Virtual Events: Creating Engagement Through Chat
Hidden Benefits/Upsides to the Chat Feature
While serving as the virtual emcee for over 200 virtual events since March of 2020, I’ve come across some organizations who are tempted to disable the chat feature during virtual events. They generally cite two hypothetical reasons (1) the chat feature could be distracting, and (2) the chat could fill up with inappropriate comments and “get out of hand.”
I disagree! (1) The chat does not create distractions; the chat creates engagement. (2) Anyone thinking about saying something inappropriate in the chat knows their comment is attached to their name, is public, and is recorded. In the 200+ virtual events I’ve hosted, I’ve seen maybe 3 or 4 comments that were negative in tone, and they only made the comment writer look bad, not the organization! The benefits to the chat feature FAR outweigh any potential risks.
Live event in-person comments, laughter and applause can never be truly replaced by a “haha” or a thumbs-up emoji in the chat at a virtual event. Of course these short form written reactions aren’t as fulfilling for event planners, presenters, or attendees as hearing the cheers and feeling the energy at a live event! That being said, there are several upsides to the chat feature for a virtual event that often get overlooked.
Here are three positives that come naturally from an open chat feature at a virtual event.
#1 Questions Get Asked
If you do it right, A LOT of questions get asked—many more questions than at an in-person event in fact! At most live in-person events, some speakers allow a Q&A section for maybe 5 or 10 minutes at the end. Often the Q&A is an afterthought that gets breezed over… “Anyone have any questions? Ok thanks for your time!” Who wants to stand up in a ballroom of 1500 people and ask a question?
With virtual events, however, anyone can ask a question at any time, and it couldn’t be easier. All attendees, regardless of personality type, have equal access to the chat. This creates a rolling Q&A during speakers and the conference at large.
Each individual speaker can choose to answer questions as they come in, or not. There’s no pressure to, but they are there for the speakers who are comfortable responding in real time. I know many keynote speakers who love addressing questions and comments throughout their talk, as they feel this helps them keep a pulse on the audience and what content is resonating with them. Alternatively, your virtual emcee can address questions between speakers. If the emcee doesn’t know the answer, he or she can at least acknowledge the question and tell them “we will follow up and get you the answer” so the attendee feels heard.
Also, as previously noted the chat log is recorded. This means that any unanswered questions can be addressed via email after the conference. Every organization should want to know what questions their people have. What better way to find out what questions employees and attendees have? The recorded chat is GOLD for an organization that cares for its employees.
#2 Conversations Get Started
The chat feature also starts conversations that continue long after the virtual event ends! It would be rude for attendees to start chatting during a live in-person event, but the rules of a virtual event are different. Conversations in the chat show that your attendees are engaging with your content and your speakers, and that’s the goal – right?
As an emcee and keynote speaker myself, I love seeing any activity in the chat! Comments from attendees show that people are listening, and not checking emails or playing Angry Birds 🙂
#3 Gratitude Gets Expressed
As an emcee and producer of virtual events, it’s so nice to see the “thank you!” and “great job!” and even”wonderful event!”comments flood in at the conclusion of a well-planned and well-executed virtual event. It’s something that doesn’t happen much at a live show because most people don’t take the time to stop and thank presenters or producers in the back of the room on their way out the door.Understandably, they’re rushing to get a coffee or use the bathroom or just get to the next session! At a virtual event, however, people are less rushed so they remember to give a little word of gratitude before logging off. Again, many people are not comfortable approaching and thanking a presenter in-person, but most people feel comfortable typing a quick sentence or two in a chat.
The chat feature is a great tool for keeping your virtual event engaging and entertaining. It’s the key to making a virtual conference feel like a living, breathing event… especially when your virtual event is a one-way stream style webinar. The chat feature is paramount to fostering connection and engagement among attendees with the content and with one another. The stream of questions and comments often becomes a part of the show, even a show within a show! Attendees like socializing with each other, asking questions in real time, and expressing their gratitude. So, be brave and turn on the chat feature at your next virtual event. I am willing to bet that you’ll be pleasantly surprised with the result!