Event experience | 28 January 2021

The Events Industry’s Complete Guide to Audience Engagement

Bizzabo Blog Staff

Audience engagement took on an entirely new meaning when virtual and hybrid events arrived. The question is: How do you engage attendees in a virtual or hybrid ecosystem? Read on to master audience engagement in 2022 and beyond.

Keeping attendees engaged throughout the entire event experience is key to achieving event success. But how do you measure — or even define — successful attendee engagement in a virtual or hybrid setting? 

Now that we know hybrid events are here to stay — 58% of respondents to a Forrester survey agree that all flagship B2B marketing events will be hybrid in 2 years — event professionals have to balance keeping in-person and virtual attendees engaged with each other, and that’s on top of creating meaningful content, event experiences, and more. 

That said, although 82% of B2B marketers believe that attendee engagement is an important KPI for event success, according to our Evolution of Events Report, 67.7% find it more difficult to support strong event engagement during virtual events. So how do you engage attendees and measure success?

This guide will help you understand audience engagement from every angle, how to implement engagement efforts, and how to accurately measure engagement.

Audience Engagement 101

Audience engagement measures whether and how attendees are participating in your event and how pleased they are with the overall event experience. Depending on the type of event you’re hosting, you can measure engagement in many ways, including the following:

  • Sessions attended
  • Duration of session attendance
  • Meetings booked
  • Meetings attended
  • Poll participation
  • Chat reactions (emojis)
  • Connections made
  • Social shares
  • Chat participation
  • Event app adoption
  • Satisfaction surveys

It goes without saying that an engaged attendee is a satisfied attendee, and the last thing you want is a group of attendees who experience your event passively. To avoid this, you have to craft a spectacular event with exceptional content and clear opportunities for attendee engagement.

Event Audience Engagement

Get To Know Your Event Attendees 

Before diving headfirst into audience engagement, take one step back and make sure you fully understand your attendees.

First, get inside the minds of your attendees. Why are they coming to your event in the first place? Define the attendee’s goals and motivations. This will help you better anticipate attendee needs, create more personalized experiences, and build more successful events.

Attendee intelligence is a critical component of driving engagement. 

For example, at hybrid events, there are a few different ways that virtual attendees engage with events: 

  • Watching and listening: Online attendees are consuming video on a live stream 
  • Engaging with others online: Online attendees engage with other online attendees
  • Engaging with everyone: Online attendees engage with anyone, whether online or in-person

Interestingly, in our Hybrid Event Trends Report, we found that while virtual attendees wanted to meet with in-person attendees, in-person attendees didn’t see value in speaking with virtual attendees. In fact, 58% of virtual attendees were willing to speak with any type of attendee but 78% of in-person attendees only wanted to network with other in-person attendees. 

The more you understand your audience, the better you’ll be able to plan for powerful brand activations, networking, and other engagement activities — and the more meaningful the data you collect will be. 

How To Build Event Attendee Personas

One approach to getting to know your attendees is to define your attendee persona by using existing data. A buyer persona is a semi-fictional representation of your buyer based on actual customer data — whether from customer interviews, sales team interviews, market research, or another source. Buyer personas should detail demographics, psychographics, motivations and challenges, and more. 

“If you want to be great at experience, you have to be great at audience — and that’s truly understanding the audience.”

Erin McElroy
Program Director, Digital Events & Innovation, IBM

Here are some steps to get started:

  1. Build a targeted list of organizations and accounts that you’d like to engage at your events. In an account-based marketing strategy, this is usually referred to as your Target Account list or Tier 1 list.
  2. Decide on which data points you’ll use to create your buyer personas. 
  3. Audit your event management platform to see if you can report on your defined data points. Your event software should let you collect professional titles, industries, company size, customers, prospects, country, and more. 
  4. Leverage the data to paint a picture of your event attendee personas. 

Once you have the initial data points for your attendee profile you can start brainstorming your engagement tactics.

One last thing: A buyer persona is different from an ICP (Ideal Customer Profile), which is used in B2B account-based marketing. An ICP includes a high-level list of characteristics for a business that would qualify them as a lead worth pursuing. That said, within the ideal customer profile, there are several different buyer personas. 

Get a Better Picture of Your Attendees with Data

In addition to leveraging your event management software for the registration process, you should also investigate third-party integrations that can help level up your collection of attendee data. Here are some questions to consider: 

  • Which teams need visibility into event activities and data?
  • What other technology is my organization using to capture customer and prospect data?
  • What are the information gaps between my event tech stack and other software?
  • What event data should be shared across my organization’s event technology stack?
  • How do different event management platform integrations work?
  • Is it easy to create and review reports and analytics?


