The right audience engagement strategy can influence the success of an event. Marketers may want to explore strategies like including a session on trending topics, a Q&A with your speakers, live polling, chat, and adding interactive video elements to grab attendee’s attention and encourage participation.
Building and maintaining audience engagement is critical whether you’re creating a webinar or virtual event, generating and converting leads through video marketing content, or building customer relationships with a series of product demos and thought leadership.
In this guide, we’ll share audience engagement strategies to help you break through the noise.
Now, let’s dive into how to drive engagement for your webinars and events. But first — what is audience engagement, exactly?
What is audience engagement?
Audience engagement is the act of encouraging your target customer to actively participate in and interact with your content. It’s especially important when you’re addressing online event audiences. Some examples of audience engagement include attendees watching a live event, submitting questions in a live Q&A, submitting poll responses, sharing user-generated content (UGC), or just chatting with other event participants.
There are several reasons to encourage audience participation, including:
- Ensuring your content is relevant to your audience.
- Inspiring your audience to take a specific action.
- Associating your brand with topics, ideas, and solutions that are relevant to your audience.
- Generating referrals, recommendations, and word-of-mouth advertising through your audience.
When it comes to webinars and other virtual meet-ups, audience engagement is a powerful (and necessary) strategy for accomplishing your event goals.
Why is audience engagement important?
Audience engagement is important to online events because it allows brands to connect with supporters (and potential supporters), which is especially critical in a virtual setting. Without engagement or audience participation, demand for your brand or message may suffer. And the ultimate aim of hosting events is to move participants down the funnel through your sales pipeline, either nurturing them into fully brand-aware leads or paying customers.
Even if attendees don’t participate right away, getting them interested increases the likelihood that they’ll join more of your online events, invite their colleagues to your webinars, and so on.
Ultimately, even if your event doesn’t attract a huge number of attendees, you should consider it a success if it does a good job engaging the ones there. Let’s dive into how you can do just that.
10 ways to increase audience engagement during your webinars and virtual events
The virtual events business is valued at more than $100 billion and is projected to top $360 billion by 2027. The time to engage your virtual audience is now. Discover ten ways to boost your audience engagement strategy below.
1. Choose a webinar topic that is highly relevant to your audience
Nothing drives engagement like an event that’s hyper-specific to your audience.
But how do you find the right angle? Knowing your audience inside out helps. A good virtual engagement strategy for developing webinar and event content is asking your audience directly what they want to learn or explore most. Here’s how:
- Ask your online community — this could be a previous webinar’s audience, newsletter recipients, Slack contacts, or your brand’s social community.
- Ask customer-facing teams like customer support, service, or account management to suggest topics.
- Listen to what excites your audience with social listening. Find out what people in your industry are talking about, then organize an event on the topic.
2. Source audience questions before the event
This is a great pre-event tip for facilitating virtual event engagement. Try sending a survey to event registrants — ask what they want to learn about the topic or request that they submit their questions in advance.
Gathering audience questions prior to your online event helps you better understand what topics are interesting to your audience and ensures you’re covering the topic thoroughly. And finding out answers to their pertinent questions makes the content interesting for participants.
3. Give viewers a preview
As the classic writing advice goes: say what you’re going to say. At the beginning of each section you share with your attendees, summarize the points you’re going to make. Previews guide listeners and help them pick up your main ideas and takeaways. If you let your audience know what’s coming, they’re less likely to miss something important.
Signpost phrases like “in the first place” or “secondly” let the audience know where they are within the presentation and flag important points for viewers to focus on. These transitional phrases also help to tie separate points together and show attendees how they relate to one another. When transitioning between ideas, try transitioning your body language too — with a gesture, for example — to communicate forward movement in the presentation.
4. Provide value in a pretty package
Ultimately, the value you offer through your event is what’s going to hook attendees and keep them glued to their seats. But you should aim to do it in a way that is visually pleasing to participants.
Make sure you design on-brand, clutter-free slides, video, and multimedia assets that complement the story you tell. Check out our guide to the ultimate webinar presentation that also covers specifics on slide design.
Another way to ramp up the value is to use social proof. For product demo webinars, in particular, it’s a good idea to ask customers to share their experience with your product in a video. Then, you can share the clip in your presentation.
Pro tip: Start with a brief intro that tells the audience why you’re a credible source for talking about the topic. It will help with virtual engagement if your attendees know they will be hearing from experts.
5. Invite influential guests to your online event
Inviting guest speakers makes your content all the more interesting since attendees get to learn from a pool of subject-matter experts. Plus, well-known industry experts attract their own audience to your virtual sessions.
