Tips for creating a high-engagement virtual conference

Faced with the COVID-19 pandemic’s global travel restrictions and limitations on indoor gatherings, in-person conferences became an endangered species. Virtual conferences, which had existed but at the periphery of the main conference market, suddenly took center stage.

But if you’ve ever tried to replicate any in-person gathering in the digital world, you’ll recognize immediately that creating an effective virtual conference takes some serious planning, finesse, and creativity.

You can’t just take your in-person conference agenda, turn it digital, choose some videoconferencing software, and be good to go. Instead, you’ll need to rethink many aspects of your virtual conference, paying particular attention to the challenges, and the advantages, that the digital format presents for creating a successful event.

Here are some tips for how to do a virtual conference that encourages high engagement from participants and helps you achieve your overall conference goals.

Begin engagement before the first session of your virtual conference.

  • Start by determining your KPIs for the success of your virtual conference, to help guide your decisions and so you know what metrics to track.
  • Weave polls and surveys into the registration process itself, to get an idea of participants’ interests and priorities.
  • Send an interactive Q&A link in advance of the conference, to gather questions from attendees and enable presenters to start prepping answers.
  • Make the conference agenda interactive. Allow registrants to suggest breakout session ideas, pose questions ahead of time, or vote on which sessions interest them the most.
  • Create a hashtag for the conference. Encourage participants to use it in their social media posts leading up to the conference, as well as during and after the event.

Design engagement into the structure of your virtual conference.

  • Establish a virtual information booth: a particular digital spot where participants can get technical assistance or answers to questions about registration, sessions, or other aspects of the conference.
  • Begin each session, or just the keynotes, with an icebreaker activity.
  • To counteract the fatigue of staring at a screen for long periods of time, vary the format of your event to help participants stay alert and engaged. Consider using shorter presentation blocks, or having multiple presenters take turns presenting during a given session.
  • Prevent participants from drifting off to answer emails or scroll their social feeds by doing polls, quizzes, word clouds, and other activities frequently during sessions.
  • Allow participants to upvote and downvote on these engagement activities, to provide real-time feedback to presenters, who can adjust their presentations according to the audience’s preferences.
  • Instead of waiting until the end of each session to do a Q&A, insert frequent Q&A periods into a single keynote or panel discussion.
  • Add on-demand content to your live events, to enable participants to explore some of the content at their own pace.

Encourage networking.

  • Create a virtual lounge where participants can meet before the conference day begins, in between sessions, and after the final session.
  • Hold a virtual happy hour at the end of each conference day where people can discuss the day’s sessions, talk business, or just hang out and socialize.
  • Organize interest-specific ‘birds of a feather’ breakout rooms.
  • Use contests—before, during, and after the conference—to encourage friendly competition and interaction among attendees. Examples could be earning points for exchanging virtual business cards, posting event-related photos using the conference hashtag, or responding to polling questions or surveys. Points could be ‘cashed in’ for various levels of rewards, or winning point earners could receive prizes—with participants able to track everyone’s point tallies on a digital ‘leader board.’
  • Make it easy for participants to exchange digital business cards with one another.
  • Set up virtual booths for exhibitors and conference sponsors, so their representatives can interact directly with conference attendees.

(Read more: 6 activities to encourage networking at your next event.)

Keep the engagement going after your virtual conference ends.

  • Create virtual ‘swag bags’ that all attendees receive at the conclusion of the conference, containing additional content and/or digital gift cards or vouchers.
  • Send a follow-up email with links to conference session recordings, exhibitor and sponsor content, or other useful resources.
  • Use post-conference polls and surveys to get feedback from participants.
  • Analyze all the data generated before, during, and after the conference to assess what went well and what could be improved. Use that data to make your next virtual conference even better.

While some in-person conferences will likely start up again, virtual conferences, and especially hybrid conferences, are likely here to stay. And that’s a good thing, because virtual conferences offer a number of benefits.

For example, virtual events allow participation by many more people, including those who can’t travel for financial, schedule, health, or other reasons. That includes not only attendees, but also presenters—meaning you might be more likely to secure the participation of high-value presenters. Virtual conferences generally cost less to produce than in-person events, so they are easier on organizers’ budgets.

Whether you do frequent or one-off conferences, make those events the best they can be. Poll Everywhere activities are ideally suited for creating high-engagement virtual conferences—before, during, and after the event. Contact our sales team about creating a custom plan for your next event.