In 1964, when U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart tried to define pornography, he said, “I know it when I see it.”
Defining ambiguous concepts –– even concepts that are widely understood –– can be difficult.
Engagement is another ambiguous concept many struggle to define. Merriam Webster calls engagement “emotional involvement or commitment” and “the state of being in gear,” but what does that really mean?
It’s the book you can’t put down, the show you binged all day Sunday, or the speaker you followed on social media immediately after their presentation. When you’re truly engaged, you just want more.
Simply put, we know engagement when we see it.
Scott Gould, author of “The Shape of Engagement” explains, “There’s you, and there’s me. As long as we remain separate and unaware of each other, we’re unengaged. Imagine a Venn diagram with a circle of you and a circle of me. If those circles overlap, we’re now engaged. The sense of ‘we’ transcends you and me –– that’s engagement. It’s essentially togetherness.”
Engineering engagement, however, isn’t as simple as creating a Q&A segment in an event or scheduling time for networking and calling it a day. Genuine engagement goes deeper.
“Participation is often done tokenistically,” Scott adds. “And we do it because we’re desperate to show that people are participating: ‘We’re now going to do a poll! Oh look, we can see everyone’s joining in! Everyone is really engaged!’ It has some utility but it’s actually very shallow; it’s a click.”
Fortunately, there are a few boxes you can check off to go beyond a click and make sure you’re poised to deeply engage your audience at all your events and experiences.
Review our engagement checklist to see if you’re building truly binge-worthy events.
✅ Know your audience
- Do your homework. Seek to fully understand what your audience is looking for and how they want to be engaged. Don’t assume you know best.
✅ Tailor engagement tactics to your event format
For virtual events
Lean into incredible speakers and highly animated talks to fill the small screen. Think props and slides featuring strong visuals and motion.
Secure strong facilitators. You want people who can see a dozen faces on a screen and have the ability to pick out individuals quickly.
- Half-day events and movement breaks are essential. Avoid scheduling a full-day digital experience unless you’re hosting something attendees can jump in and out of periodically.
For hybrid events
- Let go of the obsession around getting the two audiences to connect with each other and instead just create the most engaging experiences for each audience.
- Don’t try to solve for FOMO. The in-person audience will miss out on some virtual aspects and the virtual audience will miss out on some on-site elements. “I think we need to just accept that,” Scott says. “And instead ask ourselves: ‘Where do we want to be?’”
For in-person events
- Tap into opportunities to create motion, feature changing locations, and stimulate the senses as forms of engagement.
✅ Seek to engineer all three psychological states of engagement
Scott provides a three-part framework for understanding the core states of engagement:
- Head engagement: Also known as cognitive engagement, this is when someone is mentally together with you. Think communication, like a conversation between two people.
- Hands engagement: Also known as behavioral engagement, this is when someone is physically engaged with you. Think action, like people playing a team sport or solving a puzzle as a group.
- Heart engagement: Also known as affective engagement, this is when someone feels a sense of bonding and inclusion. Think integration, like being engaged with a political party, religion, or brand.
According to Scott, the most engaging events check all three boxes. For each experience you create, offer opportunities for:
- Head engagement, which is derived from highly compelling content and communication. Make sure your content helps people learn something they can apply, provides a clear message, and delivers a story attendees want to be part of.
- Hands engagement, which comes when you provide attendees with ways they can be actively involved and create something they’ll actually use. Generate environments where attendees can participate and their questions get answered.
- Heart engagement, which emerges when you give your audience ways to connect and bond with one another. The event experience should mean something –– build on that feeling so when the event comes around again, people will be desperate to get involved.
✅ Lean into passive engagement
- Make sure the event content itself is engaging –– so much so that the audience might feel compelled to go talk about it on social media, or with the person next to them. Think about that 10-episode Netflix binge; you’re looking to inspire that kind of motivation to devour your content. Passive engagement is as much –– if not more –– a part of overall engagement as active, participatory moments.
- Consider the accessibility level of your event. Will it be recorded for those who can’t attend? Do you have live captions set up for those who need or want them? Will anyone need to join via a virtual private network (VPN)? Are there options for those with low-quality internet access? Is your event technology strong enough to host everyone?
✅ Facilitate active engagement
- Strategically plan how and when you’ll prompt attendees to actively participate in things like chat, polls, Q&A sessions, and networking. Consider how active engagement will stem from the passive engagement you’ve already designed for and deepen the overall experience.
- Be ready to capitalize on unexpected moments of active engagement that occur naturally as a result of high-quality event content.
✅ Hire the right people
As you put together your event team, hire people who:
- Engage the head: Secure speakers who are theatrical and well polished. They need to capture attendees’ minds and ensure everyone is engrossed in the content. Attendees might not remember exactly what they said, but they should remember thinking, ‘WOW.’
- Engage the hands: Hire people who are downright great at making things –– people who can command a workshop, for example. They should be experts in creating the end product they’re putting together and they know how to help other people make that end product.
- Engage the heart: These are the social butterflies –– the party people whose job it is to help others mingle and connect. They help drive the narrative at your event. Your cup never runs dry at their house and when the experience is over, everyone says, ‘They made this a great time for me.'
- Beyond that, it may seem obvious, but hire the right host. Get someone who knows the content but also has the charisma to hold an audience. They can be harder to find than a comedian, for example, but they’re out there.
✅ Set up sponsors for success
- If you have sales pitches or sponsor slots that are slated to be delivered by people who aren’t trained speakers, don’t give them a keynote. Instead, give them an interview or panel facilitated by the great host you hired.
✅ Put on a show
- Create a sense of theater. Stimulate the senses. Make it social. And leave a little something to the imagination.
✅ Establish a clear event brand and theme
- Your event brand and theme can help support and guide your engagement strategy. Find ways to help attendees feel like participants in the story of the event. And if the event is part of a series, seek to find some connective tissue across the experiences to tie them together in unexpected, awe-inducing ways.
✅ Don’t let engagement come to a screeching halt post-event
- Capture your event content and turn it into a collection of assets that drives engagement (and ROI) long after the event is over. Your event content is the gift that keeps giving, so make sure you have assets you can continue to repurpose, remix, and refresh to fuel your marketing programs.
✅ Capture feedback
Don’t forget to check yourself by finding out if your engagement strategy was successful. Ask attendees a few simple questions via post-event surveys: Did you learn what you were expecting to learn? Did you get actionable insights you could apply right away?
- Use the feedback you collect to inform your approach to engagement at future experiences. Having the answers to these questions will allow you to know what worked and what needs to be improved for next time. They’ll also help you better understand your audience.
✅ Don’t go it alone
- Planning an event is hard enough; when it comes to engagement, let us help you do some of the heavy lifting. Hopin’s team of experts can help guide you through the event planning and production process, so you can put on high-engagement experiences. Contact us today to learn more.