Essentially, people love to learn others’ processes. Attendees want to know how the pros are doing things so they can take experts’ actionable steps and apply them in their own lives. So give them what they want!
Clearscope, a content optimization platform brand, holds weekly webinars that take this proven route to drive event engagement. In one of their most successful events, they gathered a panel of micro-influencers (people with engaged social audiences 10K to 100K in size) for their weekly episode. As a result, the event got a lot of attention on Twitter (now X) in Clearscope’s target audience circle.
Don’t forget! You can always request guests to share your webinar with their followers. If you’re starting out, Clearscope co-founder Bernard Huang suggests you “reach out to ‘up and coming’ folks [who] are a lot better to work with [since] they are usually hungrier and more likely to promote and put more effort into their presentations.”
6. Focus on three to five core takeaways
It’s simple, but the better your presentation, the more likely people will pay attention. Focus on the delivery and minimize technical words and jargon. Then, strive for simple language to explain your point and validate those ideas with evidence like data or use-case examples.
Chris Anderson, Curator of TED, describes the same: “if you try to cram in everything you know, you won’t have time to include key details, and your talk will disappear into abstract language… You need specific examples to flesh out your ideas. So limit the scope of your talk to that which can be explained and brought to life with examples in the available time.”
The take-home message? Prune the information you want to share to three to five takeaways. Too much information can leave your audience feeling mentally overloaded, which impacts their focus.
Pro tip: Don’t read from your slides. It’s distracting and does little to make your presentation a two-way street. To deliver the presentation like it’s a conversation, practice beforehand and ask rhetorical questions.
7. Dive right in
There’s nothing that makes attendees tune out like event intros that drag out, long-winded explanations, or tangents. So ask yourself: What do I need to do to capture my audience’s attention and imagination immediately?
Here are two ideas:
- Shorten introductions. Tell people why you or your guests are the right speakers for the webinar topic, but remember to keep it short. You don’t want to go on and on and have half the audience moving to other tabs or exiting immediately.
- Start with a story. A strong hook can get people interested. Give them an idea of what they’ll learn. Share a story of how you first felt when you encountered the problem (related to the webinar topic). This gets everyone emotionally involved — and they can tell you understand their problem, so they give you attention in return.
8. Offer to do a critique
Performing a critique is a sure-fire way to get your audience excited. Tell them you’ll provide critiques on their offer, landing page, social profile — whatever it is that’s relevant to the topic.
Madalyn Sklar offers live feedback to her online audience’s Twitter profiles in her weekly Twitter Spaces. Take a page from her, and replicate the strategy in your summit.
9. Incentivize your audience
Encourage attendees to join the conversation with incentives like virtual badges, coupon codes, gift badges, and/or premium access to your service/product. Plan for swag giveaways like Joe Howard (founder of WP Buffs) does with his team at their annual summit.
Howard shares, “We definitely try to keep our virtual summit fun and light. Merch giveaways and sharing what our audience says about us publicly has been a good way to drive participation. You can see a big wall of embedded tweets, and it makes it crystal clear that folks will learn a lot attending and enjoy spending time with a positive, close-knit community of people.”
10. Create bite-sized content
Most online viewers are forced to sit through 45 minutes to an hour of interactive video when they log on to live events. Try editing down your presentation to a more digestible 20- to 30-minute script and video. That way, you can focus on the details that really matter and force yourself to remove any fluff.
If you need help with scripting automation, Vimeo has an AI script generator that you can use to help cut down on superfluous language and create captivating webinar and event scripts. You should aim to use short sentences (fewer than 20 words) and limit your paragraphs to five sentences or fewer.
How to measure audience engagement for your virtual event
You may be able to guess how engaged your webinar audience is during the event, but it’s best to validate those feelings with solid engagement measurements. Here are five ideas for how to measure online engagement for your next event.
1. Evaluate based on key performance indicators (KPIs)
Engagement is dependent on the specific goals of the event or webinar organizer. Therefore, it’s a good starting point to define interactive engagement based on your webinar’s KPIs.
For example, if your goal is to improve your brand visibility on specific social media channels, consider measuring engagement based on the number of attendees or people talking about your event on social media.
Or, if your goal is to get feedback on the exclusive content of your event, you may want to evaluate both the number and overall “tone” of questions submitted during a live chat.
Having the right KPI paired with the right engagement metric will help you track data that’s most relevant to your strategy.
2. Review your webinar analytics
In addition to specific metrics tied to your webinar and event goals, you can also study engagement metrics traditionally associated with webinars and online events. This includes the number of registrants, the number of live attendees, average watch time (both for your live audience and later viewers), number of questions asked, poll results, and more.