TFoEE On Demand

How To Prioritize Attendees in the Registration Process

Designing an attendee-focused event with top engagement numbers starts with event registration. As you define different event personas, ask yourself the following questions to determine how to build your event registration: 

  • Should there be different ticket types or registration flows (i.e., for attendees, sponsors, exhibitors, vendors, speakers)?
  • Will we offer paid or free tickets?
  • Are we holding a one-day or multi-day event?
  • Will we have multiple sessions, breakouts, or workshops?
  • Is content going to be available on demand after the event?
  • Will we serve meals at the event?
  • Do we need home addresses to send swag boxes to attendees?
  • Will we need clothing sizes for swag or gifts?
  • Is there a need for captions or real-time translation?

Then, decide what data to collect during the registration process. Optimize the registration by offering specific ticket types and promo codes, as well as using conditional questions to help website visitors select the event ticket that meets their needs.

How To Drive Audience Engagement Like a Pro

1. Define Your Metrics

The overwhelming majority (80%) of planners report that attendee engagement and satisfaction are the top KPIs used to measure virtual event success. But before deciding on engagement opportunities, you need to pinpoint what you want to measure and communicate those to everyone involved with the event. 

Here are some important engagement metrics to consider for virtual, in-person, and hybrid events:

  • Audience retention: How many people started a specific session or keynote versus how many remained at the end? 
  • Chat and poll participation: Were attendees asking questions during sessions? Were they responding to polls? Were they engaging with other attendees?
  • Material downloads: If event sessions offered downloadable assets, how many attendees downloaded them?
  • Session ratings: How satisfied were attendees with your content and the overall experience?
  • Social media mentions: Who is talking about your event and what are they saying?

We’ll go into more detail about exactly how to measure these and what they mean for event success later in this article. 

2. Create Meaningful Content

Content will always remain one of the most important audience engagement tools, particularly for virtual and hybrid events. According to our Evolution of Events Report, the average virtual attendee only watches 68% of a virtual session that is 20 minutes or longer. For us, this means that the key to successful virtual or hybrid events is shorter sessions (goodbye 60-minute sessions).

But content length is only one part of fostering engagement. Understanding attendee personas and giving them what they want is the best way to achieve engagement success. Ask yourself questions to determine what your audience needs. 

  • What are your attendees’ challenges and pain points?
  • How can your content answer their needs and help fix their problems?
  • How can your content create conversations and dialogue?
  • How can you craft content that resonates with live and virtual audiences?

Another simple way to assess what your audience wants is to ask them. Consider polling registrants about the kind and type of content they’d like to see, whether that’s at the point of registration or before the event sessions are locked in place.

“Content is king … focus on content that is relevant to your audience. … that captivates the attention of whoever is watching. Then, on top of that, you need to create something that is engaging and creates dialogue. It has to be more than passive watching.”

Leon Winkler

Director of International Events, Ubisoft

3. Focus On User Experience 

A virtual or hybrid event platform, aka venue, can be tricky for audiences to use the first time around. Pay extra attention to the user experience and choose a UX-friendly, easy-to-use event management platform. You can also take it one step further by providing attendees with an FAQ section and small video tutorials on how to navigate the platform and its features. 

Another way to ensure attendees have a great experience and easy time using your event platform is to offer a Technical Support Chat as part of each session. The easier it is for attendees to ask questions and get help, the happier and more engaged they’re likely to be. 

To make sure you choose the right event partner, be sure to book demos with several event management software companies and ask plenty of questions about attendee engagement features. If they offer a free or limited trial, be sure to bring your event team in and play around with the software to make sure it offers everything you need to achieve event engagement success.

4. Let Attendees Choose Their Own Adventure

Let your audience choose their session track or make recommendations for relevant sessions based on attendee job title or interests.

For instance, Hubspot’s INBOUND2021 event offered tracks for Marketing, Sales, Customer Success, HubSpot Academy, and RevOps, even going so far as to color coat the tracks for easy navigation and movement from session to session. 

INBOUND 2021 agenda

Not only do tracks let your audience feel in control and like you’re catering to their niche or needs, but it also ensures higher levels of engagement. You might also consider having one MC or moderator per track to create an even more fluid and consistent experience. 

5. Use a Virtual Suggestion Box 

Let the time leading up to your event be an opportunity for attendees to offer suggestions. Put a suggestion box on your website or send a survey with room for suggestions via email. 

In truth, you should always be soliciting opinions and ideas from your event audience and customers. In our BizzaKnowledge Community, for example, we offer customers the opportunity to suggest ideas for our product team, which gives our customers a voice and brings fresh ideas to the table. 

Bizzabo knowledge community

6. Mix It Up and Choose Shorter Sessions 

Virtual attendees have a different attention span for event content than in-person attendees do. When you’re in-person, it’s an all-senses experience. When you’re virtual, there are a million distractions on top of the event you’re attending. In fact, 66% of event organizers say that live sessions contribute to higher audience engagement and overall event success.

