How to Make Your Virtual Events Interactive

Virtual events are now a “must have” for just about any business.

Carol McGall

April 12, 2021

Virtual events are now a “must have” for just about any business. The virtual event space has become an expected—and often preferred—venue for all types of events that were once only offered live and in person in a shared physical space.

Virtual event technology enables companies of all sorts to safely and efficiently offer highly interactive, engaging virtual experiences for a variety of use cases that address multiple business needs.

Because, with the use of virtual event technology, they can be tailored to the company’s brand, targeted to key audiences, and populated with custom content, virtual events offer authentic virtual experiences that build community, attract new customers and even new recruitment candidates, cement relationships with current clients, and revitalize relationships that have gone quiet. They can be used internally to improve operations, employee development, and morale.

What company doesn’t need to motivate employees and build stronger relationships with clients and prospects? We don’t know of any.
 

Empowering Professional Associations


Concerned that virtual event technology really doesn’t apply to your business? It’s hard to imagine an industry where creating virtual events and engaging virtual experiences wouldn’t be relevant and even business-critical, especially now that virtual has become such an integral part of our daily business lives.

Technology companies, financial services firms, retail chains, universities and credentialling bodies, non-profit associations, healthcare systems and many other types of businesses are all hosting virtual events to share information, create community and grow their business. Shouldn’t you?

There are reasons and ways to create authentic virtual experiences for just about every target audience in every business in every industry, and there are as many applications for virtual event technology.
 

  • Rolling out new products or programs: Generate excitement internally and externally before the big day, create an impressive splash during launch and track post-launch engagement to keep the buzz going throughout the lifecycle of the product.
     
  • Onboarding: Welcome and orient large numbers of people in globally diverse areas. An ideal approach for universities, mergers and acquisitions, intern programs and other mass orientation scenarios.
     
  • Keeping employees engaged and informed: Use virtual spaces and virtual event technology for recruitment and new hire onboarding, benefits updates and Q&A sessions, professional development opportunities, mentoring programs, recognition events, corporate updates—any time you have new information to share or want to foster interaction, whether on a broad scale or in small groups.
     
  • Supporting your board and investors: Virtual events and virtual event technology allow you to deliver high-impact, interactive online events and stay connected to your investors, analysts and the media. Use virtual event spaces and virtual event technology to showcase your company’s unique investment story, and to share timely information updates in a reliable, secure environment.
     
  • Supporting association events: Use virtual events to deliver virtual chapter meetings, content programs, annual member conferences, and other networking activities globally to members and prospective members.
     
  • And of course, those big, unforgettable, career-changing events like annual conferences, trade shows and sales meetings: The opportunities to use virtual event technology and create virtual event spaces for improved engagement are as infinite as your imagination. Within the larger virtual event you can create hundreds of smaller virtual events.
     

Wherever you would gather and engage people in a brick-and-mortar location, spend a few days engaging in networking and development opportunities, and then measure the impact of that gathering, virtual events can extend your reach, enhance attendee interaction, add fun and excitement and provide equal or better metrics for analysis and insight.
 

What Is a Virtual Event?

A virtual event is a highly interactive multi-day and multi-hour virtual programming with an immersive experience for large audiences (scalable to 200,000+ attendees) hosted in a fully interactive 2D or 3D environment. Virtual technology enables networking, gamification, polling, Q&A, chat, social integration, quizzes, surveys and various options for sponsorship and monetization.

There’s no shortage of tools for planning online events, but not all tools deliver the same results. It’s important to understand the differences and know what capabilities and technology meet the demands of your unique use case.

Your event goals and objectives will determine the number of attendees, the types of virtual event spaces you’ll want to create, and the virtual event technology that you will deploy to reach your goals—resulting in the virtual event design and deployment that will advance your brand, grow your business and delight your audience.
 

Virtual Events – Conceptually the Same

The mindset needed to create a memorable interactive experience in a virtual event space is not so different from producing an event that is intended to be experienced in person.

