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How to Engage a Virtual Audience: (+Tips and Interaction Strategies)

Imagine attending a professional development event where you listen to speakers, network, play games, and chat with other attendees — all from your home office. You can build an event just like that with the help of a few handy tools and features for virtual audiences. 

Engagement in virtual and hybrid events might initially seem challenging, but it's easy when you know where to start. There's plenty of room for creativity, too. What tools, techniques and features can you use to boost virtual audience engagement at your next event? 

Tips for Engaging a Virtual Audience

Use Chat and Reaction Features.

Reactions and interactions are a natural part of in-person events. You can include them in virtual events, too. Most leading virtual event and meeting apps have built-in features like a chat tab, emoji reactions, and a "raise hand" tool. These features are an excellent way to engage virtual audiences. 

There are a few ways you can accomplish this. For example, at the opening of an event, make an announcement encouraging attendees to discuss the event and presentations in the chat tab. Some attendees may assume that using the chat tab is rude, so making an announcement alleviates that concern and encourages interaction. 

Similarly, you can use reactions and "raise hand" buttons for voting, playing games, and giving quick feedback to speakers. In an in-person event, a speaker can ask everyone to clap or cheer if they agree with something. Using reactions mimics those interactions in a virtual event. 

It's important to double-check that you allow reactions if you want to use them. Some meeting and event apps may have reactions turned off by default. For instance, Zoom has separate reaction settings for individuals and groups, so ensure you enable reactions on both ends. 

Set Up Polls.

Polls are a fantastic tool for driving virtual audience engagement. They're quick and easy to execute, too. Some meeting and event apps have a built-in poll feature, but there are also plenty of free third-party tools for creating polls. You can even share one on social media so your attendees can respond using Facebook, Instagram or Twitter/X. 

If you include a poll in your event, consider whether you want the results to be anonymous. Some attendees may be more likely to respond to anonymized polls. However, you might also want to use polls for something like tracking attendance, which requires respondent identity visibility. 

Acknowledge Your Audience.

Public speaking best practices are vital for virtual events, just like in-person events. Techniques like making eye contact and acknowledging the audience might not seem as natural when you’re presenting virtually, but they're a crucial part of building engagement.

You might wonder how to make eye contact with a virtual audience, especially if attendees have their cameras turned off. It's as simple as looking into your camera. Many speakers make the mistake of looking at their screens in virtual meetings and events. Instead, look directly into your camera as if you were looking out at the back wall of an auditorium. 

Making eye contact helps virtual audiences feel like speakers are actually talking to them. Similarly, it helps to verbally acknowledge virtual attendees during the event. Welcome them in your introduction and directly ask for their input during Q&As and interactive segments. 

Both of these public speaking techniques will help your virtual audience feel seen and valued. One of the most common stumbling blocks in virtual events is creating a "viewer" experience that leaves virtual attendees feeling like they are watching a video. Acknowledgment and interaction ensure this doesn't happen and help create a more engaging experience. 

Include Interactive Sessions.

There are many options for boosting interactivity in virtual events. Polls and reactions are two basic techniques. You can also go a step further with breakout rooms, small groups, and games. 

Games tend to work best in small groups, so use breakout rooms or create mini-meeting sessions if possible. Games can be silly, team-based, knowledge-based, collaborative or competitive. Several don't require third-party tech, like the fun guessing game "Who is Bob?"

For loads of trivia fun, try Kahoot. It first gained popularity in the classroom but works great in any setting. Kahoot is especially handy for hybrid events since everyone can join the game from their own device, whether they are attending virtually or in person.

Scattergories and Jackbox Games also have some fantastic options for virtual event activities. The only drawback with Jackbox is the limited group size, which maxes out at ten players for most games. 

Interactivity isn't limited to games, either. You can also use virtual collaboration tools for group brainstorming, such as Miro Virtual Whiteboard. Tools like this are perfect for idea generation and teamwork activities. 

Create a Channel for Submitting Questions.

Every event should have a Q&A section, including virtual events. Remote attendees need a place to post their questions without disrupting the meeting or getting lost in a chat window. There are a few solutions you can offer. 

For example, you can create a social media hashtag virtual audiences can use to submit questions online. You can also create a questions channel on a Slack, Teams or Discord server for your event. 

If you want to keep dialogue in the chat tab on your video feed, assign someone to monitor the chat for questions. Attendees can use a hashtag to mark their messages as questions so the monitoring team can easily spot them. 

Create an Event Microsite or Social Media Tag.

When you attend an in-person event, there is usually a hub for activity, like a lobby or registration table. You can recreate this hub for virtual audiences using a microsite or a social media page. The idea is to create a virtual "lobby" with real-time updates, space to chat, info, FAQs and technical assistance. 

A microsite is a small-scale website specifically for your event. Microsites usually have one page with immersive, interactive content all in one place. For example, you can include a welcome video, a check-in box, a polls panel, a live schedule and more. 

Depending on the nature of your event, you should also include networking features. For example, your microsite could have a place for virtual attendees to sign up for small group meet-and-greets. 

Finally, consider posting a live stream of your event on your microsite. If virtual attendees have technical difficulties, they can always return to the microsite to see what's happening in the event. Afterward, you can replace the live stream with a recording of the event so attendees can view anything they missed or return to speakers or presentations they enjoyed. 

Do a Technical Practice Run.

Technical difficulties happen to everyone now and then. Fortunately, you can take steps to minimize the likelihood of a malfunction. Get your speakers and event organizers together for a "dress rehearsal" before your event. You can even recruit some friends or co-workers to be pretend audience members. 

Run through everything you plan to include in your event, from your microsite to presentations to games and small groups. Ensure everyone knows how their part of the event works. For example, your speakers should know how to show their slides to the virtual audience members. 

The technical practice run is also a good time for some virtual public speaking tips. Remind your speakers to look directly at their cameras and acknowledge input from reactions and chat messages. 

Virtual Audience Engagement Made Easy

Virtual and hybrid events increase accessibility and convenience for your attendees. You can ensure everyone has a good time by including features designed with a virtual audience in mind. With these handy tools, you can design virtual events that are immersive, collaborative, and exciting.

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Eleanor Hecks

Eleanor Hecks

Eleanor Hecks is editor-in-chief at Designerly Magazine. She was the creative director at a prominent digital marketing agency prior to becoming a full-time freelance designer. Eleanor lives in Philadelphia with her husband and pup, Bear.