Today’s event audience is busier than ever, and it only takes a minute to lose them to their smartphones. There’s a whole world of potential distractions in your audience’s pocket – email to pull them back to the office, text and social media to interact with friends, or games to crush candy. Anything instead of sitting and listening to someone read bullet points from PPT slides, which is why you need to plan for anything but that!
It’s imperative to turn your audience from attendees into participants. Engagement at everything from All Hands Meetings to general sessions, sales kickoffs, and beyond is top of mind for our clients these days. Here are some of the strategies and tactics we suggest to keep their audiences engaged, and let them walk away feeling they’ve had a great experience:
#1 Make the environment comfortable: There’s a move toward comfortable seating at events these days because people feel more open and receptive when they’re in a comfortable environment. Lounge chairs and sofas encourage a relaxed state where people can focus on what’s going on in front of them, much like they would with their TV in the evening. And if you’re not ready to move from rows of chairs to a more entertainment-oriented setting, be sure your lounge areas are appointed with comfy seating designed to encourage interaction.
#2 Keep sessions moving: Long, lecture sessions are (or should be) a thing of the past. Keep your audience interested with interactive and relatively brief sessions. Some conferences have taken this to the extreme with ‘lightning talks’ where one session will have several speakers giving talks for just a few minutes each (see Ignite). On the interactivity front, there’s the unconference format born of Silicon Valley tech crowds, where attendees create their own session topics and drive the discussions. Use these as out-of-the-box examples to structure your own engaging sessions or use engaging formats like panels, Q&A, and interview.
#3 Create a unique event hashtag: Those smartphones aren’t only used to distract people from your event; they can also be used to spread the word. Be sure you can track activity on social media with an event hashtag, clearly displayed around the event, so people remember to use it.
#4 Microblog throughout the event: One (or more) of your employees should be attending sessions and tweeting during the event, as well as interacting with event participants who are doing the same – all using the event hashtag, of course. You can share insights you feel are valuable, keep people engaged and informed about sessions they couldn’t make, build relationships with potential influencers, and build smart content for that social wall we mentioned in our data-driven engagement post.
#5 Photo ops! People love taking and sharing pictures on social media. Select your venue and pay attention to the design of your event with this in mind – and engage when the inevitable photos that follow using your #eventhashtag.
#6 Give them on-site games like a scavenger hunt tied into event sponsors, leveraging your mobile app or social media. Help them find all the points of interest at your event and incent them to do so with prizes and visibility for them or their company. Tie it into your event theme for extra event experience retention. A good reminder that they don’t have to play the same old solitaire, candy crush, or angry birds on their phone!
#7 Incorporate natural light throughout the day: It has a significant impact on attention and engagement, so pay attention to this when selecting your venue. Plants and floral arrangements can help in rooms with no windows.
#8 Entertain first: Get people pumped up with some live entertainment. We once saw The Roots play (the band that plays on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon) at an event, at 10am, and by the time the main speaker came on, we were happy and ready to buy whatever they had to say!
#10 Give people something good to do: It may seem like there’s a lot of bad news these days, but the good news is that most people care about the planet and they care about other people. Events are a great place to give people an outlet to put that good energy to work. Organize a green / social responsibility program for attendee participation at meal-times. Salesforce is famous for this at their Dreamforce conference and does tons of good every year with things like stuffing backpacks for underprivileged children. Create a win/win/win when attendees walk away feeling good about themselves, your organization, and doing good for the world!