The quest to make your content matter to your attendees is more important than ever.
Not long ago, hoteliers worldwide re-invented a fundamental feature of their offerings: the guest bed. So began a sea change in giving travelers what we most crave from hospitality experiences (surprise!): a deep sleep.
On the content side of meetings, we’re waking up to realize that a successful meeting must furnish its own version of a well-made bed: deeper participant engagement.
If attendees aren’t engaged in content that matters to them—if they don’t participate in learning what they need to be more productive after the meeting—then we have failed as meeting professionals.
So how are the most successful meetings designed to boost engagement? Let’s look at a range of ways to heighten collaboration at nearly any gathering.
Conversations and Questions vs. One-way Speeches
The most valuable meetings today give as much voice to the audience as to the “sage on the stage.” How can you do this elegantly? After all, how many professional speakers talk less—and get audiences to converse more? Joe Calloway does.
A speaker for 30 years and author of Becoming a Category of One, even Calloway got bored with the standard one-way speech. Now, in every live program, he delivers a “conversation from the stage,” with custom stories wrapped around teaching points, supplemented by well-researched, audience-directed questions and interviews that foster interaction. He participates in pre- and post-event Twitter chats and webinars and produces videos showcasing crucial takeaways so his messages stick.
His audiences say that the experience doesn’t feel like a speech, because it’s a more valuable, one-of-a-kind conversation in which everyone is involved and contributing.
Similarly, rather than going right from a keynote into breakouts, add a Q&A among the audience and headlining speaker(s), whether outside experts or organizational leaders. Combine this with questions gleaned from social media.
Or integrate a talk show, with keynoters as “guests” and your MC as host, with banter scripted enough to be relevant—and extemporaneous enough to be authentic. And since videos trigger rapt attention, include “commercial breaks” with departmental or sponsor videos for more engagement.
Calloway explains, “If people stop giving speeches and start really talking to one another, we’ll have more meetings in which everyone relaxes into the learning and becomes more effective.”
Give an Engagement a Break
Meeting agendas today often mimic our lives: overscheduled. Yet our minds, to absorb and remember, require space and time. Otherwise, the content that presenters have painstakingly developed is quickly forgotten.
So a critical (albeit counter-intuitive) tool for boosting engagement is to give engagement a break—and not just a 15-minute “bio-break.”
Kris Young, a meeting professional for more than 20 years and strategic meeting design/content consultant at Martin Bastian event production company, recognizes the importance of “mental white space.” In every event, they include what we could call “room for thought” time so participants achieve deeper learning, idea generation and catharsis.
Next time you’re designing an agenda, try a 20-minute program followed by a 40-minute break. The 20-minute “TED-style” format is all the rage because it works. Instead, or in addition, Young recommends scheduling up to a full hour of informal chat time with leadership and your speakers. Or encourage pairs to walk outside or around the building to talk through how they’ll apply key points back at work. Remember: exercise improves memory.
Lose (some) Control
Certainly a successful meeting is one that’s effectively controlled and managed. Yet our willingness to lose some control over how content is delivered and shared is crucial to fostering engagement. Doing so needn’t be at the expense of neglecting logistics.
John Nawn, founder of The Perfect Meeting, had a happy surprise as a guest at a recent fundraiser. Like many experiences, even silent auctions are moving from clipboard to screen. So at this event, Nawn and his fellow philanthropists could stay at their tables—while bidding on auction items on mobile devices. The organization raised more money because people were continually engaged in seeing bids come in. And guests were also able to socially engage more because they didn’t have to leave tables to check their bid status.
Dissecting the experience further, Nawn saw how engagement increased because guests controlled the event experience more. According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, Nawn’s basic needs were met (food, drink, safety, social connection), so he felt more at ease, involved and emotionally invested in talking to others. On the other hand, the less control we feel—the less respected our voices at meetings—the more stress we experience. We pay less attention, and are less involved.
Like a well-designed meeting, social media are natural engagement tools because they give control to the audience. There’s art and skill in sharing control and allowing conversations and solutions to unfold.
Yes, shifting control from the stage to the seats can be risky. The much greater risk? Restraining participants’ creativity and energy—and hoping they won’t leave for something more…engaging—or watching with dismay as meeting rooms turn into sleeping rooms. One+
One+ November 2012,