How to Increase Attendee Engagement for Virtual Events | OSE Show

How to Increase Attendee Engagement for Virtual Events

The increase in virtual event attendance since the COVID-19 outbreak is astonishing. In April 2020, we have seen an online event increase attendee engagement that was up 1,100+% to 2,200+% compared to April 2019. Much of this growth is due to live event planners who are switching their in-person events to a virtual event platform. As the pandemic continues to stand in the way of large gatherings, this trend is expected to continue. 

For the most part, event pros are learning to produce virtual versions of their live events. But without the proper preparation and planning, the results can be disastrous. This is especially true if you have little experience organizing online meetings. Below is your five-step guide to maximizing attendee engagement for your virtual event.

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What are your options if you have a live event scheduled in the near future?

If you are struggling to figure out how to handle an upcoming live event, you are in good company. The list of live events that have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic is staggering. From presidential debates to the 2020 Olympics, to international trade shows, the list of affected events continues to grow. 

You may feel like your whole career has been turned upside down by these changes. This first thing to do is to step back and allow reality to settle in. If your live event was scheduled for late spring or summer, it is probably unwise to move forward as planned. Once you reach this conclusion, you need to decide how to proceed. You essentially have three options: 

  • 1st Option: Cancel your live event

  • 2nd Option: Reschedule your live event 

  • 3rd Option: Bring the event online but ensure your increase attendee engagement for virtual events

The choice you make is an important one. You will find that there are risks associated with each option. However, the risks associated with canceling a live event are especially unsettling. In addition to financial losses, event cancellation can cause long-term damage to relationships with attendees, sponsors, and entire communities.

"Cancellation...can cause a significant financial loss...It also may harm event attendees, vendors, performers, production companies, speakers and other third parties, and in some cases, entire communities. Therefore, event organizers have to make some tough decisions." - Leon Bass, Trademark Copyright Entertainment Attorney 

Given these risks, rescheduling your live event or moving to a virtual platform are more viable options. As you decide between these two options, remember you can't control how the pandemic will play out. Until a vaccine exists or cases disappear, the safest option is to switch to a virtual event platform. 


It is imperative that you do everything you can to increase attendee engagement for virtual events.

What are the challenges of moving from a live event to a virtual event?

Before diving into the steps to produce a successful virtual event, it is helpful to cover some challenges you may face. By knowing these challenges in advance, you will not be caught off guard. Even more important, you can learn how to overcome them if they arise. Here are three possible barriers to success you may face:

1) Lengthy wait lists

"The waitlist for virtual events platform Hopin swelled from 10,000 in February to over 18,000 event organizers in a about three weeks, Founder and CEO Johnny Boufarhat told CNBC in an interview. To keep up with the demand, the company plans to double its 20 person workforce and focus on expanding the platform's hosting capabilities and scalability." - Jennifer Cannon, Marketing Land

More producers than ever are scheduling virtual events. In fact, requests for virtual event platforms have surged so much that some platforms are scrambling to keep up with demand. Choosing a supportive, responsive platform is critical, especially for new virtual planners. Before you commit to a platform, make sure they have the resources to give you the support you deserve.

2) Challenge to increase attendee engagement for virtual events

Few things are more disappointing to an event planner than disengaged attendees or early exits. Fortunately, the five steps below will help you assemble a list of eager attendees who will be eager to participate in your event!

A colorful graphic of an ipad, a man holding a meeting on ipad and increasing attendee engagement for virtual events with the 6 students sitting at desks on the ipad

3) Event crashers

"When you share your meeting link on social media or other public forums, that makes your event … extremely public. ANYONE with the link can join your meeting." - Zoom

If you thought party crashers only existed in real life, then think again. Unwanted guests can also crash your virtual event. And they can be just as disruptive as they are in real life. Platforms such as Zoom suggest several strategies, including the following:

  • Enable a waiting room feature if your platform has one
  • Remove unwanted or disruptive guests
  • Never give up control of your screen

What are the TOP 3 GOALS to focus on when planning a virtual event?

Making the transition from a face to face affair to an online experience may seem like an intimidating task. And if you lack experience with web-based events, you may feel particularly overwhelmed. The journey to a successful transition starts by outlining your goals. As you move transition to a virtual event platform, your top three goals will look very similar to your live event goals:

  • 1. Increase attendee engagement for virtual events in order to deliver an amazing experience.
  • 2. Delight your virtual event sponsors by putting them directly in front of their ideal buyers at exactly the right time.
  • 3. Maximize your virtual event profits.  If done right virtual events can be just as, or even more profitable than live events

What 5 steps will help you achieve these goals and increase attendee engagement?

To achieve the three goals above, you must map out a plan. Ideally, your plan will help your virtual event stand out amid a sea of other online activity. The last thing you want is to compete with distractions while you try to keep your audience enthused about your pitch. Below are five steps to help you capture the attention of your target audience and keep them riveted until your last online session ends.

Step 1: Provide an enticing registration experience

The path to a successful online event experience begins long before your virtual event actually takes place. It starts with a convenient, personalized registration process. Your registration process sets the tone for your entire event. Here are some tips to help you design a registration experience that will win attendees over right out of the gate.

  • Charge attendees a fair price but one that also portrays the value of the event. The price you charge should not only reflect the number of days or sessions the attendee purchases, but also the outcome you are promising them.  At Only Successful Events, we call this our Attendee Promise.
  • Send a personalized selfie video. Start by greeting each attendee by name. Then thank them for registering and offer a short but valuable tip or bonus.
    We use an app called Bonjoro to do this.  It is super cool and has a free 14 day trial.
  • Get their energy flowing. Build attendee anticipation about your event with a "sneak peek" of what they will experience.

