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4 Ways to Boost Engagement & ROI for Hybrid or In-Person Events

Improve your event marketing strategy and ball out on your budget, no matter how tight it may be.

Ask anyone in hybrid or in-person events what's their biggest challenge, and you'll get one of two answers. "Budget" or "attendee engagement."

Rightfully so. Event budgets are still recovering and event-goers have higher expectations than ever - rooted in authenticity, instant gratification and personalization.

How can your event capitalize on the changes to grow even faster? 

We met with C.J. Stermer to get answers to these questions and so much more. C.J. talked about his experience as an event marketer both pre and post pandemic—walking us through the process he took to navigate the changes to adjust his marketing strategy over the course of the past year.

Keep reading for CJ's top four tips to boost attendee engagement and ROI from your next event.

Tip #1. Stop with the slides

Prior to COVID-19, C.J.’s marketing team never hosted a single webinar. When their major in-person opportunities were halted due to the pandemic, C.J. pivoted quickly and built out their first webinar program.

“We had never done webinars before, that was not something that we had even talked about as a strategy before the pandemic. We really got into the mindset before COVID that everything had to be done a certain way...like here are slides, I’m going to read slide by slide. It was very habitual.”

“So we said let's stop with the slides and the reason I thought we could stop with the slides is because we wanted to do something outside the box and see if it worked. And it did work. Instead, we created a live panel, we held a town hall discussion, we invited questions from the audience to make it an organic conversation. We really wanted to address the concerns that our attendees actually have so that they're getting real-time, real life experiences."

The results? 

“Since we started just the webinar process alone we've had over 30,000 people engaged this year. Our database has almost tripled.”

When you consider the rise of listenership on platforms like Clubhouse—such growth comes as no surprise. The emphasis now is all about “listener experience.”

What is listener experience? As defined by medium magazine:

Listener Experience (LX) design is the process of enhancing listener satisfaction with a podcast by improving the usability, accessibility, and pleasure provided in the interaction with the episodes.

Think of your favorite podcasts, what do you enjoy about them? Why do they resonate with you? What do they focus on? Use them as a blueprint for your next virtual event, and continue to test out different components with your audience to see what resonates. If you're just getting stated, here are 5 tips to maximize listener experience in a podcast setting that you can use to nail your next virtual event.

Check out our 7 Tips to Turn Your Conference Content into an Effective Marketing Machine

Tip #2. Paid is overrated - refocus on organic

There are some things that money can't buy. While word of mouth still continues to the be the strongest marketing channel, looking back at the wake of COVID, we saw marketers double down on paid.

“One of the statistics I read is that paid digital just on Facebook alone increased by 23% during the pandemic. It makes sense. We couldn't be in person so we needed to quickly find ways to interact with each other. So as everyone is forcing themselves into this digital world, but I found it was creating a lot of noise.”

"So I thought, wow are we going to break through that noise in a way that was intentional and a good use of our time?"

The answer: cut paid advertising altogether and double down on their organic growth.

“We stopped doing paid digital all together. I haven't paid for digital advertising since the beginning of 2020—because we haven't needed to due to the organic traffic.

"I think that we learned from this is if people are liking it, they will want to share it—remind them to share all the time. Before the event, during the event and after the event."

“We give resource pages for follow-up emails—it's one link to a landing page that houses case studies, videos, educational videos, CTAs marketing to our next webinar—those types of things. At the bottom is a form and you click the button and it says forward this information to a colleague. You're always constantly getting people to forward it.”

The results of this approach speak for themselves, as C.J. saw a 30% uptick in new engagements across his webinar programs after implementing the tactic:

“What we did find with webinars is that on average 30% of event engagements are brand new to our database that have never existed before so we're constantly adding 30% from this tactic. Empower others to be a part of that process."

That’s a $0 investment driving 30% net new engagements each month. When thinking about which channels drive the highest ROI, it’s clear times have changed. We don’t need to hang our hats on paid so heavily—instead, cut back on those investments and refocus on your customers. Build brand advocates by focusing on impeccable content and unique user experiences.

Tip #3. Overshare - turn every attendee into an influencer

Engagement with our event attendees and prospects today looks a lot different than it did a year ago. With that our approach as marketers much switch from a traditional funnel towards a “web of influence.”

The web of influence always begins with education. It's about building genuine relationships with influential people in your industry. Instead of curated funnels and timed out touch points, put the emphasis on delivering value and leaving no stone unturned. Diversify the content you're providing your visitors with from the start—make it as easy for them to move along the journey at their own pace.

For C.J., beginning to build their web of influence mirrored an account-based marketing (ABM) approach.

Honing in on personalization, segmentation and continually testing new content ideas were all key to his success. Throughout the campaign, it became more clear to C.J. that One size does not fit all anymore, and it never did. For C.J. what they found when taking this approach, was the different decision makers at different stages of the process—and the need to cater to ALL of them. 

The success of this approach is truly a testament to the value that your prospects put on a personalized experience. Invest time segmentation and clean data to curate truly unique experiences that build trust and authenticity with your brand.

5 Content Marketing Tactics to Get the Most from Your Conference

Tip #4. Re-evaluate your in-person event investments

Prior to the pandemic, in-person events were a key component of C.J.’s strategy, as he explains below:

“Pre-pandemic we were calculating in one given year we were getting anywhere from 200 to 400 leads depending on the success of the conference. We were the primary sponsor, we were the biggest booth and we had a lot of leads that came out of that. Then the pandemic hit and I couldn't meet and have conversations with people—so that's when we really had to figure out what would work now that people aren't in person.”

C.J. was forced to rethink his strategy, fast. What he quickly discovered though, was just how much money his team was pouring into conferences each year, without much return. Given this, C.J. isn't removing his investment in the in-person events completely, but being more strategic by taking a hybrid approach. 

So we’re not saying don’t invest in your in-person events, but to re-evaluate where you're putting those dollars. Here are some of C.J.’s tips to start:

  • Stop printing—replace the print outs with an iPad so you can capitalize on lead capture opportunities
  • Record everything—if you're involved with sponsors, on a panel or hosting a speaking session, always be sure to secure a recording that you can repurpose for post-event outreach
  • Get creative with your content—think about video components you can use to enhance your booth, explore live streaming components to social, create landing pages specific to your target personas so you can instantly serve them up relevant content—the opportunities are endless.

Get the most out of your budget with these 3 Time Saving & Revenue Generating Methods For Conference Organizers


With budgets tighter than ever before, maximizing ROI with limited resources is the new normal. Challenging? Sure, but with a little creativity and some wisdom gained through the experience of our peers in the events industry, event marketing and organizing teams can adapt to make 2022 and 2023 a model for success.
If you’re interested in finding out more about how Sessionboard can make your next conference or live event more efficient (and profitable!) when it comes to speaker, session, and content management… schedule a free demo today.

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