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These are the top four questions marketers ask me about virtual events:

  1. Why are some so engaging whereas others fall flat?
  2. How do you improve virtual networking?
  3. Will digital models be relevant when in-person meetings come back?
  4. How do you monetize online events and show return on investment?

This article provides answers. You'll learn 18 ways to boost attendee engagement and prove value to exhibitors and sponsors.

1. Why are some virtual events engaging, whereas others fall flat?

People today crave interaction. In fact, deeper engagement is the No. 1 way organizers want to improve digital events, according to 68% of respondents in a new global survey by Aventri and Bizbash.

So, how do you ratchet up virtual event engagement without in-person networking?

Make virtual events an interactive journey

  • Create interest-based micro-communities and bring attendees together for workshops and roundtable discussions. Guide them from a keynote to small breakout sessions where they can collaborate with experts and peers on shared industry challenges.
  • Equip breakout rooms with interactivity features such as live polling, Q&As, activity feeds, and chat. Avoid scripted, top-down presentations. Train moderators to facilitate substantive exchanges that build relationships around shared interests and free-flowing chat.
  • "Serendipitous encounters"—those chance connections at live events with someone who becomes your next big client—have been hard to duplicate virtually. As a first step, give attendees tools to arrange impromptu meetings. They can follow up breakouts with one-on-one video chats or gather peers around a whiteboard to solve problems, just as they do at live events.
  • A big advantage of virtual events, of course, is global reach. Enable interactions with a diverse audience through real-time, multilingual interpretation and closed-captioning capabilities.

2. How do you improve virtual networking?

Let artificial intelligence do the heavy lifting. From Netflix recommendations to digital assistants (such as Alexa), AI is part of everyday life. Sophisticated companies are using AI to enhance event networking.

How does it work?

AI matchmaking software analyzes profiles of event-goers to identify networking opportunities based on event goals and interests. Attendees can therefore stop hoping for the best through random connections and instead forge business relationships with people who share their interests and challenges.

Foster meaningful connections

  • AI sifts through the data and shares recommendations with participants who opt in. Give those people tools to view profiles, click a button, and start a video chat. Matchmaking engines learn and get smarter the more someone engages with the platform.
  • Networking is just one aspect of virtual events that AI improves. You can also use AI to personalize recommendations for sessions, workshops, exhibitors, meetups, and more.
  • Why limit engagement to one event? Turn event content into a year-round engagement hub and keep building your community 24/7.
  • Populate your event platform with event sessions, roundtable discussions, exhibitor marketplace, chat lobbies, and opportunities to connect with a global community of like-minded leaders and peers. Offer free content to build engagement and trust.
  • Digital engagement hubs also drive revenue: Sell customized packages to niche audiences; market group packages to large enterprises so employees can access sessions for continuing education; offer premium tickets with exclusive access to domain experts and influencers.

3. Will digital formats be relevant when in-person meetings resume?

Virtual events are here for the long term. Hybrid is the future of event marketing. The hybrid strategy combines digital and in-person experiences. For instance, your event might draw 500 attendees to a venue and another 5,000 online.

Although nothing beats in-person events for lead generation and deal-making, the advantages of virtual are too great to ignore.

Online events reduce risk, costs, and environmental impact. They also create new revenue streams and expand attendance, inclusivity, and geographic reach.

It's no surprise that 89% of event organizers plan to keep using virtual strategies, even when in-person events return, Aventri research shows.

Bring in-person and online audiences together

  • The pandemic will have a lasting impact. When physical events come back, they'll be different. Use advanced hybrid solutions to deliver an omnichannel experience that combines the best of both in-person and virtual events.
  • Keep it simple. Mastering different technologies is a challenge for organizers, exhibitors, and attendees, which is why modern all-in-one platforms handle virtual, hybrid, and in-person events on one platform. That approach streamlines workflows and provides a consistent user experience.
  • Create an interactive journey. Optimize your mobile event app for hybrid so in-person and online attendees can access content in real-time, without signal delays. If mobile and virtual work in sync, attendees can engage easily via live Q&As, polls, activity feeds, and chat.
  • Focus on producing one great event—no need to devise networking experiences for two different audiences. Integrated hybrid engagement brings people together regardless of location. Whether attendees are in the same room or across the globe, they can explore and connect seamlessly through videoconferencing and chat.

4. How do you monetize online events and prove ROI to exhibitors and sponsors?

Nearly half of organizers (47%) say the improvement at the top of their virtual event technology wish list is better delivery of ROI metrics for exhibitors and sponsors, the Aventri/Bizbash survey reveals.

A big advantage of virtual and hybrid events is that they leave a trail of data. All-in-one platforms capture information across your portfolio, throughout the event lifecycle. You gain a comprehensive picture of event performance and insights to power future successes.

Add value, show ROI

  • Build immersive showroom experiences featuring virtual booths with videoconferencing, live demos, and lead-scoring tools. Allow for attendees to connect with experts in real-time and for exhibitors to interact face-to-face with attendees to generate qualified leads and revenue.
  • Promote virtual booths via email and AI matchmaking. Enable exhibitors to send push notifications as well, inviting targeted segments of your audience to booths. Gamified challenges such as scavenger hunts also boost engagement and traffic.
  • Many businesses today don't have budgets to sponsor full virtual sessions, so offer tiered sponsorship packages. Smaller partners might engage with attendees through five-minute speaking slots or interactive games at the start of each session. Major sponsors can follow up their sessions with more intimate, ask-the-expert roundtables to foster deeper connections with qualified buyers.
  • Tie metrics to event goals. Let's say you want to increase engagement. You can track session attendance, virtual booth views, chat messages, booked meetings, and qualified leads. Create customized exhibitor/sponsor reports that quantify value with quality ROI metrics.
  • Integrate event data into your marketing automation and CRM systems. Event analytics provide deep insights into customer preferences, pain points, and place in the buyer's journey. Those fresh insights will help your company and event partners personalize outreach and improve sales and marketing overall.

* * *

Since the COVID vaccine has become widely available, there has been an uptick in activity from enterprises planning hybrid events for the second half of 2021.

When in-person gatherings come back, they'll be more immersive, combining the best of both virtual and in-person worlds for a true omnichannel experience.

More Resources on Virtual Events Engagement

Three Ways to Make Your Digital Event as Engaging and Effective as In-Person

These Three Experiential Tactics Lead to Better B2B Virtual Events

B2B Virtual Events: 12 Ways to Ensure Impact and Drive Topline Growth

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Virtual Events: 18 Ways to Rock at Virtual Engagement and Prove Value to Event Sponsors

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image of Dan Vanchieri

Dan Vanchieri is the chief revenue officer at Aventri, a leading provider of end-to-end, virtual, hybrid and in-person event technology.

LinkedIn: Dan Vanchieri