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Virtual exhibitions: how can we overcome the challenge of engaging a distracted delegate?

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Peek & Poke explore ways in which marketers and brands can boost their virtual offerings.

How many virtual events or conferences did you sign up for in 2020? How many did you attend? And more importantly, how many of those events managed to capture your attention and keep hold of it? I’m going to go out on a limb here and say, not many.

Don’t get me wrong, there have been many events offering great content from a wide range of engaging speakers. The online pivot has also widened the net to global attendees that wouldn’t have ordinarily been able to attend in person.

But in my opinion, and I think many would agree, they are no substitute for the connections you create at the real thing.

Face-to-face events are still a while away. We need to continue to consider how we create engaging digital events that can eventually sit side by side and complement the new hybrid versions that will no doubt emerge beyond 2021 - eventually offering what I feel will be the best of both worlds scenario.

But for now, if you’re hosting a virtual event or exhibiting and are looking for ways to make the experience more engaging, here are three tips to help capture and hold the attention of attendees.

1. Engaging storytelling

It’s no surprise that great content and great speakers will always be key to a successful event – these factors will always be amongst the main drivers for registering and attending.

It takes an especially engaging and charismatic presenter to keep your interest, but it's especially important in a virtual environment where you can easily switch off or be distracted by a notification or message.

A mix of formats is also common. The most engaging presentations I have watched on my small screen were from multiple presenters, and others elevated their production values to almost Netflix-style documentaries which stood out as engaging and entertaining.

2. Just keep talking

Most virtual event platforms will have some sort of messaging channel for exhibitors to speak to attendees and attendees to speak to each other.

It’s much easier to hide behind a screen than it is on a show floor, but as an exhibitor, you want to make as many connections as possible. Take any opportunity to say hi via the chats, despite an inner voice that says you might be annoying, if people don’t want to talk, they won't, but some definitely will.

3. Gamification opportunities

One of the challenges event organisers face is continued engagement and the same can be said of exhibitors. The big question is: how can I stand out from fellow exhibitors when everyone has the same one-dimensional space?

Gamification offers opportunities in both instances.

From a wider event management point of view, rewarding those who explore the platform can help encourage participation - from gamifying interaction and networking to offering incentives to delegates who engage with the most sessions or chat to the most people.

A game that allows people to play against each other or even collaboratively to solve a problem or challenge. Make it playable in-between sessions to keep delegates entertained and engaged – this keeps people on the platform, encourages further participation and gives attendees something fun too (don’t forget about the fun!).

For the exhibitor

The same goes for a virtual booth — rather than offering an e-book for an email address, offer something a bit more fun and engaging.

Incorporate giveaways by running a competition using an online branded game that’s both fun and relevant to your business. You can use a public high score leaderboard within your virtual booth space to get those competitive juices flowing. Offer a free prize draw to win prizes, incentivising the experience to encourage more people to play and interact with your brand.

Investing in games also offers longevity beyond the event, as you can share via your social channels and to your wider mailing list. Use it to run future promotions that generate more leads for your business or and boost your return on investment.

The long and short of it

The human connection of physical events is sorely missed — the conversation, connections and even the fun of it, that has to be remedied by the event organisers and the exhibitors, because virtual events are here to stay.

So, event organisers and exhibitors, let's have some fun, we really, really need it.

Cari Kirby, marketing manager at Peek & Poke.

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