How to Engage Virtual Attendees in Hybrid Meetings

Recently, a friend shared with me the success of her virtual events. Interestingly, as she progressed away from 100% virtual towards a hybrid strategy, she noticed a big shift. Virtual attendees’ engagement levels were dropping like flies. “Why the shift?” she asked. 

Think of it like this: imagine you play in an orchestra. Your conductor directs each musician with hand motions and eye contact to queue their entrance. You play trombone. You’re sitting on the edge of your seat, ready for your next part. The conductor continues on... failing to make eye contact with you for your queue, he doesn’t even motion in your direction, and he moves right along. How do you feel? You probably feel unimportant or forgotten. By now you’ve probably disengaged from the moment by at least 50% when you should be thriving, feeling seen, heard, and validated as you play your part

These are the effects of not feeling seen, and this is how virtual attendees often feel in hybrid meetings: unseen, like their voice doesn’t matter because all the attention goes to those present in the room. Speakers tend to look at the camera 10% of the time, which is the equivalent of looking them in the eye only 10% of the time. So, what does this mean?

To be human is to want to be seen and understood, to belong. Psychologists have told us this for years. If feeling unseen leads to disconnection, what can we do about this? Let’s endeavor to design all meetings and events for human connection and engagement. To begin on that journey, today we will share a few tips on how to engage virtual attendees in hybrid meetings and events.

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Here are five practical ways to engage virtual attendees in a hybrid meeting:

  1. Establish profile creation on your event platform as the norm. Encouraging attendees to fill in their profile information so they can be seen and known by other attendees is crucial. It’s easy for virtual attendees to hide behind the mask of their computer screen. This distance is often a protective covering that subconsciously says, “If I don’t show up much here, then I can avoid the potential pain of not being noticed, heard, or understood.” It’s this mask that we want to encourage people to discard, so they can experience connection.
  2. Provide incentives and awards for participation. Award points for completing polls, social challenges like networking with other attendees or meeting with exhibitors (if applicable), submitting a question, filling in their profile, or similar activities.
  3. Recognize engaged attendees on camera. Plan to have your host recognize engaged attendees by name on camera so that they feel validated and seen. This way, your entire online audience knows that their participation can lead to them feeling seen.
  4. Plan networking activities for online attendees. Tools like Zoom or Hopin offer great online networking features for both small breakout groups or one large group. You may also consider a virtual trivia mixer or virtual escape game mixer as a networking hour for your online audience.
  5. Staff properly. In addition to your in-person host or emcee, hire at least two online moderators or hosts to engage your online audience. One moderator should be dedicated to responding to comments in live chat, while the other serves as the on camera host, so that audience members connect with the face and personality of a host and feel seen by them with direct “eye contact” through the camera. This moderator may be responsible for session transitions, announcements, etc. 

More virtual event resources:

5 Tips for Preparing for a Virtual Event

How to Create Engaging Virtual Events

5 Tips for Engaging Sponsors in Your Virtual Events