Boosting Hybrid Conference Engagement: 3 Essential Tips
As an association leader, you know the impact a conference can have on your organization and its members. These events provide networking opportunities, allow members to further their education, shed light on industry trends and updates, and help attendees hone their professional skills.
Additionally, conferences can assist your association in recruiting new members, generating revenue via ticket and merchandise sales, and establishing an authoritative reputation in your industry.
In the post-COVID world, many organizations continue to take advantage of the benefits of virtual events by using the hybrid format for their conferences. A hybrid conference is simply an event that combines both in-person and virtual elements—typically, attendees choose how they want to participate. Because attendees can make the best choice for their schedules, more people can join conferences without needing to travel. And on the other side of the coin, those who prefer in-person events can still attend in a traditional, in-person format.
While providing many benefits, hybrid conferences have one common challenge: maintaining consistent engagement levels from all attendees. It can be difficult to engage online and in-person attendees at once, especially if your association doesn’t tailor engagement opportunities to each format.
In this guide, we’ll explore how associations can overcome these challenges by preparing well-written and rehearsed conference presentations and leveraging technology to streamline the event. We’ll cover the following steps:
- Work with a conference presentation coach.
- Leverage technology.
- Prepare for the hybrid setting.
Your association’s member engagement can have a significant impact on overall member experience and retention. To grow your association (and attract more registrants for future conferences), it’s critical that you prepare in advance and make engaging with your event a rewarding and captivating experience.
1. Work with a conference presentation coach.
While it might seem like anyone can put together a presentation deck and relay the information to an audience, creating a conference session that keeps the audience on the edge of their seats can often require a professional touch. By working with a conference presentation coach, you can ensure each speaker is well-rehearsed and gives a polished and professional final presentation.
Here are some of the benefits of investing in conference speaker coaching:
- Improve relationships with speakers and attendees. By providing the opportunity to work with a professional speaking coach, your association shows that it values the speakers’ success and attendees’ experiences.
- Optimize the presentation for your format. Some speakers may not be experienced in giving presentations via a hybrid format. A coach can advise session leaders on how to engage both audiences and help them iron out any kinks beforehand.
- Help speakers excel. Coaches will assist each speaker in finding their unique strengths, and they will show them small ways to add personality to the presentation. This can yield more engaging presentations, assist the speaker in being more genuine, and help the audience feel connected to the presentation and your association as a whole.
Developing top-notch presentations, which are the “centerpieces” of the conference, is the most important first step to engaging your audience. Once your association has a coach ready to assist them, consider how you can optimize other aspects of the conference to boost attendee engagement—by using the power of technology.
2. Leverage technology.
Your association will need to use technology like video conferencing tools and email to reach and communicate with virtual attendees.
Here are a few ways these different types of technology can improve experiences before, during, and after the conference:
- Website. A comprehensive membership website will help immensely during the promotional phase and registration process. Associations should use their website as a resource for potential attendees to learn more about the conference and its speakers. Make sure to provide instructions about how to attend, including the apps or devices they’ll need in order to participate in the virtual component.
- Mobile apps. A mobile app helps the association keep in-person and virtual attendees in the loop. Your staff members can push out real-time notifications and updates through the app, including maps of the booth layouts, and provide all event details (like a schedule of the day’s sessions) in one place.
- Association management software (AMS). Using data collected during registration, organizations can leverage their AMS’s analytics and reporting features to evaluate the success of the conference, reach out to first-time attendees, and automatically send thank-you messages.
Not only do these tech options keep attendees engaged from registration to post-event follow-up, but they can also help bridge the gap between in-person and virtual attendees. For example, with membership directories, attendees can connect with any members of your association, regardless of whether they attended virtually or in person.
By providing high-quality member experiences and engagement opportunities with the help of your tech stack, the association can form strong relationships with attendees and boost the number of membership renewals.
3. Prepare for the hybrid setting.
Unlike strictly in-person or virtual events, hybrid events require the speakers and organizers to appeal to members who are attending from two different places—meaning that your association will need to split its attention between the two. Fonteva’s guide to pivoting to virtual events recommends choosing flexible technology for hybrid events. Specifically, associations should select tools that allow the organization to quickly identify and respond to lapses in engagement, technical issues, or other roadblocks that may occur (whether online or in-person).
A speaking coach will be instrumental in preparing presenters for the hybrid format, but your organization can take it a step further. Make sure to accommodate virtual attendees with prepared alternatives to in-person activities.
Here are some ways that your association could extend engagement opportunities to everyone who attends:
- Integrate questions from virtual attendees into the sessions’ Q&A time using the chat feature on your video conferencing platform.
- In place of raising their hands, ask virtual attendees to weigh in via polls, surveys, or reactions/emotes.
- Offer virtual coffee or happy hours to provide laid-back networking opportunities.
- Set up a virtual exhibit hall so attendees can explore the sponsor booths, access resources, and set up meetings to interact with exhibitors virtually.
Creating engagement opportunities designed for virtual attendees will make those joining remotely feel more connected and engaged during the conference. You can even set up ways for attendees to engage after the event ends such as offering on-demand access to recordings of the presentations attendees can access after the conference.
Organizing a hybrid conference can make your event accessible to more people, helping spread awareness of your association to a broader audience. Make sure to work with a professional coach to support your speakers write and deliver presentations. By putting together insightful presentations, using the power of technology, and planning ways for virtual attendees to interact, you can engage all of your attendees—whether they are participating remotely or sitting in the conference hall or breakout session room.
About the Author: Erin Lemons, Senior Director of Marketing at Fonteva
Erin Lemons joins Togetherwork Association Solutions with over 15 years serving as a marketing director, event producer, and project manager creating robust marketing campaigns and initiatives that focus on the growing and ever-changing technology needs of the association industry. She leads the marketing teams and strategy at Fonteva and Protech.