Facing the limitations of the pandemic, many event planners have adapted to our shared situation by using virtual methods to engage members, such as hosting online fundraisers or meetings held over Zoom calls. Even now, as small gatherings are becoming more frequent, online events remain a huge part of the engagement landscape.
With the pandemic changing shape, it’s time to determine what the future holds for association and other membership-based programming.
We’re already seeing event-planning organizations begin pivoting their operations to a more hybrid style, using both in-person and virtual engagements. This approach aims to combine the benefits of virtual events’ higher attendance and flexible participation with the stronger personal networking opportunities of in-person events, creating a savvy integrated event strategy.
Still, you may run into the same challenges with this multi-faceted approach as with both online and in-person events. Engaging both virtual and in-person participants equally is one hurdle that still poses a major problem.
For example, some members may have limited exposure to technology and be confused by your online materials, while others may be easily bored or experience minimal person to person engagement.
Here are the major points that we will explore to avoid these common hybrid event pitfalls and increase multi-platform member engagement:
- Send event resources before the big day
- Use gamification elements during the event
- Offer specific community-building opportunities
Perhaps you’re new to this kind of event development, or maybe you’re well into the transition to hybrid programming and have already launched your own online fundraisers, virtual meet-ups, or digital auctions. Regardless of what level of familiarity you have with the hybrid model, these resources should help you to confidently bridge the gap to a new era of integrated event programming.
1. Send event resources before the big day
If you’re at all confused about how your own virtual events will operate, then you can only imagine the confusion faced by members who have never participated in an online program. Some typical questions members may ask include: is there any technology we have to download? How can we engage and connect with other attendees?
This is especially true for older attendees, which may also very well be your most active member base. To maintain their loyal engagement and cut out any unnecessary technical roadblocks, make sure to share event resources well before the big event day. Even if these materials are fairly comprehensive, send out these materials with enough time for members to ask additional questions.
For instance, you might consider sending a few of the following helpful resources:
- Documentation on how to install necessary tools and software. With so many different kinds of competing online engagement platforms, it’s too much to expect members to already have or be prepared to install your preferred service without a bit of guidance.
- A list of frequently asked questions. This allows you to address common concerns and queries immediately, cutting out the additional time it might take for many different members to work through the same conclusions.
- Video tutorials and demos. With these materials, your event registrants can watch and follow along to get familiar with the virtual event platform in advance.
- Online webinars for interested registrants. Be sure to discuss all the essential steps to preparing and participating in the event, and leave a space available for extra Q&A.
You might even go the extra mile and assign a dedicated staff member or team to be the point of contact for any questions or concerns that come up. Fonteva’s guide to event management software also walks through the advantages of using dedicated tools for your organization’s events.
Regardless of how your team chooses to divy up the project development responsibilities, the most important thing to keep in mind is the user experience and how to facilitate the simplest, most accessible opportunity for your attendees.
2. Use gamification elements
A common challenge in transitioning to hybrid events is ensuring that everyone stays engaged. This is particularly difficult for your virtual participants. After all, it’s much easier to stay engaged when you’re physically immersed in an event space rather than experiencing the proceedings through a screen.
The main enemy at work here is screen fatigue, a physical and mental strain caused by screen usage that leads to boredom and a lack of motivation. To combat these demoralizing side effects, experts recommend the use of gamification elements.
Gamification refers to the methods by which gaming mechanics and reward systems are strategically incorporated into non-game systems, operations, and activities. The goal is to create a similar level of engagement and stimulation for users in a non-gaming environment that they might experience while playing an actual game.
Here are some popular gamification tactics you could toy with in your own virtual gatherings:
- Digital badges. This might include cute rankings like “Most engaged attendee!” or “Most thoughtful inquirer.” These tangible breadcrumbs of user accomplishment will motivate participants to more actively engage as they try to earn new badges for their profiles.
- Points-to-rewards program. This uses positive reinforcement to encourage actions like registering early or attending a breakout session. With enough points, attendees can redeem their engagement for a physical reward, like a gift card or merchandise.
- Divide your attendees into teams and compete. This could mean putting on small contests, like a virtual trivia session, to encourage a bit of friendly competition. These mini-games can even be helpful to break the ice before lengthy online conferences or lectures.
Remember to keep things rewarding, entertaining, and stimulating for your attendees. No matter if your participants are young and casual supporters or older, more seasoned professionals, everyone can benefit from a bit of light-hearted fun and the small but gratifying feelings of accomplishment created by gamification.
3. Offer community-building opportunities
One of the biggest challenges to planning an engaging hybrid fundraiser, meeting, or any other multi-platform event is the fact that your attendees are all experiencing the event in different ways. After all, how are they going to really connect when they’re physically separated from one another?
The solution is to think of ways that you can create deliberate opportunities for individual members to talk and engage with each other. For example, you might consider the following member-to-member engagement techniques:
- Form breakout groups. Try tackling engagement on a more manageable level by separating participants into smaller numbers. This should facilitate conversations and make it easier for members to connect.
- Unlock chat functionality and direct messaging. Opening up these functions allows for the entire audience to participate in their own meaningful ways, no matter the medium or device they’re joining from.
- Picture-in-pictures of virtual participants. This will not only make online attendees feel more present, but this function is especially helpful during breakout sessions and other digital “face-to-face” connection opportunities.
- Wrap up Q&A. Make sure to field time at the end of the event so that both in-person and virtual attendees know that there’s an opportunity to address concerns and have their voices heard.
If you’d like to explore additional resources on this subject, TravelPledge’s guide to hybrid event planning includes a webinar that elaborates on the specifics of putting together a successful multi-platform fundraising event, from the ticket sale stage through to the end of the event lifecycle.
Unlocking member engagement may seem impossible when thinking about your audience as a large unit spread out across different spaces. However, these techniques should help you to break down and better manage the challenge.
Take the time to offer ample opportunities for smaller member encounters, open up channels of communication, and maximize the visibility and presence of your attendees. Soon enough, your virtual engagements will feel just as deep and genuine as if they had taken place in the same room.
While some organizations dream of returning to all in-person gatherings and physical event programming, virtual and hybrid events are here to stay. The only decision left to make is whether or not you approach these engagements as obstacles or as unique opportunities for engagement beyond what might’ve even been possible at an in-person event.
In fact, Bloomerang’s own breakdown of hybrid event programming calls it “the best of both worlds,” a chance to truly engage supporters on a broader and more intuitive level than ever before.
By remaining attentive to your participants’ technological needs, taking advantage of gratifying game and reward strategies, and ensuring a sense of community between members, you will be able to confidently welcome event attendees into this new age of hybrid programming.