Here are a few real-life examples of what metrics event hosts are tracking:
Clearscope: The team behind Clearscope’s weekly webinars look at the following two metrics, according to Bernard Huang:
- RSVP percentage: “How many people decided to RSVP to the webinar divided by how many emails we sent.”
- Attendance percentage: “How many people actually showed up to the webinar divided by how many people RSVP’d.”
WPMRR: For their formerly annual virtual event, the WPMRR Virtual Summit, Joe Howard uses audience engagement metrics that Vimeo offers:
“Streaming on Vimeo gives us access to a ton of analytics, like how many users are watching at any given time of the event. We also use Vimeo live chat and comments in our Circle community during the event to gauge how many folks are actually active during and after our virtual summit. Quick pre- and post-event surveys are helpful, too. This gives us a bit of insight into our most engaged audience members.”
Digital Marketing Kitchen: At Digital Marketing Kitchen, co-founder Cory Miller says they look at:
- Registrations: “How many webinar registrations we get for the webinar based on list/promotion size.”
- Attendees: “A great topic/speaker combo will have 50% of over attendance.”
The Marketing Meetup: The Marketing Meetup’s weekly webinars have anywhere between 250 to 1000 attendees. Founder Joe Glover shares that they look at:
“Attendees, drop-offs, and then the amount of chat messages during a session. Our current record is 1,518 messages in an hour!”
3. Survey your audience for feedback
Surveys are an effective way to gather feedback. Either share one after your event ends (and tell your audience to expect it during the event) or share it in the last two minutes of the interactive webinar or live event.
Using Vimeo, create an end screen that displays a button containing a custom call-to-action (CTA) link to your feedback survey. If you plan to survey attendees later on, use the end screen to direct viewers to your site, product page, or wherever you want to lead them.
This feedback will tell you how much people enjoyed your content or how valuable they found it, which can help you improve. You can also inquire about the quality of your virtual presentation slides and speaker presentation skills.
The best way is to pair rating-based questions with those that ask for attendees’ thoughts. Here are some examples of questions to ask after an internal event like a company all-hands or town hall:
- Do you have a better understanding of the company strategy, performance, and goals?
- Was our event a worthwhile time investment?
More ideas for feedback questions you can ask include:
- What’s your top takeaway from the webinar?
- How can we make our next webinar better for you?
- What would you like to learn next?
4. Create and track an event hashtag
Implementing hashtags is another classic audience engagement tool and a great way of tracking how well your virtual event or webinar series is engaging attendees. The game plan? Create a branded hashtag, then use a social media tool like Hootsuite to track mentions to determine audience participation.
5. Track website traffic
Whether you’re hosting an interactive webinar to increase brand awareness or generate leads, tracking website traffic is a compelling engagement metric to review.
Why? One of the first things an engaged person does is look up your website to learn more about you.
Simply look at Google Analytics to identify the traffic that your webinars drive.
Keep in mind, though: don’t chase numbers. Estimating the traffic quality coming your way is a much better metric. For this, track the traffic’s activity to determine what they do on your site.
It’s best if you set parameters for success beforehand here, as well. So, for example, traffic landing on your product page is a win, as it indicates you’ve inspired the attendee to move through the buyer’s journey.
How to participate in a webinar or online event
Now, let’s walk through the first piece in the audience engagement puzzle: getting folks to participate in your online event in the first place.
The key to audience participation is making your presentation a two-way conversation, so it’s more of a discussion than a speech.
Here are six easy ways to encourage more participation from your audience.
1. Ask questions and check for responses in the live chat feed
There are a variety of questions you can ask — from icebreaker questions like “Where are you joining from?” to more leading questions around your webinar/event topic like “Is there something I can explain more about [topic]?”
Asking questions after a few slides is a great way to get the engagement ball rolling. The Clearscope team does this. They add a questions slide in the middle of their webinar to get the questions flowing.
Want a pro tip? Don’t script these questions, advises Glover.
“The key to the questions I try to ask is to make them reactive in the moment rather than scripted up front. We’ve all sat in on interviews where it’s clear there is a list of questions that need to be asked, and the interviewer just gets through them. Instead, I try to get speakers to build on their answers or pick out specific themes within their previous answers.”
And remember: always read out the answers from the chat box. For instance, if someone says they’re from Italy, you tell them “hi” and add a conversation starter like a comment about their cuisine (great way to work pizza into the conversation!).
2. Leverage polls
Online polls take next to no effort, as people only need to cast their vote. Polls are great engagement boosters. Use polling during the start of your webinar or live event when you’re breaking the ice or throughout the webinar to gauge audience participation and interest.
