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June 3, 2024

Audience engagement versus audience interaction: What’s the difference and why it matters

Introduction

In a webinar or masterclass, one crucial element to move an attendee to someone saying yes to your call to action, is how engaged they are. It’s not surprising that audience engagement is a hot topic and even a buzz word in virtual event circles.

This puts quite a bit of pressure on those of us giving masterclasses and webinars. In an effort to “show” or “have” engagement, many times the advice provided talks about activities that prompt audience interaction. For example, typing a number or response in the chat, taking a poll. The truth – these interactions aren’t really engagement.

Why Engagement and Interaction are Not Synonyms

Often engagement and interaction are used as synonyms. And full disclosure, I am guilty of this myself.

First let’s take a look at the definitions of the root words.

Engage

To attract and hold the attention of; engross

Interact

to communicate, work, or participate in an activity with someone or something

While the words are similar, they are not actually synonyms of each other. This is because an attendee can can interact without being engaged.

You may ask ‘why would someone interact if they aren’t engaged?’ This is a bit meta so bear with me. It has to do with moral psychology theory and its connection to obligation, something we humans are hard wired to have. What motivates someone to feel obligated is multifaceted and often unique to the individual. With that said, Social Norms and Behavior are typically strong drivers for audience members to interact out of obligation even if they aren’t engaged in the content.

How to Integrate an Audience Engagement

At this point, you are probably asking, ‘If interaction isn’t engagement, how the heck am I supposed to keep the audience engaged?’ That is a great question to ask.

Take a moment and think about one of your favorite books, tv shows, podcasts, or movies. What keeps you reading, listening, or watching (more than once!)? You are fully engaged yet your interaction is quite passive. It’s the content that keeps you hooked and coming back.

How does this translate into a masterclass or webinar? To have compelling content, the focus needs to be about your participants and what their biggest struggles or desires are. The audience needs to see themselves in the content and feel as if they are taking steps towards a solution or goal.

How Audience Interaction Fits into a Masterclass or Webinar

I can’t stress enough that interactivity is important for a high-quality masterclass or webinar. The key is to make sure the activities are directly connected to the content. An engaged audience will interact more and feel as if they are gaining value through those types of interactions.

An example of low value and disconnected interaction is ‘Type yes in the chat if you are ready to learn about X?’ Folks wouldn’t be attending if they weren’t. A better interaction is ‘Type in chat your biggest struggle with X (where X is your main topic or a subtopic)?’ Very often the audience will identify issues you will be covering during the masterclass or webinar. They then sees themselves in the content you are covering.

In conclusion

Audience engagement and interaction are important elements of a high-quality masterclass or webinar. However, it is important to remember that they are not the same thing. Audience engagement comes from content where they can see themselves and a solution or path to their struggle or desire. Whereas interaction, are actions participants take like typing a response in chat or taking a poll. When these are closely aligned, participants come away feeling the received high value and are more likely to yes to the next step in their journey with you by their side.

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Jennifer


Jennifer Sharkey is known as the Virtual Presentation Specialist. Being passionate about seeing people shine and be heard, she leans into her 20+ years of public speaking experience and uses what she has learned from presenting, both in-person and virtually, to small groups all the way up to 5000 people. Jennifer draws from her experience as an associate professor, academic librarian, and coach to help holistic coaches master virtual presentations to grow their business. Her unique immersive program provides practical strategies and methods to build confidence, engage audiences, and generate authenticity and authority.

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