So how can you help virtual attendees stay engaged? Shorter sessions!

In our Virtual Event Benchmark Report, we pooled data from 1,850 virtual events that took place from July 1, 2020 – October 31, 2020, and found that attendees watched 61% — or 37 minutes — of a 60-minute session. We recommend using this as a benchmark but also encourage you to fine-tune your session lengths by looking at past view rates of your sessions.

7. Design with Your Virtual Audience in Mind 

As we fully embrace the hybrid era, it’s important to keep your virtual audience at the forefront of your event strategy. It’s easy to focus on the in-person audience, but hybrid events need to engage two distinct audiences. Although 60% of respondents to a Forrester study said creating virtual experiences that aren’t just another webinar is a challenge, you can’t just try and replicate the in-person experience for a virtual audience. 

These audiences need to be treated equally, but not the same. But when 54% of event professionals struggle to predict the mix between virtual and in-person attendance, what can you do to ensure you’re delivering engaging and meaningful content and experiences for both audiences?

Make sure that cameras are set up for a high-quality virtual experience and that all of your tech works for all of your audiences. Additionally, leverage your event management technology to deliver the best attendee experience for both audiences. Whatever ideas you come up with for one audience, make sure you find a comparable experience for the other. That may mean weaving Q&A, polls, networking, and chats into the in-person experience or bringing fireside chats to the virtual audience.  

audience event engagement

How To Measure Audience Engagement

And now for what you’ve been waiting for: how to measure audience engagement at your next hybrid or virtual event. 

1. Attendance and Registration Rates 

Best for: In-person, Virtual, and Hybrid Events

The most fundamental measurement of engagement is whether an attendee shows up. Collect and analyze data for the following questions:

  • Are attendees registering for multiple sessions or just one? 
  • Which sessions are the most and least popular? 
  • Are attendees tuning in live or on demand? 
  • How many attendees didn’t show up at all? 

With these numbers in hand, you can start to evaluate whether your event schedule and content worked or whether you need to tweak your approach for the future. For example, if you had more virtual attendees register for shorter sessions than longer ones, you might want to adjust your schedule or content approach for future events. 

Another benefit of assessing session registrations is that you can understand whether your marketing efforts are leading attendees to specific sessions or experiences. 

2. Attendee Retention and View Duration Rates

Best for: In-person, Virtual, and Hybrid Events 

In addition to event attendance, it’s vital to understand how many people stuck it out from start to finish in each of your sessions — or the event as a whole. High retention rates mean your content is resonating (and your engagement numbers are more likely to be high as well). If your retention rates are low, you may need to adjust your schedule, content, or engagement features. 

For example, if 1,700 people registered and 1,200 logged in live, your attendance rate is roughly 70%. With these numbers, you can set benchmarks — and aspirational goals — for future events. 

Additionally, when your content reaches your most valuable customers and prospects — and they’re watching your content from start to finish — it will be easier to engage them further with follow-up content and messaging. 

boost event engagement with messaging

3. Session Engagement and Satisfaction Rates

Best for: In-person, Virtual, and Hybrid Events 

Session engagement data helps you assess the success of your event content, particularly for virtual and hybrid events. Here are some questions to ask:

  • Do your session topics, speakers, and panels resonate with your audience? 
  • Are virtual attendees using the chat, Q&A, and poll features during the sessions? 
  • Are people reacting to the content you’re presenting?
  • Which presenter/speaker profiles are most liked or viewed? 

It’s important to give attendees a way to react to and engage with event content. These engagement stats will allow you to identify the most successful content — as well as what missed the mark — so you can plan better for future events. 

Event Session Engagement and Satisfaction Rates

4. Social Media Activity 

Best for: In-person, Virtual, and Hybrid Events 

Speaking of content engagement, are you tracking attendee engagement and satisfaction on social media? For example: 

  • How many people are posting about your event? 
  • Is the event hashtag trending? 
  • How many times are your event posts being shared or retweeted?
  • Which sessions are being talked about the most?

Asking these questions will help you understand how much social media activity is being generated from your event. Use social media monitoring and listening tools to keep track of all this activity and to paint an accurate picture of attendee engagement. 

Additionally, tracking social media activity will leave you with a cache of user-generated content (UGC) to share in post-event communications and in advance of your next big event to get people hyped up. 

5. Event App Downloads

Best for: In-person and Hybrid Events 

On the one hand, downloading an event app is a simple task. On the other hand, you may need to craft an omnichannel event marketing strategy to encourage attendees to use the app. Once you have data on event app downloads, you can evaluate how effective your organization’s event app adoption campaign was and whether you’ve achieved your anticipated ROI.

For example, if attendees are downloading your app but not using it, you may need to do more UX work. If attendees aren’t downloading or using your app, you may need to reevaluate your tech investment or find an event management partner who can help you work out the kinks.

