. Answers included measurement, data insights that can be acted upon and seamless integration with other types of tech.


Exhibitor and attendee interactions


Interaction between exhibitors and visitors can be challenging in a digital environment and a member of the audience asked the panelists for solutions.


“A huge bright spot in this area is purpose-driven interactions,” answered Rehak. “We strongly recommend scheduling specific times for meetings. A recent post-event survey found that those who scheduled demos and interactions were far happier with the experience.”


Coyne warned against some types of gamification where delegates collect points for certain tasks to win a prize, which fails to incentivize delegates for the right reasons and does not deliver meaningful engagement or value for stakeholders. He suggested gamification linked to CPD points for career progression and development, which could motivate delegates in a relevant and valuable way.


Rehak is seeing a paradigm shift taking place with the traditional exhibition hall or marketplace in the digital space. She pointed out that these areas at a physical event are “a way for people to get information, but attendees may not be attending that particular event when they are in the middle of the buying cycle. I've seen a push for sponsors to reimagine the marketplace experience as something that is on-demand and available when each individual member of the audience is ready to research and look for that demo or product.”


Gaming design


She went on to recommend that event designers take a course in game design. “Every discipline is solving for human nature in a different way and game design, in some ways, is kind of the psychology of engagement. It’s about getting your audience super engaged and involved, personalizing the experience with personal identities and choosing your own adventure. There is a lot to be learned and applied to digital events.”


Mastering pre-event comms


The conversation moved on to explore pre-event communication. For boosting open-rates with email marketing, ‘surprise and delight’ and inserting things that are unusual and attention-grabbing can be useful. Also, do not communicate about something your attendee doesn't need to know ahead of time.


Another useful idea is to insert a video from your event planner with the three things your audience needs to do, or know, before the day of the event. If delivering swag boxes in advance, put the critical information with the delivery because attendees will be more likely to open and read the information.


Micro-events in the lead-up can be a way of onboarding participants and also showing them how to get the most out of a platform. However, Coyne stressed that if a platform isn’t simple to use and needs explaining, it is already broken.


Final thoughts


The Tech Talk session closed with an easy-to-action tip from each of the speakers. Recommendations included using great hosts and professional-level production, and careful management of breaks so you don’t lose your audience.

Cheri Keith of ON24

Keith added: “The easiest way to impact engagement is to train the people who are delivering the content. Give them the tools so they become more comfortable with it or find new ways to engage audiences, whether that be technology training or presentation coaching. Speaking at a virtual event is a different muscle for people to use, so take a step back and think about how you can coach your presenters in a different way.”

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