Keeping your audience engaged at any kind of event is no mean feat. But what about when you have an in-person and a virtual audience to cater to?
A hybrid event brings with it a whole new set of challenges, requiring you to keep two distinct audience types engaged, who both have different preferences and needs. Here are 5 key ways that you can keep both groups focused throughout your hybrid event.
1. Shorter sessions
It’s difficult for anyone to sit still and focus for long periods of time, but it’ll be even harder for your virtual audience.
Sitting and staring at a screen for hours on end can result in screen fatigue, which ultimately means your virtual attendees are likely to have shorter attention spans. Plus, those at home are likely to be surrounded by all sorts of distractions such as kids, pets, noisy housemates, the washing machine bleeping… we could go on!
So, keep your sessions short and snappy. By dividing your content up into easily consumable, bite-sized chunks, you'll be able to keep your virtual audience engaged and maximise your content's impact.
2. Breaks and breakouts
Schedule regular breaks into your agenda to allow your attendees (both in-person and virtual) to take a step back and recharge their batteries between sessions. Not only will it enable them to regain their focus, but it will also give them time to fulfil those pressing tasks such as responding to emails or, for those accessing your event from home, dealing with life admin.
For your in-person audience, it's important to make your event as enjoyable as possible so that your audience doesn't leave during breaks. It's a little harder for virtual attendees, but if you'd like to find a way to keep them connected to your event, why not offer some virtual entertainment features that involve a hosted activity, such as a cookalong, a yoga class or a guided meditation? That way, they get to unwind while still enjoying all your event has to offer.
Bear in mind also that 'breaks’ aren’t always about time out. At times, your virtual attendees may simply need a break from their screens, rather than a break from your content. To make that possible, consider making some of your sessions available to listen to from a phone and encourage attendees to tune in while taking a walk. A change in scene will allow them to focus more readily.
You can also utilise break periods for networking opportunities, both for your in-person and virtual attendees. We'll cover networking in a bit more detail shortly.
3. Content is king
We’ve all heard the phrase ‘content is king.’ And that’s never been more true than at a hybrid event.
Firstly, your content has to be good enough to stop your audience from switching off – we mean that literally in the case of your virtual attendees, who could easily choose to close their laptops or click out of your event at any second. And secondly, having just talked about the importance of breaks, your content will need to be good enough to make sure that your virtual attendees actually tune back in after taking a break from their screens. This is all about building a really strong virtual event programme.
Don’t forget how important session abstracts are to encourage your audience to return to your event after a break. Make sure that the titles and excerpts that you’re using to promote each session are snappy, exciting and explain the value that they can bring to attendees. Just beware: your seasons have to actually live up to the write-ups, otherwise your audience will quickly see them as empty promises.
4. Timing is key
While your in-person attendees will have fenced off dedicated time in their calendars for your hybrid event, your virtual attendees may well have registered without making the same level of commitment. It'll be all-too-easy for them to get way-laid by a pressing issue at home, or simply to have your event on in the background without giving it their full focus.
Ultimately, timing is key and the easier you can make it for attendees to tune in, the better. So, try to avoid scheduling sessions during key hours like lunchtime or the school rush. And be mindful of the time zones that your attendees will be joining from. After all, you could have virtual guests turning up from every corner of the globe!
For both your in-person and virtual audiences, you’ll also want to be sure your event doesn’t clash with other major events that could compete with yours. If there’s a big football game on at the same time, for instance, your online attendees might be tempted to tune into that instead. And even your in-person attendees might find it harder to stay engaged with your content, surreptitiously checking the score on their phones when no-one’s looking. Not ideal!
One of the best ways that you can help your attendees (both in-person and virtual) to stay engaged at a hybrid event is by giving them opportunities to really interact with your content.
For your in-person attendees, that probably means giving them the chance to ask questions after or during each session. Ideally, you should also make sure that your speakers are available after their sessions so that in-person guests can pull them aside to ask questions they might not feel comfortable asking in front of your entire audience.
Similarly, there are tons of ways to facilitate hybrid event audience engagement for your virtual audience. Most virtual event platforms feature a host of virtual engagement tools such as online Q&A, live chat and audience polling. Consider using a tool that allows in-person attendees and virtual attendees to submit and upvote questions to the speakers using the same Q&A technology, like Arena, and be sure to broadcast this Q&A stream on the main stage.
It can be hard for speakers to keep an eye on what a virtual audience is contributing while a session is running, so why not designate a member of staff to post polls and feed back questions and comments from online attendees in real-time?
It's worth noting that Arena, a brand new hybrid events platform created by events professionals for events professionals, offers several methods of engaging your audience, including not one, but two types of breakout rooms - having both video and audio breakout rooms ensures all delegates are comfortable and catered for and can join in.
You could also consider making use of interactive event formats, such as workshops or team building sessions, where your audience members are divided into groups to discuss a topic or carry out an activity. You could even use these as an opportunity to connect your in-person and virtual attendees, forming groups that are made up of both. This will have the benefit of making them feel like part of one large audience rather than two subsets.
Aside from the content, the other major benefit of attending an in-person event is the opportunity to network. Giving your virtual attendees the chance to do the same will really help them to engage with your event.
Most virtual event platforms offer networking tools such as AI networking, to match your virtual attendees with one another for quick video meetings. However, at a hybrid event, you may well find that there are virtual attendees who’d like to form connections with in-person attendees and vice versa.
A virtual event app can be a great way to facilitate this. Many virtual event platforms give you the option to provide your attendees (both in-person and online) with a designated app for your event. This way, your in-person attendees can join in with the AI networking and arrange meetings with your virtual attendees alongside networking with guests in-person.
By building a bridge between the two subsets of your audience, you’ll be helping them to form more meaningful connections and allowing your virtual attendees to feel just as much a part of your event as your physical attendees. It’s a win-win!
As you can see, although your virtual and in-person attendees will have different needs, keeping both audiences engaged isn’t rocket science. Simply try to put yourself in your audience’s shoes to understand how they might be feeling and what you can do to make their experience an exciting and valuable one. The likelihood is that it will involve optimising all 6 of the steps we mentioned above.
For more guidance on the the virtual side of your hybrid event, check out our complete guide to virtual events, and make sure to check out our latest offering, Arena, which is an infinitely scaleable, fully brandable and super affordable hybrid events solution.