The Complete Guide to Event Audience Engagement
The meeting and event industry is constantly changing as improvements in technology make it easier for planners to engage with attendees. But what hasn’t changed is the importance of keeping your attendees engaged throughout your event lifecycle to increase ROI.
It’s no secret that engagement at events is crucial to its overall success and that technology often facilitates that engagement. Event planners today have a plethora of technologies to choose from: event mobile apps, social walls, virtual reality, augmented reality, and wearable technology, just to name a few.
But no matter the technology you choose to increase engagement, the general rule is that it should enhance the attendee experience, and not be a distraction. To guarantee that outcome, it’s important to set the foundation for your event technology to thrive and for attendees’ engagement experiences to have a lasting impression.
Within this guide, we will look at how the most successful event professionals make use of today’s technology to facilitate maximum engagement with attendees while conducting their events.
What is Event Engagement
Audience engagement encompasses participants’ interactions with other participants, as well as with the content, partners, brands, event team, and special events. In short, it is the participant’s interactive journey throughout the event.
Why is Engagement Important?
Like a true friend, engagement levels provide genuine, real-time feedback. The gold standard is observing what takes place when participants vote with their feet or in a virtual setting with their clicks. How, and with whom, people choose to invest their time are the Holy Grails of expressed interest. Each year billions are spent capturing and extracting those insights across every major marketing channel. And it’s happening every second at your events. Let’s break it down.
How to Calculate Engagement Score
Because events vary significantly we need a reference point to provide helpful context. Engagement Score, calculated by our SaaS-based events management platform, provides that reference point. Think of it as an event’s interactive profile. Using an integrated platform to understand and manage your event’s Engagement Score enables three essential abilities.
1. Situational Awareness
Knowledge of our surroundings permits us to respond appropriately. By understanding what’s working or not working, right now, we can quickly take action to magnify the good or minimize the less-than-good. With finite resources and time, awareness permits us to prioritize.
Is foot traffic to a platinum sponsor light trending down? Send a text message to relevant participants, or wheel out a snack cart. The point is to know where to focus effort in the moments that matter.
2. Identify Key Influencers
No two participants are the same, and they interact with our events in unique ways. Some arrive well-prepared with full agendas and energy; they work the event with a level of intensity that mirrors your own. Others do so to varying degrees. Enabling and maintaining high levels of engagement generates interest and activations which in turn creates Influencers. And Influencers have an outsized impact on future event attendance and performance. The key is recognizing the most active networkers, popular sessions, and activities that ignited bursts of interaction.
In very real ways, events are the stage upon which you capture the insights your partners crave. It starts by observing and then analyzing their activities.
3. Continuous Improvement
This simple concept is often anything but simple - identifying the parts of our events that warrant repeating, and those that do not. Accuracy here requires a balanced view of the event’s performance. Yet that noble exercise can be easily skewed; consider the combined influence of these common realities: single-digit survey response rates, the out-sized influence of ‘squeaky wheels’, and personal biases. Instead, effective event diagnostics require consistency in terms of collecting and weighing inputs. The rewards include the ability to compare events and identify trends. Stock market index funds operate in a similar manner: these unique mixtures of stocks move up or down in response to the market sentiment with very real financial implications.
Like stocks, events are similarly unique and benefit from comparisons. To gain a deeper understanding of your event’s performance organizers can compare current and prior events. The resulting context highlights trends and provides a quick gauge of activity. While industry benchmarks can help, nothing beats the perspective gained through the lens of your own events.
Managing Engagement at Scale
Achieving all three - situational awareness, identifying key influencers, and continuously improving your events - starts with committed and experienced staff. To do all three consistently and at scale requires additional tactics. Notable among these are advanced participant tracking technologies such as smart badges. To save your team time and help connect the many important dots, those lead retrieval devices and related analytics should be fully integrated with your event technology platform. Otherwise, the risk is just having more data – but not any further actionable insights.
While event goals vary by type of event, audience profile, and other factors there are enough common elements to provide a basic roadmap. Let’s break down the above definition into some familiar event metrics that you can begin tracking today.
Engagement encompasses participants’ interactions with…
- Other Participants: # connections made, # meetings requested & accepted, # messages sent
- The Content: session attendance & ratings, avg sessions/attendee, total time in sessions
- Partners, Brands: # leads scanned, total & avg time spent in the exhibit hall, visit dwell time
- Event Team: survey feedback, on-site interactions, social media posts
- Special Events: attendance, avg time spent, networking activity, survey feedback
While this list may seem intimidating, the most essential step is the first one. That is, start by focusing on an achievable set. Then, evolve your event’s engagement metrics in partnership with stakeholders. In short order, you will turn every event into the experience your attendees love while simultaneously capturing the insights your stakeholders crave.