6. Event App Engagement Rates

Best for: In-person and Hybrid Events 

During the event itself, the event app will be a main source of attendee engagement. Because much of the event content is in the app, attendees should be using all of the app’s engagement features to maximize the event experience. Make sure your event management software offers a dashboard with event analytics that describe app performance and how attendees are engaging with your app. 

7. Message Volume

Best for: In-person, Virtual, and Hybrid Events 

Messages sent between attendees, vendors, and sponsors in your event app is another way to measure overall attendee engagement. If you have low messaging rates, you might need to reassess the UX within your event app or event management platform.

8. Event Feedback Surveys

Best for: In-person, Virtual, and Hybrid Events 

There’s no better way to assess how engaging and successful your event was than to ask! The moment the event is over, send your audience an event survey with questions that will give you valuable insights into what went right and wrong so you know what to replicate and what to avoid at your next event. Be sure to send your feedback surveys out as soon as possible so that the experience is top of mind. 

9. Live Polling Response Rate 

Best for: In-person, Virtual, and Hybrid Events 

Polls can boost attendee engagement and satisfaction, particularly for virtual events. Plan your polls and make sure they’re tied closely to your session content — and don’t use too many polls in a single session. You don’t want your polls to backfire!

10. New vs. Returning Attendees

Best for: In-person, Virtual, and Hybrid Events 

Do you host a lot of events? Just a few? Even if you only have an annual event, it’s important to measure new versus returning attendees. This information will let you know who your most loyal event attendees are and who is new to your event ecosystem. 

For example, new attendees might need more assistance using the app or event management software (aka the venue) whereas returning attendees may just need information about updated features. This information will help you engage with attendees before, during, and after in a more personalized way — a great opportunity for boosting engagement and satisfaction numbers!

6 Ways Event Management Software Can Boost Event Engagement

1. Messaging

Messaging is one of the best engagement tools for attendee networking. The more often attendees message each other, the higher the event engagement rate. Make sure attendees know that messaging is available before the event start date so they can explore attendee profiles and reach out to relevant connections when the time is right. 

Bizzabo App

2. Push Notifications

Where direct messaging encourages interactions between attendees, push notifications increase engagement between the organizer and the attendees. These messages are usually sent out to all attendees at the same time to inform them of a schedule change, offer complementary content during a session, or share other important information. 

Designing push notifications that solicit a response from attendees is a good way to increase engagement. Push notifications are helpful for virtual attendees because they’re not in the venue itself, so they may need additional nudges to show up to sessions or participate. 

3. Personalized Agenda

Advanced hybrid and virtual event software allow attendees to create their schedule by starring the sessions that they would like to attend. Also, your event management software should let you automatically suggest session tracks for attendees based on their background, title, or interests. Assuming your event management software is capable, the platform should be able to track the number of times a particular session has been added to attendee schedules, giving insight into which sessions were most popular.

event audience engagement

4. Session Reviews

One of the best ways to measure attendee engagement levels is to enable session reviews. Ideally, attendees should be able to review sessions on a scale (e.g., 1-5 stars), as well as through open-ended survey questions. This way, attendees aren’t limited in the type of feedback they want to give. 

Gathering as much session feedback as possible — both qualitative and quantitative — will allow you to thoroughly understand attendee engagement and satisfaction.

event session reviews

5. Event Polls 

In addition to session ratings, polls allow event organizers to collect relevant data before, during, and after the event. Most Importantly, polls allow you to collect on-the-spot data about what an attendee is feeling. Polls offer a structured way to collect data for different use cases including the following: 

  • Attendee communication preferences
  • Event satisfaction
  • Event engagement
  • Session duration preferences
  • Session interest levels
bizzabo event app

6. Live Q&A 

We already mentioned the importance of Q&A sessions through chat rooms, but it’s worth repeating. Allowing attendees to pose questions to the speakers and discuss amongst themselves is key to driving engagement, and the best event software will undoubtedly include this feature.

Event Live Q&A

Key Takeaways: How To Boost Audience Engagement 

Attendee engagement and event experience are key to your event success. As a recap, here are some of the most valuable points that we’ve discussed:

  • Get to know who your attendee personas are so you can choose the best content and deploy engagement tools with the greatest ROI.
  • If you’re going hybrid, remember to consider both audiences and how engagement strategies will differ.
  • Leverage event management software and apps to foster engagement, boost attendee satisfaction, and evaluate event success.
  • Assign specific metrics to your engagement goals so you can make data-informed decisions about future event tactics. 

As virtual and hybrid events become the rule, rather than the exception, you must fine-tune your event strategy every quarter — if not more frequently. We hope this guide was useful and, as you plan your next virtual or hybrid event, will help you meet and exceed your goals.

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in January 2019 and has been updated for relevance.


Event Strategy Self-Assessment