Photos: (Top) Mediasite Events live streams a session at Unleash 2013, Sonic Foundry's Mediasite User Conference. (Second) Several large monitors displayed attendee tweets and Instagram pictures via TweetBeam and Hashgram. (Third) Attendees could download an Unleash 2013 app to stay connected. (Fourth) A remote attendee's picture: Caption - Connecting to #mediasite from Dubai for Unleash 2013. 

Sonic Foundry has worked with countless organizations to put their meeting and event content online, and often we share tactics and strategies with our partners to help them engage their audiences, no matter where they are. We get to put our advice into practice every year during our own event Unleash, the Mediasite User Conference, which was held last week in Madison, Wis.

Our goal is the same as yours – converting online participants into future onsite attendees. While the event is fresh in my mind I’ll tell you how we drew the largest crowd to date both onsite and online and kept the online folks engaged throughout the event.

  1. Got a hashtag? We encouraged our customers and employees to share their conference experience over broad social media channels. So whether they were participating in a session, getting social with other users or just enjoying the food, they were posting. Using the same hashtag for all channels ensures that the posts, pictures, recaps and even jokes can be aggregated on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Online attendees quickly became engaged as well, tweeting to other attendees who were on-site and posting pictures of themselves from wherever they were participating. We used online services like TweetBeam and Hashgram to display tweets and Instagram pictures in common areas of the conference venue. They provided a powerful and engaging visual that prompted others to hop on the social bandwagon and contribute to the online discussions. Check out our conference pictures on Hashgram
  2. Have a roving reporter: Our public relations team acted like roving reporters during the conference. They posted daily play-by-plays or “show dailies” on this company blog, World of Webcast, to give online participants a feel for the onsite event.
  3. Have an app: All attendees downloaded an Unleash 2013 conference app that had everything they needed: a conference program, maps to events, conference alerts, speaker bios. They could also message each other through and connect to the social channels through the app. Attendee Scott Lawson of QAD said this of the app for Unleash: "The app was cool, and a great addition ... far more than many conferences give you."
  4. Conference Webcasting: Our Mediasite Events group streamed all the sessions live to the online audience who watched from around the globe. Remote attendees asked questions of the presenters and participated in polls. There are many benefits to webcasting key sessions live or turning your conference into a hybrid event.
  5. Prize Giveaways: We gave a technology prize away to the person watching online who was the most engaged in social media, and our Rich Media Impact Awards ceremony was live streamed so we were able to wave and applaud to the camera in acknowledgement.
  6. Personally greet your online audience: We told presenters to act like the camera is an additional face in the room. Periodic eye contact with the camera makes your online audience feel connected. We also reminded presenters that although the camera tracks wherever our presenters move, excessive movement may translate to a less than optimal online viewing experience. Also, if presentations included exercises to engage the in-room audience (e.g. polls, group/collaborative activities, games, etc.) we thought of how to also extend those for our online audience to participate.
  7. Consider chunking your presentation: We also encouraged our presenters to turn their presentations into shorter segments and pause for questions in between to keep it engaging. Online audiences tend to give their attention in 10-minute segments, after which it needs to be renewed.

As you plan for your next event or conference, I encourage you to try some or all of these tactics to convert your online viewers into future onsite attendees. Happy planning!

P.S. Check out an article in BizBash, 15 Ways to Keep Your Online Attendees Engaged, for more tips from Sonic Foundry and other hybrid event gurus.