Event Tech Products That Increase Engagement
Planners are constantly looking for new and exciting ways to engage with their attendees and make their lives a little less chaotic at events. Well, look no further! We have curated a list of five products to use at your next event that will attract and excite attendees. From making networking easy and organized to keeping attendees hooked on the words of your keynote speaker, the technologies listed below are simple to implement but will create a big impact while onsite and beyond!
NFC-Enabled Badges for a Seamless Attendee Experience
While there are several badging options to choose from these days, NFC (Near-field communication)-enabled badges can make the event experience a seamless and high-tech one, for attendees and organizers alike. Instead of scanning a traditional barcode or QR code, NFC allows data to be exchanged just by holding a badge close to another device. This can help not only save time and streamline processes like check-in, session tracking (both active and passive), and lead retrieval, but it can power other exciting badge features, like digital wallets, swag distribution, and more. Overall, these badges can hold 30x more information than QR code badges, allowing everyone at the event to gather more information on each attendee.
Mobile Apps - Your Attendees’ Personal Pocket Planner
More likely than not, you’re using a mobile event app to organize some aspect of your meeting or event. Whether you’re using your mobile app to increase attendee engagement, keep your attendees informed, or gain better user metrics, mobile event apps have become an essential tool in the event lifecycle.
Some apps allow planners to individually design and publish their own mobile apps to fit their event or brand identity while including all the robust features today’s attendees want. This includes building their event agendas, scheduling one-on-one meetings, private messaging, and so much more. At the same time, planners can get detailed insights on event performance or event ROI, and increase revenue through banner ads, premium listings, and sponsored push notifications. When used alongside a complete event management solution, your event data and information, like sessions and speakers, will be automatically synced to the app, making app management easy.
How to Use Mobile to Drive Engagement at Events
There are lots of ways to make an event a more meaningful experience both for attendees and for the group hosting it. A mobile event app helps planners reach out to participants before, during, and after the event.
Before the Event:
- Send out a poll to find out what attendees want from the event. Planners can provide a more tailored experience based on responses. Speakers can also plan their talk around the interests of the audience.
- Encourage participants to connect with each other through the apps’ messaging system
- Send out reminders and helpful information
During the Event:
- Send push notifications to let them know what’s going on and where
- Allow attendees to organize and bookmark speakers or exhibitions that they want to see
After the Event:
- Post slides, photos, and videos of the event
- Send out polls asking how it was
- Send thank you messages to event participants
- Let them know about upcoming events
Polling Technology to Make Your Attendees Part of Your Story
Do you want to increase attendee attentiveness at your next event? How about their level of investment? Adding real-time response technology, like live polling, to your event's presentations can increase attendee engagement and, more importantly, make them feel like part of your event’s story. Live polling also provides crucial audience feedback information that can be used to better predict attendee's expectations and preferences.
Today's event management software has live polling technology built into mobile apps. During an event, you can activate polls for participants to answer on the event app in every session and the results can be seen in real-time in the session rooms.
Live Streaming to Reach a Wider Audience
No matter how well you plan an event, some people are bound to be unable to attend. Instead of losing them as potential clients, you can deliver engaging virtual experiences by live streaming your event across the globe. Live streaming is an easy way to reach a wider audience and increase your brand or event’s authenticity and ROI.
Image an event where your attendees will be able to view a live stream of your event and chat with speakers, or a meeting where your offices across the world will be able to fully participate without the barriers of travel expenses and language.
Live streaming or adding a virtual component to your in-person event is an effective strategy that can expand your audience and bring more people together.
Interactive Touchscreen Technology – Make Any Event Engaging
Harnessing the interest of your audience can be tough, especially when your event or product is not organically interactive. Thanks to touchscreen technology you can now make any event interactive. For example, you can set up touchscreen kiosks, to exhibit your company’s product, and your website, and even to demonstrate apps. Touchscreen kiosks are also a great way to run individual or group demos.
Another form of touchscreen technology is video walls. Touchscreen video walls are essentially large monitors that can stream your PowerPoint or any other content you want to be displayed. The walls can feature charts and graphs that attendees can zoom in and out of or surveys that attendees can answer. By introducing touchscreen technology to your next event, you can engage your attendees by allowing them to get up close and personal with your product and develop a greater understanding of your brand.