Step 2: Send registered attendees a goody bag they will love

"You can still create a fully-branded experience virtually that will shine the right light in your organization and brand." - David Moricca, CEO of Socialive

With the registration process complete, it's time to deliver a carefully packed goody bag. This is your chance to really shine by showing attendees that you know their likes, dislikes, and pain points. Here are six tips to help you assemble a goody bag that your attendees will love:

  • Don't cut corners on quality. It's better not to send a goody bag than to deliver a "cheap" bag full of useless items.
  • Focus on value. Think about attendee needs when choosing goodies. For instance, mouse pads or phone chargers offer value to most people. 
  • Avoid coupons. Virtual event attendees like tangible items. Coupons and other paper items often end up in the trash.
  • Use branded packing. A well-packed bag with branded tissue paper conveys a professional approach and promotes your brand.
  • Lean on your sponsors: Sponsors are often happy to donate products like coffee mugs, sunscreen, or other items bearing their logo.
  • Include a handwritten note. Let attendees know you are sorry about the event changes but you really look forward to seeing them virtually.

Remember that many online event planners will decide not to send swag bags. Others may take a shortcut by sending a "digital goody bag that contain nothing tangible. Receiving a collection of useful products will be a welcome surprise to your attendees and will help set you apart from other virtual event planners. Most importantly, it will keep them interested in what may lie ahead for them as your event unfolds.

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Step 3: Mail each attendee a "workbook" a few days before your event

Attendees are accustomed to receiving a workbook during the check-in process. Workbooks are helpful because they provide an event agenda and a summary of the various seminars offered. They have worksheet to fill out during your trainings. *This is sooo very important.  We want them filling out the worksheets and writing down stuff during the presentation.  This will help increase attendee engagement for virtual events.
Workbooks or event programs may also contain images, sponsor ads, and industry tips. The workbook serves three key purposes as an event planning tool:

  • First, it provides attendees with a tangible reminder of your event and keeps them engaged during the event. 
  • Second, a workbook serves as another touchpoint between you and each attendee
  • Third, it keeps attendees excited and interested in the upcoming event

X WARNING: Don't send the workbooks with the Fabulous Swag Bags! This will NOT increase attendee engagement for virtual events.

The logical side of you might be tempted to just drop the workbook into the attendee's goody bag you prepared. After all, attendees are accustomed to receiving their workbooks along with their goody bags. Plus, you can save on expenses by combining your shipping costs. 

While these statements might be true, you should OT send attendees all of their goodies and materials at once. By spreading out their deliveries, you keep excitement levels high and encourage attendees to participate in all of your sessions. 

Step 4: Make a personalized phone call to each attendee

At this point, you may feel like you reached out enough to keep your event at the forefront of attendees' minds. You may feel tempted to skip this step or just set up automated email or text reminders for attendees. Here are three reasons why personalized phone calls are much more effective than automated reminders:

  • First, people are inundated every day with emails, texts, and chats. Automated reminders can easily get buried.
  • Second, your goal is to boost engagement. Automated reminders are one sided and don't promote engagement.
  • Third, automated messages do nothing to set you apart from the competition. But a personalized phone call will make you stand out!

The truth is you need to do something every day to keep your event at the forefront of your attendees' minds. Be sure to keep your calls brief, but let attendees know how much you look forward to their participation. Then, keep them engaged by offering a teaser about one or two of the contests or special drawings you plan to hold during the event. People love winning contests and drawings!

Step 5: Sell some prime time to your event sponsors

The steps above are primarily geared toward building a memorable experience for your attendees. But remember not to overlook your sponsors as you work to craft a fantastic virtual event for participants. Some of your sponsors may be facing challenges of their own, and will be closely monitoring how well you are able to make their investment worthwhile as you transition to online production.

Delivering a worthwhile experience for your sponsors will require some creativity and planning on your part. Many of traditional sponsorship opportunities such as catered lunches and post-event receptions are not feasible due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Here are a few ideas to explore with your sponsors:

  • Arrange coffee delivery to participants' home or office
  • Entice attendees by giving them a sneak peek of a few sponsor giveaways
  • Provide lunch delivery via Grubhub, Door Dash, or Uber Eats
  • Use your Facebook group to promote your sponsor

Depending on the length of your event, you can also have your sponsor sit in on a Zoom session. You can schedule their guest appearance before or after their sponsored lunch. Finally, don't forget you can use your website to promote your sponsor. Whether you have a sponsor page or a "Sponsor of the Month" recipient, your recognition will strengthen your sponsor relationships.

What can you do right now to boost your virtual event planning skills?

Ultimately, the success of your virtual event will hinge on how well you captivate your audience and keep attendees interested throughout their online experience. With a well-crafted strategic plan, you can achieve your event goals. You will engage your audience, thrill your sponsors, and exceed your revenue goals. 

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If you would like to sharpen your virtual event planning skills, then join the Only Successful Events Insider's Only Facebook Group. With just one click, you can put yourself on the fast track to becoming a skilled virtual event planner. Founded by Only Successful Events' CEO, April Iannazzone, this exclusive group is dedicated to helping event professionals across the globe improve their event performance. Join today to put yourself on the path to five-star event planning!

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