3. Gather questions for a Q&A session at the end of the webinar
At the start of your webinar, tell your audience you’ll be answering questions in the last 10-15 minutes. This gets interested folks in their element as they pay attention and prep their questions for the end of the event.
Then, once you start answering questions, address the questioner with their name. This makes them feel involved, so they continue engaging.
If a lot of questions pour in, start by answering those that have the most upvotes. If there are still some remaining and you’re out of time, type out the answers and email them separately to the people who asked them. You can also get creative here and tell attendees you’ll send out an email to all of them answering the remaining questions.
Pro tip: Always have a moderator sift through and manage engagement in the Q&A and live chat sections. It works. One, because you won’t be able to manage it all at once. And two, the change of voice allows you to take five and also engages attendees.
4. Weave in interactive elements like quizzes
Another way to fuel the conversation is to plan out an interactive webinar complete with quizzes, live contests, and challenges for attendees.
For example, let’s say you’re hosting a webinar on copywriting. You can ask participants to apply a copywriting formula that you’ve taught them and share it with you in real time.
Whatever engagement tools you use, make sure you tell your attendees about them at the start so they know how to participate in your webinar or event. You’ll also want to spell out instructions on how, exactly, to interact — such as how to ask questions, where to access the quiz, and so on.
5. Organize small group breakout discussions
Smaller groups get attendees talking. It’s particularly beneficial for virtual events that promote virtual networking at events. Case in point: events hosted by The Northern Affinity. Their Director, Michael Edwards, shares:
“For networking-type sessions, we focus on using small group breakout discussions. I don’t believe the ‘creeping death’ approach of everyone talking to the room for 30-60 seconds works,” Edwards admits. “It becomes monotonous, and attendees are thinking about what they are going to say and not listening.”
As a solution, Edwards and their team now encourage “rooms of four to six people engaging in real discussions.”
To begin, “we ask the attendees to introduce themselves, but then we will pick a subject for them to discuss.” Recent examples include:
- What is one thing you’ve learned this week?
- Which online platforms can’t you live without?
- What makes an ideal collaboration partner for you?
We are big believers that the people we work with are intelligent and capable adults. We just need to provide a few ideas, and audiences can (and do) have deeper conversations that go off into tangents. That is how great relationships are often started.”
“Add to that we use polls, Q&A sessions, chat boxes, etc. Many attendees prefer to use text boxes rather than speaking to large numbers, so we embrace that,” notes Edwards.
6. Live tweet your webinar
This one’s a tip of the hat to the founder of Best Buyer Persona, Adrienne Barnes, who took to Twitter (X) to engage their webinar audience.
“We live-tweeted the webinar and highlighted key points for the Twitter audience. It was also a collaborative effort, so we pulled multiple audiences together to focus on one specific topic.”
Since the presentation was a two-part webinar, Barnes was able to pull in multiple audiences, which took engagement to the next level.
You can also simulcast your event to social and use the event hashtag to encourage participants to tweet and socially share their favorite takeaways.
How to optimize (and scale) virtual event workflows
We briefly touched on how AI video tools like our script generator can automate many of your monotonous (or challenging) workflows and increase efficiency. A couple other examples of tools that will help you expand your brand event and acquire leads include:
- Video templates: You don’t have to start from scratch when putting together your online event. Video templates help event producers get started right away with no experience. Even if you don’t use a specific template, browsing the catalog of options can provide you with great ideas for how to present your information in an eye-catching way.
- Short, pre-recorded videos: An AI script generator and teleprompter tool can help you capture pre-recorded video in fewer takes, so you can save time and money when developing your event. One-take video creation tools are designed to do just that: allow you to capture your content in one take. Just as the script generator helps less-than-confident (or busy) presenters develop talking points with ease, the teleprompter helps presenters share their information in an effective way — directly to the camera — and eliminates filler speech.
- All-in-one platform: Look for an online event platform that is capable of video hosting, video marketing, branding, and analytics — all in one place. Event producers often wear many professional hats, so the more they can do within one platform, the easier their job(s) will be. And the more they can focus on the content itself.
We know we’re a bit biased, but we suggest Vimeo.
Audience engagement FAQ
Why is audience engagement important?
How do you know if an audience is engaged?
How do you engage the audience in a webinar?
Wrap up: grow your audience engagement today with video
To recap, be sure to plan for engagement by taking your audience’s questions pre-webinar, at the start, and throughout it. Give them a chance to interact with you through icebreaker questions, polls, quizzes, live chat, and other tools.
Whatever performance metrics and reporting tactics you use, pair them with a top-notch presentation delivered in a conversational style.
Originally published August 5, 2021 and updated on Sept 12, 2023.