Even in virtual event spaces, we are “live” and “in person”—we just aren’t standing around together in the same auditorium, exhibit hall, breakout room or cocktail party venue. We are likely to be in smaller, less populated spaces where we don’t need to climb across and aisle to find a seat or navigate a crowd to find our colleague.

You, the event professional, want the same thing you always have. So do attendees, event sponsors, and other stakeholders.

Despite the differences, what you are trying to achieve is the same in the virtual space as it is in a convention hall, corporate meeting space or zip-line team-building venue: You want people listening and learning; you want them interacting with each other, with you, with your sponsors and with your business as much as possible and in meaningful ways.

Whether you are hosting a town hall meeting for employees, or an annual conference for tens of thousands of attendees, you are orchestrating and choreographing an event designed to engage and exceed expectations. You are staging “The Show” – it requires audience participation, and you have a clear picture of what you want them to do.

You want them to show up.

You want them to be excited about participating and to be fully engaged for the duration.

You want them to absorb your most important takeaways.

You want them to keep on talking about the event for weeks and months after clicking on the Leave button.

You want to gather all the data you can to inform your next move, from post-event activity communications to planning your next virtual event, to readouts that inform your business strategy.

To achieve all the above, you’ll need to use every tool at your disposal to fire up the crowd, increase interaction and generate meaningful data.

Knowing that your objectives are likely to be best served by one critical objective—driving engagement—it is vitally important that you achieve the highest levels of interaction throughout the event. We recommend that you set the following goal: Attendees should touch the keyboard every two minutes using social tools such as Q&A, polling and chat. By doing so, they’re contributing to the content and conversation. To be clear, that means every two minutes throughout the entire event. It’s an ambitious goal; however, if you’re able to achieve it, chances are your audience will find the event quite engaging.

Here are some important steps to take when planning and preparing that will.
 

  • Build an engaging event landing page including registration. Feature the event’s agenda, abstract and speaker list. Include social icons that encourage visitors to share the event with their followers.
     
  • Integrate registration into your marketing automation and CRM system if appropriate. Leverage these platform integrations to ensure all your data is in one place for better segmentation, scoring, qualification and sales follow-up.
     
  • Feature the event on your corporate homepage. Prominently feature the event landing page on your website, including the hero/marquee area of your homepage. Also consider placing a fixed promotion above your site’s main navigation using a tool such as Hello Bar.
     
  • Create a word-of-mouth campaign. Write social media posts that employees, customers and partners can copy/paste to share with their followers with trackable links for each.
     
  • Consider a gamification program among your sponsors. Enable your sponsors with a promotional kit and encourage them to share the event with their networks. You can incentivize them with additional leads for the sponsor that acquires the most registrants or a discount on their sponsorship.
     
  • Engage and activate influencers. Whether your speakers are industry thought leaders, or your own corporate gurus talking about an upcoming IPO at a town hall meeting, they are powerful people. Arm them with tools to promote the event in advance.
     
  • Plan content that is relevant and interesting. Plan your agenda with a mix of live, simulive and on-demand sessions on topics that you know interest your audience, and allow your attendees to customize their experience by selecting which they’d like to attend (or watch on demand). Mix thought leadership, research and technical content with sessions on coaching, mindfulness and relaxation. To be sure you have the right mix, you will have asked your audience what they want to hear more about.
     
  • Map out virtual event spaces: Consider how best to use virtual event space to achieve your event goals. For example, build large spaces to welcome the masses, and small spaces to welcome elite members, speakers, or sponsors. Create scheduled breakout rooms for one-to-conversations between exhibitors and high value prospects, or for exclusive small-group gatherings with keynote speakers, authors and thought leaders.  
     
  • Select your virtual event technology and tools. With so many options, it’s easy to overengineer. Keeping your event goals and objectives top of mind when you are building your technology plans. Be sure you have created enough opportunities for interaction to gather the data that you need and to make the event interesting and fun for your attendees without barraging them with prompts and questions at every turn.
     
