Planning3 Min Read

Virtual Events: 7 Ideas to Build Community and Drive Engagement

The proliferation of virtual events right now is staggering. There has always been a glut of webinars out there, but with field events and trade shows off the table for a while, many companies are going online only in an attempt to replicate the magic, engagement and impact of being there in person.

This is, of course, tricky.  Your attendees didn’t take the time and money to attend your event only to watch keynotes on a big screen from the back of a ballroom. Replacing the interactivity, the peer-to-peer community, the engagement levels between attendees, speakers, sponsors and more – that’s a big challenge that some companies are working through right now.

Below is a list of strategies and tactics many companies are trying. And as with a lot of real-time pivots happening across marketing and sales teams right now, I expect some of these to be successful and stick around much longer than the coronavirus.

1. Use a mobile app

The same app you would have used in person can keep people engaged during your virtual event as well – especially the customized agendas, alerts when their sessions are starting, networking tools, social integrations and more.

virtual event app

2. Create a Slack “microsite”

If you were to create a Slack channel with subgroups just for your event, what would it look like?  Would you create subgroups for birds-of-a-feather attendees and profiles?  For different topics?  Some for work, some for fun?  And the benefit of tying a new Slack channel specifically to the event is you also give yourself an excuse to stop contributing to it right afterward (or, if it’s really successful, keep it going as an event alumni community and engagement channel).

3. Gamify the event

Create a scavenger hunt for attendees to find clues, submit a final product and be entered in a drawing for prizes. It could be a good way to help them explore different content, and visit your virtual sponsors and their “booths,” etc. What about putting Easter eggs on your Web site? In the content? Remember when radio stations (maybe they still do this) would say things like “when we play two Madonna songs in a row, call us and win!”? What if you embedded secret words into keynotes, into slide decks, something fun and different and unexpected to keep people engaged?

4. What’s your superpower?

At registration, and in the online profiles for each attendee, capture not just their name, title, and company. Ask them to name a professional superpower and an afterword superpower. Help them, and others, see the fun and human side of their peers. Ask speakers to introduce themselves, including these superpowers as well.

5. Influencer/Speaker video AMAs 

Get your high-profile speakers to spend as much time on Zoom informally answering attendee questions as they spend in their more formal keynotes and presentations. Attendees will love the access and intimacy of this.

6. Leaderboards

Some of the event apps have these embedded. Create a points system for attending sessions, completing surveys, visiting sponsors, sharing highlights on social, etc.

7. Live chat next to presentations

Bonus points if you have a tool that allows attendee chats to simultaneously post to social channels accompanied by your event hashtag.

Would love to hear what else you are trying, specifically around increasing engagement and a sense of community among your event attendees.

Matt Heinz
Matt Heinz
Matt Heinz is a prolific author, award-winning blogger, and President and Founder of Heinz Marketing. Matt is a dynamic speaker, memorable not only for his keen insight and humor, but his actionable and motivating takeaways. Connect with Matt on Twitter or LinkedIn.