Measuring Event Engagement to Show Event Success
When it comes to enticing attendees and sponsors to invest in your event, showing evidence of event value is critical. You can say your event has been successful in the past or is good for specific demographics, but unless you have the data to back it up, it may be difficult to get your attendees and stakeholders on board.
By tracking engagement at your event at a variety of levels, you can not only increase attendee satisfaction but also better market your event to your audience. But you may be asking yourself, what data do I track and how exactly can I turn it into event value? Learn how event tech can help you capture key performance indicators related to engagement and what to do with all that data afterward to increase event success.
How to Collect This Data: Access control and session tracking solutions are a great way to measure session attendance. They monitor and control attendee access to specified areas or sessions while tracking movement throughout the venue, helping you enforce capacity limits and enabling you to employ contact tracing at your event. With the help of Beacons placed near a session room door, planners can passively measure who comes in and who leaves and when (for better accuracy, a person will only be counted as attended if they stay in the room for 10 minutes, for example).
How it Showcases Event Value: A great event starts with a great event program. By understanding what program topics and speakers were the most popular in previous years, you can accept the best speaking proposals that fit your audience's educational needs to build the most engaging program possible. In turn, your attendees will leave your event with lots of new and innovative insights and feel like your event was worth their time and money.
How to Collect This Data: Mobile apps are a great tool to measure networking interactions at your events. Your event mobile app can track how many attendees are using features like in-app messaging and one-to-one matchmaking.
How it Showcases Event Value: It's no secret that networking is often a top priority for attendees, and they want to leave an event having made several great connections. Knowing the raw number or rate of connections made at your event can showcase why your event is worth attending, with prospective attendees knowing just how eager your audience is to network.
Tracking Session Engagement with Your Mobile Event App
We’ve outlined the top three ways event professionals can track their attendee’s session engagement in real-time during their meeting or event by using their mobile event app.
Live Surveying – To better track how engaging attendees are in finding a particular session, you can implement live surveying into your event via your mobile event app. Before your event, you can create surveys or polls and upload them into your mobile event app, so all your speaker has to do during your session is activate them and instruct attendees to answer them on their event apps. To avoid confusion and keep the session moving, try to ask concise and clear questions that are easy for attendees to complete. Having your attendees answer real-time surveys is an invaluable way to track how engaging are in finding the session and allow your speaker to make real-time changes if needed.
Real-Time Feedback – After surveying attendees, have your speaker display the live results. Based on these results, the speaker can determine the direction of the rest of the session. From these results, the planner can determine how engaging the particular session is for attendees and continue to track it. Not only does real-time feedback help planners gain valuable insights into their sessions, but if the speaker makes real-time changes based on these results, it also helps your attendees feel like they are an active part of your event.
Activity Feeds – Some mobile event apps have activity feeds or streams that allow planners to post interesting general announcements, and allow users to like, comment, and post their own announcements or pictures to the feed. During and after sessions, planners can use this feature of the mobile event app to track the chatter and answer any questions surrounding the session.
How to Collect This Data: NFC (or near-field communication) technology is key for this endeavor. By setting up Beacons around your exhibit hall and providing attendees with devices, you can track which booths were the most trafficked during which days or times. As for digital events, virtual event booths are analogous to the stands you see at in-person events like trade shows and festivals, and they make it easier for sponsors, organizers, and attendees to connect. Although virtual platforms cannot replicate face-to-face gatherings, they can allow one-to-one networking.
How it Showcases Event Value: Having this data is useful to attract sponsors. Say your conference is for event planners and you find that your attendees visited exhibitors from event management software, mobile apps, and onsite technology companies the most. When it's time to sell to new exhibitors, you'll know companies in these areas will be happy to see that your audience is actively looking for their product.
How to Collect This Data: With NFC badges, the lead gathering is as easy as tapping the attendee’s badge, and with QR code badges, leads can be gathered by scanning the QR code with a lead gathering device. Devices can be rented, or some companies offer “Bring Your Own Device” solutions, where exhibitors can use their own devices by buying licenses and downloading the app.
How it Showcases Event Value: Simply put, your exhibitors want their investment in your event to result in leads. By having lead-capturing options, exhibitors can qualify those leads with custom surveys, notes, or on-demand content delivery. If you can tell potential exhibitors how many leads others have collected in the past, they'll know exactly what to expect when attending your event.
