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Virtual & Hybrid Events: What’s the secret to wowing the crowd?

March 19, 2021

MB

By Maaike Boer
Global Corporate Communications, CWT

Travel restrictions have led to a boom in virtual and hybrid events, and by all accounts, they’re here to stay. Sure, nothing beats face-to-face, but online events can succeed just as well, providing event professionals are resourceful and creative in their execution.

We asked our 216,000 global LinkedIn followers what event planners should do to keep screen-weary attendees actively engaged. Around a third (33%) of respondents would like to see more interaction with the audience. Another 25% want to see more relevant content and 24% find that events go on for longer than they need to.

It may come as no surprise that the most challenging aspect of a virtual event is keeping people’s attention. How do you get your audience to go from ‘casual observer’ to ‘active participant’? And why is it so hard?

According to Professor Jeremy Bailenson of Stanford Virtual Human Interaction Lab [news.stanford.edu] people need to work a lot harder to send and receive signals on virtual platforms. In regular face-to-face interaction, nonverbal communication comes naturally. We make and interpret nonverbal cues subconsciously. But being in an online environment involves more thought, “You have to make sure that your head is framed within the center of the video. If you want to show someone that you are agreeing with them, you have to do an exaggerated nod or put your thumbs up. That adds cognitive load as you’re using mental calories in order to communicate,” says Bailenson.

It pays to go the extra mile to engage your audience. There are a host of tips and tactics out there to help, from live polling to gamification widgets. The secret is standing out from the crowd.

One company lets you hire a rescued farm animal to join your meeting link. Attendees can ask the animal questions, learn about the sanctuary and ask for a tour of the farm. We’ve all attended a meeting in which the presenter was less engaging than a goat. If a real-life one gets people’s attention, perhaps it's not a baaa’d idea?

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