Virtual Event “Engagement” - Does it mean what you think?


After thousands of virtual events with thousands of brands, the top request from event organizers is “more engagement.”

But what does that mean? You could go look it up in a dictionary and see that states that it is “the act of engaging or the state of being engaged; involvement.” But is that what you expected when you used that word? Mere involvement in your event? 

I don’t think so. 

Engagement has morphed into an all-inclusive word for the virtual and hybrid event industry. One that has high expectations but no real meaning. It’s a catch-all. A marketing term. 

And you keep using it without necessarily thinking through what you mean. 

  • Do you mean you want your attendees to interact with others worldwide using a text-based system while watching a pre-recorded video? 
  • Do you mean that you want the attendees to watch a session live with polling and quizzes to ensure that they are paying attention? 
  • Do you mean that your attendees want to attend your business, medical, or education conference to play video games on their computers? 
  • Do you mean that your sponsors are looking for more leads, and they think the only way to do that is to be “more engaging?”

Active learning researchers like Robert Talbert have been looking into this for years. In this article, he splits it up into three different areas: 

  • Affective (feelings and emotions)
  • Behavioral (actions and intentions)
  • Cognitive (beliefs and knowledge)

Your event should look to maximize on at least one of these areas to drive attendees to feel a pull and ‘engaged.’ As an organization, you also need to set up your definition and goals for engagement. Only after you have determined those can you improve engagement within your event using various tools to keep your attendees engaged. Take a look at the three areas below to see how you can optimize your event using various ideas and engagement tools! 

Affective Engagement

This is likely one of the more complex ways to focus on engagement, but let’s start here first. Affective engagement is all about belonging. Think about belonging to a specific group, whether it is political, religious, or brand. People identify to their core with that particular grouping, which allows them to feel like they belong. 

There are several ways to do this, but the most important is to ensure that your organization’s “why” is grounded in your attendees’ “why.” 

If you are a medical association seeking to drive affective engagement, think about questions such as: 

  • Why did my members become doctors to begin with? 
  • Why are they still wanting to retain their medical certifications? 
  • Why do they want to be part of our organization specifically? 

If you are a local or national banking association, think about questions such as: 

  • Why did my members join the banking and financial industry to begin with? 
  • Despite all of their trials, why do my members still want to stay in the banking and financial industry? 
  • Why did they initially look to us to provide accurate and timely information? 

Answering questions like this gives you clarity and allows you to get an unprecedented look into the motivations, intentions, and purpose of your attendees’ lives. 

Only at this point can you look at engaging them affectively. 

Find ways to affirm their belonging. Here are some options that we have seen!

  • Create virtual coffee chats where attendees can hop on with individuals from across the world in your event to get to know them better. Make sure that they feel comfortable in these areas, so look for a place with a low barrier to entry and allows them chose what information to share with the platform. Places like our Conversation Hall are great options for this! 
  • Host theme days within your event. This is especially useful when you have attendees who will be on camera in situations like a breakout room or networking environment. 80’s or 80’s day. Superhero day. “What did you want to be when you grew up” day. There’s no limit to the themes you can use! 
  • Give shoutouts to your attendees. Sharing praise or pointing out comments in different interaction tools like chat are great ways to help make people feel like they belong. 

There are many different ways that you can drive affective engagement. Make sure this is a consideration in your event to help drive this all-important feeling of belonging. 

Behavioral Engagement

Behavioral engagement focuses on the attendee’s actions, and this is where you can focus on the intentions and the actual ‘doing’ of the event. This can be great for people who are kinesthetic learners, especially when most attendees seem to be looking for content to be educational rather than motivational. 

To begin optimizing your content for behavioral areas, think about questions such as: 

  • What actions do my attendees want from this event? 
  • What actions do I want my attendees to take from this conference? 
  • What actions do my sponsors expect from attendees and me? 

These will give you a great place to start thinking about how you can optimize their behaviors inside of your event. Here are some great ideas you can take and implement in your virtual event: 

  • Leverage gamification to drive attendees to the areas you want them to visit. Attach the points that they can earn from visiting different places of the event or taking various actions to a giveaway that is something that they care about. Even better? Make it something that increases one of the other two types of engagement. Maybe a free membership for a year? Perhaps an opportunity for 1 hour with a speaker of their choice for a one-on-one Q&A session? 
  • Provide a way for them to increase their connections. This can be done in various ways through a spontaneous networking opportunity to social profiles that they can share with other attendees to continue connecting after the event. 
  • Provide them with action breaks. Give your attendees the ability to do yoga, a light workout, or meditate with scheduled sessions throughout the day. This will allow them to physically engage with (and break from) your event while giving them a brief respite from the fantastic content you will be providing. 

Finding ways to incentivize and drive attendee actions throughout the event will be critical to achieving your engagement goals. 

Cognitive Engagement

The cognitive area focuses on knowledge and beliefs. This is one of the areas where you can dramatically make changes in engagement without a significant budget increase. Most attendees are looking for ways to get more out of their time, and educating themselves using your content should be one of the top ways they can do that! 

To begin optimizing your event for cognitive engagement, ask yourself questions such as: 

  • What information do my attendees need right now? 
  • What topics will bring in more attendees to my event? 
  • What speakers deliver their content in an entertaining way that allows attendees to soak up as much knowledge as possible? 

While these give you a good starting point, you need to ensure that you are looking at your post-event surveys and other requests from attendees to ensure that you align with what they are looking for. Here are some options that you have to increase your cognitive engagement within your event immediately: 

  • Get better content! Your audience has dramatically shifted in the recent past. Have you updated your content to match? Virtual audiences have different requirements, and you should follow some basic best practices on how to deliver quality content that will capture and retain the attention of your attendees
  • You should schedule shorter sessions. While deep-diving sessions may have worked in your in-person events in the past, virtual attendees have less tolerance for 3-hour sessions on a single topic with no break. 
  • Make the information actionable. For information to stick, attendees need to walk away from the session or event with clear actions that they can take to use that information to improve their life somehow. 

Historically, providing cognitive engagement has been the focus of many virtual events. Even with that focus, many have missed the opportunity to truly create an impact with their events. 

Leveraging these three ways of looking at your event will help you drive engagement, but only after you have figured out what that means. You need to take the time to plan it out, make your goals, and then follow these steps to increase the affective (feeling-based), behavioral (action-based), and cognitive (knowledge-based) engagement in your event. 

Knowing your attendees and your content is your top priority as an event organizer. You need a user-friendly and intuitive platform that provides support options ranging from self-service to fully managed. Click below to see how vConferenceOnline can help you drive incredible results from your event strategy. 

Attendee expectations are constantly changing, and you must meet your organization’s goals. There is a delicate balance between those two. We have a resource for those of you walking that razor’s edge. Click below and download our Winning Event Strategy absolutely free.