Overall, it's important to remember that measuring data related to engagement is a never-ending process, so set goals and benchmark your data so you can revisit it year after year. Your event data is only impactful if you use it in the right ways, and showcasing event value for attendees, sponsors, and stakeholders will always lead to greater event success.
Keeping Attendees Engaged In Between Events
We often think of the event lifecycle in three stages: pre-, during, and post-event. But what’s an event planner to do to keep attendees engaged during that long, several-month stretch after they have gone home and before registration opens for the following year?
While you can definitely take a break to reevaluate and analyze ROI metrics once your event has concluded, there's no reason to slow down your efforts to engage current and prospective attendees. When you provide fresh content on your event website and social media channels year-round, it not only gets people excited about your next event but, more importantly, it turns your organization into a thought leader in your respective industry.
The best part about creating this engaging content in between events is that it's usually easy and low cost, if not free; all you need is a little creativity. Here are some simple ideas to implement while you’re winding down from this year’s event and gearing up for the next:
Maintain a Blog
Along with sharing the latest industry news articles online, take time to share your organization's own take on the top trends and insights via a blog on your event website. Quick tips, listicles, reviews, and other topics make for easy-to-digest content that you can create once a week or even just a couple of times a month. By actively engaging attendees throughout the year with your own content, you’ll be seen as a dynamic, committed thought leader in your industry.
Create More Video
It's no secret that video is an extremely powerful marketing tool. Whether it’s giving your attendees a behind-the-scenes look at planning for next year's event, or an interview with your exciting keynote speaker for the next, video is a very engaging tool that helps develop a more personal connection to your event. Live streaming is also incredibly popular as it allows you to engage with your audience in real time.
Share Aggregated Content on Social Media
Instead of being a source of inspiration and ideas one week out of the year while onsite, become a resource that your attendees look toward every day. Along with your standard event promotion, take a little time each day to share 2-3 news stories going on in your industry on your social media accounts. This is also a great opportunity to track what content your followers are interested in most, which can help generate ideas for your own event content.
Contest and Discounts
Get your attendees’ attention with many opportunities to participate in contests to earn registration and accommodation discounts, VIP statuses, invitations to special events, and other perks. Have these contests be interactive and/or feedback-driven to get the most out of their participation. For example, you could have attendees enter to win by filling out brief surveys, answering Twitter polls, liking/following all of your social media accounts, sharing photos, etc.
Get Inspired By Your Own Data
Your survey, demographic and attendance data collected by your event management software can be the foundation for excellent content to create and share during your event’s quiet months. From small shareable graphics and larger infographics to fact sheets and white papers, use any compelling data that may pique your attendees’ interests. It could be used in an Instagram post to encourage registration for the following year (i.e. "90% of attendees would recommend ABC Conference to their colleagues! Learn why by clicking the link in our bio.") or simply act as a useful industry resource (i.e. "Check out what technology ABC Conference attendees love most in our latest white paper!").
Keep Your Mobile App Updated
Just because you’re event has ended doesn’t mean your event mobile app should go dormant. A week or so after your event ends, take down outdated content and leave placeholders and post information for the following year. While it’s best to not overdo it during the off-months, the occasional push notification reminder, an alert or special offer is a great way to keep the app updated and your attendees informed. It's also a great place to encourage attendees to continue networking with each other before and after your event.
Don't Forget About Email
Though not the fanciest or newest of communication tools, it’s still important to send good, old reliable emails to your attendees. Instead of constant reminders to make early bird registration, build a newsletter that showcases all the engaging new content and resources you create each month, as well as the latest information and announcements about your event.
At the end of the day, even if you choose to implement just one or two of these initiatives during your event’s in-between months, you’ll be doing yourself and your attendees a huge favor! Not only will your attendees feel more engaged and informed, but it will also lead to higher attendance rates and will create a stronger community surrounding your event
How to Facilitate Onsite Engagement Technology
It’s important for you to go the extra mile to ensure that your technology will work flawlessly when engaging attendees. Event planners should use event technology which will facilitate more interactions and experiences at every event, which creates a positive and influential memory for each attendee.
Here are some of the ways the most successful event professionals make use of today’s technology to facilitate maximum engagement with attendees while conducting their events.
Invest in Wi-Fi Support & Back-Up Plans
Technology often relies on Wi-Fi, which is not always reliable and consistent within a hotel or convention center. It’s important that event planners have backup options in case Wi-Fi is not always up and running, or not rely on hotel/venue Wi-Fi altogether by investing in its own network. If cost is an issue, consider sponsoring your Wi-Fi service or deploying mobile hot spots close to your onsite technology.
