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Engage Before Engaging

Boost results with the Audience Priming Effect™

Transferring responsibility to your audience so they engage BEFORE your virtual event

By: Ben Moorsom

Take a second to think about how many virtual events or interactions you’ve attended since the beginning of the pandemic. Now ask yourself, was I always engaged? Interested? Immersed in the content? Or was I just plain distracted - petting my dog, grabbing a coffee, or trying to multitask as discreetly as possible?

Think in-person events are tough? Virtual events’ barriers to engagement are a whole new ballgame.

Despite the many benefits associated with virtual events, there is a glaring tradeoff between convenience and control. In a virtual setting, we have far less control over the audience’s environment than we do in live situations. Unfortunately, the virtual environment presents an infinite number of possible distractions, most of which we can do little about. Several strategies can be used to boost engagement during virtual events, such as gamification or interactive elements like polling. However, these external solutions do not tap into a viewer’s intrinsic motivation to engage.


And that is a key component of success for any event.


Never ones to shy away from an engagement challenge, my team and I at Debut developed a way to face this problem head-on.

Audience Priming Effect™: overcoming the challenges of virtual engagement

Instead of thinking about ways to create engagement during a virtual event, what would you say if I told you it was possible to establish and improve a state of engagement before the event even begins?


This is exactly what Debut’s Audience Priming Effect™ does. 


It’s an audio-video sequence played before the main event that empowers viewers to optimize their own virtual event experience.


Think of an in-flight safety video that plays before takeoff on an airplane. The Audience Priming Effect™ works in a similar way. It equips remote audiences with concrete steps to enhance their viewing experience while creating a sense of internal responsibility over their own engagement.


  1. Reduces distraction for enhanced engagement during the event.

  2. Increases the chance of behavior change after the event. 

The psychology behind it

The Audience Priming Effect™ is based on the psychology of human motivation and attention.


What so many presenters don’t realize is that engagement should come from within. As opposed to forcing our audiences to be engaged, the best form of engagement happens when people want to be engaged. 


Intrinsic, rather than extrinsic, motivation is far more effective. In psychology, there is something called the self-determination theory. It states that intrinsic motivation is based on three core psychological needs. 


The Audience Priming Effect™ satisfies all of them.\


  • Autonomy

Human beings want to feel as if they’re acting of their own accord. The Audience Priming Effect™ taps into this sense of independence by transferring the responsibility of engagement to the viewer. Then they’re given the freedom to choose how best to engage.


  • Competence

Human beings want to feel adequate and capable. The Audience Priming Effect™ gives people concrete and specific actions to engage with the content.


  • Belongingness

Human beings strive for a strong sense of belonging wherever they go and in whatever they do. To address the fact that virtual events can feel solitary and lonesome, The Audience Priming Effect™ uses language that highlights social norms to remind viewers that they are part of a larger group having the same experience at the same time.

The proof is in the priming

I know what you’re thinking. Does it really work? 


True to form, Debut rigorously tested The Audience Priming Effect™. We subjected the initiative to a randomized control trial – the same type of meticulous study used to measure the effectiveness of new drugs. It was compared to a control condition representative of typical pre-event experiences (a pre-show countdown to be precise). The numbers speak for themselves.

Audience priming boosts cognitive resonance

At Debut, we measure audience engagement through “Cognitive Resonance”, a combined metric of attention, mood and value internalization. In our study, audience priming before the main video boosted cognitive resonance by about 25% compared to control conditions. In other words, preparing your audience ahead of time can increase viewer focus, enjoyment and the extent to which people buy into your key message.

Audience priming enhances memory

When it came to facts learned during the main video, objective memory scores improved significantly. Just by priming an audience in advance, the message is more memorable. If you think about it, this isn’t all that surprising, since the numbers above indicate such a positive effect on people’s attention. The two go hand in hand.

Audience priming causes desired behavior change

At the end of the virtual event in the study, we gave audiences the chance to sign a petition for change that aligned with the core message of the main video. Almost 70% of viewers that were primed before seeing the message signed the petition compared to only 41% of those that were not primed.

Don’t let engagement go unprimed

What’s your next virtual experience? Be it a short meeting, a webinar or a multi-day event, set yourself up for engagement success with the Audience Priming Effect™. 


We’ve proved that it’s never too early to start engaging your audience – even before take-off!


Ready to talk about how to prime your own audiences? 

Contact us – this is one of our favorite conversations! 




  3. Huang, Y. C., Backman, S. J., Backman, K. F., McGuire, F. A., & Moore, D. (2019). An investigation of motivation and experience in virtual learning environments: A self-determination theory. Education and Information Technologies, 24(1), 591-611.

  4. Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (2012). Self-determination theory.

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