The transition from face-to-face events to their virtual counterparts has come as a digital shock to many businesses. The challenge was predominantly found in translating human connection and engagement to an online setting. Companies are now experimenting with new online features and strategies to improve customer experience and engagement, albeit projected from a screen.
The Ortus Club, an international events company, has flourished during this period by quickly adapting their traditional knowledge sharing dining events to an online format. They have been bringing together leaders from all over the world to discuss contemporary topics in virtual roundtables.
How can companies ensure that their virtual events don’t sound and feel like ‘conference calls’? The Ortus Club treats the virtual space not as a restriction but as a new avenue for innovation. Some areas are now opening up for in-person events, so it’s vital to take your digital discussions to the next level this 2022. Here are a few of the techniques you can implement to make your virtual events more engaging.
1. Organise pre-event activities
Before each event, set the scene by sending all participants games and questions related to the topic they will be discussing. These questions can help your audience brainstorm before the event and create intrigue about what will be discussed on the day. You can also put everyone in touch, so they get to know each other before the event.
One easy yet effective way to do this is by sending out engagement questions pertaining to the topic at hand. This will allow you to get a feel of where your guests are at regarding the subject matter prior to the event. With this information, you and your moderator can better steer the conversation to more relevant territory come the discussion.
2. Choose an enthusiastic moderator
Moderators orchestrate the event from start to finish and make sure the session is well facilitated. It’s essential to have an enthusiastic moderator who can keep the guests engaged and entertained and get the conversation up and running.
Guests’ openness to engage will vary from person to person, so an active and perceptive moderator can distinguish between lively discourse and a one-way conversation. Getting every participant to buy into the conversation is key to unlocking as much insight as possible and ensuring each guest exits the event better than when they arrived.
“It’s essential to have an enthusiastic moderator who can keep the guests engaged and entertained and get the conversation up and running.”
3. Send out physical items
Virtual events don’t need to be 100% digital! The Ortus Club, for example, sends out physical welcome packs to the guests before each event. These envelopes include a personalised welcome postcard and a compact booklet that contains all necessary information for the upcoming roundtable, thus adding a tangible personal touch to create anticipation.
Another example of this would be incorporating a tasting session of sorts into your virtual event. Having an early portion of your proceedings be reserved for something more casual will help your guests loosen up and warm up to the group. In addition, providing a pleasant shared experience for everyone to enjoy will increase the likelihood of your guests wanting to come back for more.
4. Breakout rooms
Breakout rooms are useful when hosting larger events, as they allow the audience to split into multiple sessions. Smaller groups are easier to manage, guests feel more comfortable speaking and sharing their ideas or thoughts, and the host can switch between sessions at any time.
Breaking the group into smaller parties will also allow you to focus on your guests’ specific needs and get unique perspectives from different industries’ points of view. The topic may be the same, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it will translate in familiar ways from guest to guest. Utilising breakout rooms is a great way to dig deeper into your subject and tackle aspects that would otherwise go unmentioned.
Running an interactive poll during an online meeting can lighten up the conversation and gather data from your attendees. It can also help summarise the points made so far and clarify the general opinion of the group. It’s a great tool for getting each participant’s ideas without having to stay on one subtopic for too long. Using polls as short breaks during the event also allows you to adjust the tone or direction of the discussion, allowing it to be more of a flexible conversation rather than a rigid talk.
6. Keep meeting minutes
Attendees often appreciate having someone take notes about what’s happening during the event. Since photographers and videographers are out of the question for virtual events, live illustrations can be a good alternative to turn words into something more visual. These mind maps can take the form of cartoons, scribbles, and drawings.
Ideally, guests will be immersed in the discussion and are focused on internalising what is said rather than taking notes. Having meeting minutes, whatever form they take, will allow them to digest further and appreciate your event afterwards. Plus, this gives them something that’s tangible and easily referenced should they want to share their findings and experience with their colleagues.
Games can make discussions more relaxed and more creative. Platforms like Kahoot! can help create appealing quizzes that get the guests more involved with each session. Virtual icebreakers, like the ones on Brightful, also create a lighter atmosphere more conducive to open communication and fruitful discussion for guests, especially first-timers.
8. Lucky draws
Lucky draws increase event interest by enticing attendees to participate or stay till the end. Everyone likes to receive an unexpected windfall! So, send out exclusive prizes to your guests, such as portable coffee makers, Google Home Mini speakers, Apple AirPods, or a nice bottle of wine!
These risk-free games of chance give your guests a nice bonus to look forward to after the event, as well as another reason to come back. Of course, not all can be winners, but just the possibility does wonders in lifting the overall mood of the event.
9. Interactive exercises
Interactive exercises are a way of keeping your guests involved. These could be as simple as getting the participants to stand up or asking them to raise their hands. Not only do these exercises help break the ice but also make guests feel more involved in the discussion.
Often, these virtual events fall within the workday or right after office hours, and interactive exercises could be just what a guest needs to rejuvenate and get ready for a hearty discussion. Research has also shown that the simple act of stretching can significantly affect your mental health as it helps relieve stress and fatigue by increasing serotonin levels.
10. Post-event gift
We all value long-term relationships, and knowledge-sharing events are the perfect way to build a strong network. Once the discussion closes, gifts such as wine, coffee or chocolates can be sent out to each participant to express gratitude for their attendance. These gifts may be small, but they go a long way in making a guest feel valued. All gifts should be sent 2-3 days after the event and include a personalised thank-you message.
Ortus events are typically hosted over a three-course meal or online. If you’re interested in experiencing knowledge-sharing discussions with The Ortus Club, feel free to contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org.