  • Invest in quality. Be sure that the production of your video and audio assets is the best that it can be. Invest in quality equipment and technology to ensure that the quality of your digital content reflects the brand you are representing.
     

Allocating Virtual Event Space 

Just like a physical event or conference, virtual event spaces allow you to create the best user experiences for your audience. With many options to choose from, you can customize your environment with the spaces that meet your event goals. Use spaces to gather and greet attendees, deliver content, and encourage interaction with speakers and program sponsors.

Scheduled Breakout Rooms are a great way to allow sponsors, presenters and event organizers to host group conversations within a booth, theater or presentation. On the Notified virtual events platform, these rooms let hosts and sponsors hold pre-scheduled video breakout sessions within the virtual event space.

1-on-1 Video Chat lets your attendees network and interact with each other within the virtual event space. This interaction offers value for both attendees and sponsors! It means important video conversations can happen at any time. The Notified virtual events platform even supports screen sharing and text-based chat to make these interactions more robust and authentic virtual experiences.
 

  • Lobby: Greet attendees and prepare them for the virtual event. Get them excited to be here!
     
  • Auditorium/Theater: Deliver presentations here. Host plenary sessions at your annual convention, or a town hall to brief employees on your upcoming IPO.
     
  • Resource Center: Provide thought leadership and research along with any information attendees need to fully benefit from the virtual event. Use this space to provide training for conference attendees or employees—or both—depending on your corporate needs.
     
  • Sponsor Space/Exhibit Hall: Bring attendees in contact with sponsors to learn about the latest valuable products and services. Or use this space to onboard new employees and introduce them to HR, IT, and other cross-functional colleagues of interest and importance.
     
In 2020, we at Notified observed a 599% increase in the total number of booths within virtual events. The average number of booths in each event jumped from 19 to 26.


As you can see from the graphs below, there was also a significant increase in the total number of virtual event booth visits. These new audience behaviors are important to keep in mind as you plan your next virtual event.
 

Booth-Data-Intrado-Virtual-Events

 

  • Help Desk: Provide support to a lost attendee or employee and make a friend for life.
     
  • Networking Lounge: Create a space for attendees to gather, exchange contact information, and build new career-changing relationships. Use this feature to support junior-to-senior mentoring programs in ways you never could before.
     
  • Activity Badge Center: Validate participation as attendees complete activities—participate in surveys, complete sessions, visit the Exhibit Hall—with badges they can add to their corporate portal and LinkedIn profiles.
     
  • Meeting Room: Give attendees a virtual space for one-on-one meetings with staff, sponsors, speakers, recruiters and career counselors, peers. Create one-to-many small-group sessions as workshops and breakouts for more intimate interactions.
     
  • Prize Center: Gamification attracts winners. Be sure to provide a virtual event space where the winners can pick up their prices: vouchers for products and services, gift cards for coffee, tickets to a local activity.
     

Virtual Event Technology and Tools

You can apply the same strategies and tactics that promote engagement and interaction at in-person events to make your virtual events interactive. Interactive event technology supports your goals and objectives at every touch point in the event planning and production process, from the minute you begin planning, through the post-event survey, and beyond.

Virtual event technology allows you to efficiently and effectively promote the virtual event, welcome and prepare your attendees before and during, set up virtual event spaces where they can gather and create authentic virtual experiences around important content, people and products. Any connection made through any channel at an in-person activity can be created as an interaction at your virtual event.

Remember your event opportunity – to engage attendees and foster a unique experience.

In virtual events, you use similar applications of technology to orchestrate authentic virtual experiences throughout the event at various intersections within the virtual event space.

Remember, this is your show, these are your players, this is your set, and it’s all designed to create a unique virtual event experience for your audience. With virtual event technology, you can direct the players to their places and script the scene so that your audience laughs, learns and is moved in ways that are new and exciting.
 

