Delivering impactful online events | How to keep delegates awake, entertained and engaged

For many organisations, an annual conference, seminar series, or awards ceremony has always been a key date in the calendar. A chance to get in front of clients, prospects, members and stakeholders; to shake hands, meet old friends and make new connections. And for many businesses, a revenue-generating activity too.

Unsurprisingly, virtual events have become a much bigger entity in the last 12 months. Event organisers and businesses have adapted quickly to create online events that deliver the goods in replacement of the traditional face-to-face activity.

As the communications lead for membership body National Enterprise Network, Keystone has supported the delivery of its flagship event for many years – the NEN Annual Conference and Awards.

For obvious reasons, the 2020 event required a new approach – and here we share some of those top tips and tricks that made the event so successful. And not just because we say so, in the post-event feedback, 91% of delegates rated NEN’s “What’s the Future” digital event as Outstanding or Good!

 1. Serving your audience matters the most, so prioritise this to be the best host

Ask yourself – Why is this event important to this audience and what are their expectations? Answering this is absolutely essential. Virtual events risk a lot of distraction and disengagement. For NEN, we knew exactly what delegates expect from the NEN Annual Conference and Awards – high energy, motivational contributors, and unbeatable networking opportunities. Above all, our delegates expect to leave the event feeling inspired and motivated. We needed to translate that online. And with this showcase event taking place annually, there is always a need to excel on each year’s successes, so that was in our mind too.

2. Teams, Webex, Google or Zoom… are you addressing that elephant in the room?

It’s important to acknowledge and mitigate for key online event challenges:

1. Screen fatigue

2. Physical disconnect

3. Potential technical difficulties

3. Don’t send your delegates off to sleep… Keep it short and keep it sweet!

It’s obvious that interactivity is crucial for making an online event successful. But what might be less obvious is how quickly delegates start to switch off – literally in some cases! What works for a face-to-face event doesn’t necessarily fit as well for online. Ask yourself how you can break content into bite-sized chunks to reduce audience switch off.

4. Mix it up, split it up… And use a host to pep it up!

Don’t give your delegates the chance to zone out. Keep the programme constantly moving with short segments and mix it up with live and pre-recorded footage. Use online “rooms” to run breakout sessions with small groups if relevant. Consider the role that chat functions can have to build networking and engagement. And tie it all together with a host who can tread that fine line between bouncy enthusiasm and gentle humour.

5. Not all your script needs writing… impromptu can be much more exciting!

The “live” nature of an event may feel amplified when it takes place online, so it can be tempting to script and rehearse every moment. Your audience isn’t really there, so you can just read from notes right? Wrong. Keep it natural where possible to create a deeper connection, to build anticipation, and create joy.

6. A group ticket price is a great way to entice!

Pricing online events is tricky, especially when so many events are offered at no cost. Online events may not incur venue hire or catering costs, but don’t sell yourself short. Planning and delivering an event still takes time, and if the event is usually a revenue earner for you, you may still need to sell tickets. Just think carefully about pricing. With no travel times or expenses to worry about, an online event is suddenly accessible to more people than ever – so why not encourage whole teams to attend?


Virtual events aren’t going anywhere any time soon, but event management expertise is still important.  We can help your next online event make a big impact.   

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