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3 Tips to Grab & Keep Audience Attention During Virtual Events

According to Microsoft, The average sustained attention span is about 8 seconds, and dropping (yikes!), which means that it’s difficult for many people to pay attention to things for a long period of time. And attention is a treasure, especially when it comes to events. If you can capture attention, you can typically convert that into some sort of meaningful value.

This value is a two way street, as attendees benefit as well. If you’re able to capture their attention, that’s a strong implication that they find whatever that is in front of them strongly compelling and useful.

While attention has always been important in events, virtual or live, the way it has to be thought about is a bit different virtually. Online, there’s far more competition for your attendee’s attention. How do you maintain it?

Big Ideas Come in Small Increments

First, we’ll get the obvious out of the way: If an attendee has signed up for a session, they’re likely interested in the subject. You don’t sign up for “Tort Reform in the 21st Century”, or “The Cats of Harry Potter” (attended by a friend — not me, I swear) unless you find them intriguing or potentially useful.

But, organizations have always agonized how to sustain this captured attention. This wasn’t much different during live events, but it’s become more difficult since events are mostly virtual now. During a live session, attendees could sneak glances at their phone, but being in the presence of live people for a prolonged period of time compelled them to pay better attention to the events transpiring around them. In the virtual space, the device and web browser your attendee is using to beam into the event is designed to be distracting. It’s designed to invite users to click click click to their heart’s content.

While interest in a topic itself is a component in maintaining attention during a session, it’s not the only component. Length of the session is important too.

Ask session hosts to keep sessions short, ideally no longer than 20 minutes. Ever wonder why a TED talk lasts only about 18 minutes? The TED organizers knew they had intriguing speakers with fascinating content. Nonetheless, they acknowledged that these weren’t the only ingredients necessary to get the most attention out of an audience, and so they chose the 18 minute length based on careful study of both neuroscience and strategy. TED organizers understood that 18 minutes was long enough for a speaker to flesh out an idea, but short enough that a listener could take in, digest, and understand all of the important information.

Take 5

No matter how compelling the sessions or activities of a virtual event are, attention fatigue will eventually set in. Attendees need breaks in between all the incredible sessions and activities in order to process information and clear out the cobwebs. These breaks also guarantee that attendees will be fresh for future sessions. You want attendees to be in the best possible state moving forward.

We recommend scheduling 5 to 7 minute breaks in between sessions and encourage attendees to use them for bathroom breaks, checking email and/or grabbing a snack or drink. Instruct session hosts or facilitators to remind attendees at the end of a session, to “Take a quick break to refresh, before heading to the next session.” Longer breaks of 15 to 30 minutes can also be utilized to really break things up and give attendees the reset they need.

Something else to consider when planning a virtual event is to keep days shorter; aim for half days instead of full days. At this stage in lockdown, Zoom Fatigue is real and it’s common. It’s also a lot harder to keep attendees both online and engaged at a computer screen for a full day. Depending on your audience, it may be better to spread your event out over multiple shorter days than longer, full days.

Variety Is the Spice of Life

Variety shakes things up and keeps things interesting, which helps to retain audience attention. To see why, think about your favorite restaurant. You enjoy eating there because the food is delicious, and the service is good. Let’s say that you usually eat there once a week because you love it so much. Now, instead of eating at this restaurant once a week, imagine eating there every day. It’s probably less enjoyable. Why is that exactly? It’s because you CAN have too much of a good thing. The novelty and enjoyment wears off because it becomes mundane.

Let’s shift back to virtual events now. After hopping from session to session to session, even the most dedicated attendee will start to feel information overload and begin to lose interest; which, again, is particularly undesirable on the internet as there are no shortage of options for distractions. Break up the potential monotony of content with:

  • Games

  • Interactive activities

  • Roundtable discussions

  • Networking

  • Challenges / Gamification

I attended an event over the winter where the hosts fused networking with a trivia type game and it was a total blast for all attendees involved! When each of us was called to offer our answer to a question, we were also encouraged to share something about ourselves and to signal if we’d be open to chat over the platform. It was a short activity, but it was fun and we were rejuvenated enough to attend several more content sessions afterward.

During one of the events we hosted on encaptiv, the organizers broke up the content and networking with fun, yet educational sessions such as a drink making class led by a chef who taught not only how to make the drink, but also the history of the cocktail and the type(s) of glasses used and why. They had a jazz pianist come and play live music while giving a history of ragtime and jazz between songs. And they also peppered in fun evening activities that virtual attendees could get involved in such as bingo.

Bottom line: We see a much higher attendee retention rate across virtual events that inject fun and interesting activities into their event.

Want to give it a try, but not sure where to start? Most virtual event platforms can provide a list of partners who specialize in creative interactive, fun and immersive experiences for in person, virtual and hybrid events.

That’s a Wrap, Jack

Attention is difficult to grab, hard to keep and impossible to over value. Fortunately, it’s fairly well understood what works and what doesn’t. This is good news for those feeling overwhelmed by virtual event planning.

Still, if you’d like to strategize a bit more about how to best organize your virtual event to capture attention and maximize engagement, contact us for a complimentary 30 minute consultation. We’d be happy to have one of our event experts talk with you about your upcoming event.

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