Gaming & Engagement Techniques for Virtual Events


30 July 2020

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As event organisers wrestle with bringing their traditional models online, one of the most common challenges is achieving audience engagement throughout the whole virtual event. To be clear, engagement is a challenge in the live event space, but the tactics to positively impact engagement are tried, tested and well known.

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By Lucy James (Event Marketing Manager at Synesthesia) and Marco Mazzaglia (Video Game Evangelist at Synesthesia).

As event organisers wrestle with bringing their traditional models online, one of the most common challenges is achieving audience engagement throughout the whole virtual event. To be clear, engagement is a challenge in the live event space, but the tactics to positively impact engagement are tried, tested and well known. As we all move quickly into the virtual event space the pressure is on to build engagement with all of the event stakeholders, to ensure that everyone is getting as much value as possible from the new event format.

Outstanding speakers and content 

When planning the virtual event agenda, the quality of the content and the speakers can be even more important than for a live event. In the digital space, if the content isn’t on point, attendees can ‘leave’ at the touch of a button. Participant engagement begins with the very core of the event: the content and speakers, so it’s important to ensure that is timely, relevant, and where possible, exclusive. For your particular event there may be other criteria that are also important: that the speaker is extremely senior, extremely well rehearsed, has original research, puts on a ‘performance’. Whatever the criteria for success in the live event, those criteria are even more relevant for the virtual event – the content and speakers are the framework for building meaningful engagement with your audience. 

Varied timing and format

We’re all aware that attention spans are much shorter online that in real life, so it makes sense to reflect that in the event format. Plan talks or sessions to be shorter, brief speakers to arrive at ‘the point’ more immediately, and ensure that the content definitely matches the talk title. Talks or sessions could also be divided into sections, interspersed with polls or q&a, to keep the attendees involved with the topic. 

Most conference speakers do a great job of trying to keep their presentation lively and visually appealing, while also delivering their message, and this is even more important for virtual events. Diverse presentation formats (not just Powerpoint), inclusion of videos and infographics, live coding or other live elements relevant to your industry and audience, can all help to keep the participants’ attention.

Gamification Techniques for Digital Events

Gamification is the process of adding game-like elements to a non-game environment or experience in order to increase the overall value for participants. Game mechanics can include competitions, point systems, rewards & prizes, and problem solving or quizzes. An ideal outcome is that participants experience a reward, feel engaged, and consequently return, or continue, to participate in the game. This is an engagement loop – the most desired outcome.

Gamification essentials

There are a couple of fundamental principles that make a difference to a successful, engaging game. For event organisers these principles are not new, they are the same principles that are applied for all major decisions from the choice of keynote speaker to the content of the post event email. The first is linked to knowing your event audience, and the second is linked to the event goals

Defining the target audience

In order to engage your online audience at a virtual event it’s essential to know exactly who that audience is. There is the basic demographic information that can include industry, responsibility, geography, age, but the more interesting and valuable insights are around behaviour. As an event organiser, what do you know about your participants: Do they book early or late? Do they pay for themselves or invoice to the company? Do they attend lots of events or very few? And in the online space, what are their habits, are they familiar with lots of digital tools or are they technology resistant? Do they engage on social media, which networks, how frequently? Answers to all of these questions will be approximations, but the behavioural insights that you have will help you to create a game experience that really resonates with your audience and ensures that all important engagement.

“There are so many different types of games and gaming techniques that it’s really important to choose the right approach for your specific audience.” (Marco Mazzaglia Video Game Evangelist at Synesthesia)

Understanding the specific event goals 

The purpose of gamification and games as part of your virtual event is to add value, add to the experience, give the ‘wow’ factor to the attendees. The purpose is not for the game to take away from, or distract from the actual event activities. As such it’s highly recommended to revisit the event goals as you develop your gamification strategy to be sure that the game outcomes are tied to the overall desired event outcomes. If you want to create an optimum learning environment, the game needs to drive to that behaviour. If it’s important that you achieve high numbers of check-ins with the virtual sponsor spaces, the game needs to reward that behaviour.

Stay focused on the event goals; the game should always be oriented to serve the event.. 

Three Key Tips For Successful Implementation

With the strategy clear: tied tightly to the behavioural characteristics of your specific audience and driving directly towards the event goals, you are ready to press ‘go’ on the gamification feature of your virtual event. Here are Three Tips to keep in mind at this stage to achieve maximum engagement with your participants:

1) Launch and communicate about your game in all pre-event communication and marketing.

Your game is an important feature of your digital event so ensure that you are weaving the message throughout all of your pre-event comms. It’s possible that you could even launch your game pre-event to build hype, awareness and early engagement. The important thing is not to leave the game as an ‘add-on’ or after thought. 

2) Keep the game rules and prize giveaways clear and simple.

You’re trying to build engagement, so don’t fall at the first hurdle! Make sure that the audience know what, where and how to participate in the game, and what, where and how to claim their prizes. This first, basic information will gain their interest and involvement. 

3) Use the tools and technology that meet your needs. 

It’s easy to get caught up in fancy features and functionality, there are lots of tools and solutions that offer exciting and interesting game ideas. Of course your game will need a technology element, just be sure that the tech doesn’t distract from the game mechanism; the technology should be powering the game to achieve maximum engagement with the participants.

In our next article, read about 15 Game and Gamification Ideas to Boost Engagement at Your Virtual Event

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