Technology can be new for some attendees, so it’s critical to educate them on how to use it to enhance their experience. Onboarding and technology demos should be fun, interactive, and quick so that attendees can start taking full advantage of their new powers. If you’re engaging via a mobile app, consider a short how-to/guide video on your digital signage showcasing its notable features. If you showcase something like virtual or augmented reality technology, have someone be there to answer questions or explain how it works. It also may be helpful to send pre-event emails and notifications to attendees to alert them of the new and exciting technology you’re featuring, as well as links to more information and how-tos.
Look for Technolgy that Can Track Data
Events today are all about how to leverage data for the overall event and marketing strategy rather than execution for one event. Data has been collected in a very rudimentary way for events and in the past, it has been very difficult to understand. Now with event analytics platforms, event planners can understand what actions they should do to improve their events in terms of engagement. By using event mobile apps and wearable technology, event planners can receive digital and physical metrics that will help them evaluate the true health of their event in real time. Engagement is full of rich data and event planners should work with the rest of their marketing team to use this data to power future campaigns after the event.
Elevate the Human Experience
When it comes to event engagement, most attendees are specifically looking for new ways to network, learn new best practices, obtain new information, and meet new companies and thought leaders. Technology should help attendees know where to go when to go and whom to talk to. By having this level of insight, an attendee can make the most of their time, and have the highest quality experiences with each other. Lead retrieval technology is a great way to replace the physical business card with an easier and more contextual way to exchange contact information. Technology should always be easy and fun to use.
Maximizing Audience Engagement During Virtual Events
Virtual events offer some unique benefits but, most importantly, they can also help you keep your audiences engaged and prepared for the transition to hybrid events and, ultimately, the return of in-person events.
However, to take advantage of this opportunity, organizers and sponsors must focus less on the traditional top-down webinar approach and instead focus on engagement, interactivity, and personalization.
Virtual events don’t have to be any less engaging than the real thing. Here are some proven ways to maximize audience engagement during virtual and hybrid events.
Offer Captivating Content
The best content isn’t an advertisement, but something that helps solve a problem educates or entertains. Virtual events are no exception to this. However, given the short attention spans of online audiences, it’s best to curate your best and most relevant content and split it into easily consumable chunks. Take a cue from the recommendation engines of Amazon or Netflix to offer personalized suggestions that truly resonate with your attendees.
Encourcage Interactive Sessions
No one wants to watch an endless stream of webinars, so it’s important to customize your sessions and promote active engagement. For example, you can use real-time polls and surveys to enable attendees to customize their sessions and make them feel like they’re part of the conversation. There should be ample opportunities for them to provide feedback and ask questions of their own during live Q&A questions.
Utilize Gamification to Improve Engagement
Gamification is the use of mechanics traditionally associated with video games in non-game scenarios. This typically involves assigning points, ranks, and badges to attendees based on their participation levels, but you can go even further to organize things like virtual scavenger hunts too. Gamification adds a fun and competitive element to your events, and it’s a proven way to promote higher virtual engagement levels.
Incorporate Breaks In Between Sessions
One of the biggest challenges when hosting a virtual event is combatting screen-time fatigue. That’s why it’s important to allow for breaks between sessions. Virtual breakout rooms should be part of the platform, allowing for team-driven activities, such as mini yoga sessions, trivia contests, standup comedies, or virtual happy hour ideas. Themed events during breakout sessions can also make your events more memorable.
Support Networking Moments
Many people join events for networking and social opportunities, and virtual events should not be any different. Your event platform should facilitate one-to-one conversations, allowing attendees to connect with subject matter experts in between sessions. Group chats, meetups, and virtual water coolers also provide opportunities for people to get to know each other, as well as promote lasting relationships.
Every successful event professional knows that audience engagement is the key to building and sustaining a loyal attendee following. There is a multitude of ways to get the attention of your audience, from interesting speaking sessions to interactive exhibit hall booths to fun contests and networking cocktail parties.
Technology plays a crucial role in successful event planning. Not only does it allow those in the events industry to do their jobs better, but it helps create an engaging and flawless attendee experience as well; a true win-win.
The meeting and event industry is constantly changing as improvements in technology make it easier for planners to engage with attendees. But what hasn’t changed is the importance of keeping your attendees engaged throughout your event lifecycle to increase ROI. Finding technology that will help supplement the in-person, hybrid, and virtual experience will bring an event to the next level.