  • Pay special attention to staging your opening. First impressions matter. You’ve gotten them here; now, you can use virtual event technology to make sure they want to stay. Pay special attention to what attendees see and hear when they arrive. Make your opening strong, compelling, and as memorable as possible. Consider using a “virtual host”—a person, recorded via video, who welcomes attendees to the event. The video greetings are placed in the lobby or entrance of the virtual environment and are the first thing attendees experience as they login. Virtual hosts help provide a personal, multimedia-based welcome to attendees. The virtual host can “show” attendees around the space, explain when to use chat vs. Q&A vs. technical support and explain how to use the briefcase. Virtual hosts can also appear throughout the environment in different spaces and can also introduce presentations with pre-recorded or live introductions.
     
  • Create one-to-one and one-to-many networking opportunities among attendees, between sponsors and constituents, and between staff and attendees.
     
  • Enable exclusive gatherings of small, intimate groups of attendees and speakers to create authentic virtual experiences that will make your virtual event especially memorable.
     
  • Guide attendees through the virtual event with push notifications that remind them to register, that spotlight sponsor content and drive traffic to the sponsor booth, that remind them of important (sometimes exclusive) virtual networking sessions, and that invite them to participate in surveys and gamification (Don’t forget to announce the winners and send them to the Badge/Prize Booth!) that will provide you and your constituents with valuable data.
     
  • Ask attendees almost anything you want to know on your own behalf or on behalf of sponsors. Polling the audience during virtual event presentations ensures attendees will stay focused and engaged; surveys enable you to benchmark almost any data point; live Q&A during a session can provide  the moderator or speaker with valuable input in the moment to tailor content for an authentic virtual experience.
     
  • Entice your audience to play games, using virtual event technology to pull them into sessions and content, motivate them to share what they’re thinking about these engaging virtual experiences, encourage them to make social posts, schedule meetings at the booth, connect with as many new contacts as possible. Game mechanics can include points, levels, challenges, virtual goods, leaderboards, gifting and charity.

    Be sure to consider the following: 
     
    • Understand what constitutes a “win” for your event
    • Design for the emotional human, not the rational human
    • Provide meaningful intrinsic and extrinsic rewards
    • Make everything a little more fun
       
When players play, find a way to put their name in front of the crowd—people love recognition and getting credit for being in the game.  In 2020, over 1.3 million games were played in our virtual events platform – a 995% increase from 2019!


During your virtual event, you can engage your audience in so many ways and reward them for every interaction that they make using your virtual event technology.

  • Encourage those who are not attending to nonetheless take part. Use social media to draw people in. Follow hashtags, cross promote by using influencer and speaker handles and create caption contests.
     
  • Upload content and highlights in real-time.
     
  • Publish key takeaways to social media, email and blog posts throughout the event to create fresh buzz.
     
  • Continuously tap into attendee recognition. Leverage badging and gamification elements for attendee engagement and participation.
     
  • Leaderboards can be used to recognize active participants in the event.
     
  • Use in-event announcements to share content without leaving the experience.
     
  • Dedicate a social media moderator on your team. Having an individual watching over chatter and making timely updates can keep the audience engaged.
     

The scenes that can be choreographed are infinite, and if you do it well, you will be remembered not just for the vital information you shared so creatively and effectively, but also for the connections you helped people make before, during and after your virtual event. (If not, you’ll be remembered for frustrating your audience or, worse yet, not remembered at all.)

Virtual event technology will become your most valued partner and your best friend. The ways you can use it are myriad, limited only by the duration of your virtual event, the 24 hours in each day, and your desire to maintain some semblance of work/life balance. All the engaging virtual experiences you create will foster new and valuable connections among your attendees—and isn’t that exactly what they came for?
 

Red-Hat


It’s Never Really Over 

When your live virtual event sessions close, there are still so many opportunities to keep your audience engaged, to increase business, and to build community. Tap the power and potential of the on-demand post-event period! Keep your attendees connecting, keep your content alive and in play, and engage the segment of your audience that was not able to participate in your live virtual event.
 

  • Create email campaigns. Remind people there is on-demand content at their fingertips. Invite them into a virtual event space to view presentations at their leisure.
     
  • Repurpose content or follow-up on presentations. Identify the most popular sessions and re-run them live or have a secondary presentation that addresses the questions that couldn’t be answered in the prior presentation. Check social media and your chat history. Attendees will tend to pick out great points and post them or comment on them during the live event; this will point you to the best takeaways your speakers offered up during the presentation.
     
  • Produce new content assets from your virtual event content. Mine your content for snackable videos, blog articles, infographics, podcast and webinar material. Create new virtual event spaces for people to gather in.
     
  • Add new content into your virtual event space. Invite people back to reconvene for more valuable information and networking opportunities.
     
  • Use your analytics to identify highly engaged attendees. Find the participants who attended the most sessions, participated in surveys, collected prizes, posted on social, and thank them for their participation. Invite participants to take a survey numerically rating the virtual event and any individual sessions or virtual event spaces. You can use the insights when planning your next virtual event. You can also use the data to provide feedback if your event had sponsors; let them know how their sessions resonated with the audience, what worked and what didn’t.
     

If you can create new content and engage your audience in meaningful dialogue, your virtual event lives on. Look for every opportunity after the event to continuing creating authentic virtual experiences around content, connection and community, and you will make the most of your investment in each and every virtual event.
 

Summing Up

Every virtual event is really a composite of smaller events designed to engage. It is a multi-act form of theater and you are the producer. To be fully effective, you need to know what you want to achieve in the staging of the event, and how you want your audience to feel, think, and act after having participated.

Once you have set your goals and objectives, you can begin creating a series of scenes and scripts that bring the players together in interaction. You can begin planning the different virtual event spaces that will enable your audience to learn, interact, provide input, and reconvene even after this event has closed.

You will turn to your virtual event technology tool belt to support engagement before, during and after your virtual event; to capture relevant interactions; to gather data for analysis and insight; to inform your business, your strategy and your future events. The beauty of having the right tool belt is that, when the situation calls for it, you can pivot and add new opportunities for engagement in the moment, when real-time responsiveness strengthens your brand and makes for exceptionally authentic virtual engagement that will make attendees react with awe.

Like most event professionals, you will likely close the event with a sigh of exhaustion mixed with relief and satisfaction. At least your feet and back won’t hurt as much during your virtual events. The next day, and for as many days as you can create new content and new opportunities for interaction, you will keep the event alive and create authentic virtual experiences for your audience. The production is never really over.

The bottom line is that virtual events are about relationship-building. Every session, every activity, is intended to share information and bring people together, in the short term and, if all goes well, in an enduring relationship. The reason you are pulling all these levers is to ultimately bring your target audience closer to you by bringing them in contact with one another, with education and information, exposure to new products and services, career opportunities and whatever else they may value.

At every step of the way, think about how you can continue to engage with attendees and prospective participants. Are there super-engaged members that you should thank personally for their participation (and possibly recruit to help with the next event)? Are there any new influencers or advocates in the audience (or out in the marketplace) that you should connect with on LinkedIn and find reasons to stay in touch with?

The immersive experience that you can create in tools like Notified’s Virtual Event Expert is perfect for any important event because it fosters real interaction. This can be true even as we move away from the social distancing requirements of COVID-19. Hybrid events, which blend elements of virtual with in-person events, will become more common, even as we are once again able to gather in large groups.
 

Get a Demo of Our Virtual Event Platform 

Whether you’re hosting virtual or hybrid events to reach customers, employees, investors, or partners, Notified is here to help bring your vision to life.

We host over 70,000 webcasts and virtual events annually on behalf of thousands of customers around the world while providing dedicated support with a focus on data.

All virtual events include:

  • Dedicated project manager
  • Interactive environments with live & on-demand programming
  • Flexible branding and personalization options
  • Accessibility – anytime, anywhere, and from any device
  • Robust analytics and reporting
     

Contact us today to set up a free demo.

Author Name
Carol McGall