OK, hear us out. Maybe this sounds like a ‘duh’; you’ve been reading about engagement and interactivity for years right? You may have even incorporated an element or two.
But ask yourself this – how much time is still spent at your conference with staff and sponsors conveying a message to the audience? 50, 60, 75%+?
You always save time for Q&A at the end, you say? Keep reading… there are amazing things out there for 2018!
The time has come for all Event Profs to stand up and make sure their B2B event has joined the experience economy and takes advantage of the ways their colleagues and contemporaries have developed to shift events from one-way lectures to two-, three-, and multi-way communication events. Let’s open those lines and make those connections!
Although technology can be a prominent facilitator, a lot of great old school creativity and event planning techniques come into play as well.
Here’s what you need to know to make your event an interactive experience in 2018, in:
- Venue Selection
- Session Formats
- Room Design
- Entertainment Extras
- And yes, Event Technology (interwoven throughout)
A Venue for Good Vibes
Let’s start with what your audience experiences first, your venue. Your event venue has a significant impact on the way people perceive your event – and how they feel while they’re there.
While all the standard venue selection rules may apply, it’s easier than ever to find a unique space to hold an event. Here’s a handy list for you (note – these have not all been vetted by AVT Productions):
The architecture and atmosphere of various modern museums, restaurants, bars, historic hotels and buildings, and other creative spaces can lend a special feeling to your event that you won’t get from a generic hotel conference room. And the more creative and unique the venue, the more relaxed and open people tend to feel (we don’t have studies to cite, but we’ve seen it many times). It may also cut down on decoration needed (and budget). One final note: when selecting your venue, pay attention to natural light. Incorporating it throughout the day injects energy and increases engagement.
Don’t dismiss the vibe a great venue can bring!
Note: There may be tradeoffs in accessibility so be sure to make a pros and cons list.
Successfully Engaging Session Formats
Now on to the event itself. The style, format, and flow of your overall event and individual sessions are critical to building interactivity in at the event’s core.
You may want to consider an Unconference format for sessions. Based on the ‘Open Space Technology’ format/method, sessions begin with no initial agenda, and a facilitator works with participants in the first portion of the meeting to set their own course. What better way to get people excited about your topics than to let them actively guide them? Don’t worry about complete anarchy; Unconferences use guide categories, and the sessions are drill down areas the participants themselves decide on, and your facilitator should be a subject matter expert who can guide a conversation if it gets too far off track. That said, your facilitator is not a speaker setting themselves up as the expert on the subject. When things are more open, attendees are more likely to bring their own expertise to the table, sharing what they know with other attendees and getting valuable information from each other.
When you have a more traditional expert speaker addressing an audience, bring in technology to keep the audience engaged. Some examples of this include:
Consider something like a Fireside Chat where you’ve received questions from the audience in advance that your skilled moderator can turn into an engaging discussion. Have the moderator of your Panel Discussion use an audience response system (examples above) to get to know the audience through a few poll questions up front so they can shape the discussion to keep attention. Or have your singular expert speaker intersperse live polls and quizzes throughout their talk. Using second-screen technology increased Q&A participation from less than 1% to more than 20% according to experts at EventTech by Event Marketer.
Second-screen technology is when the attendee uses their phone (or tablet or laptop) to interact with the presentation in a session. Instead of letting them get distracted on it with email or work, interact with them in real-time about the event using apps for Q&A, polling, surveys, content sharing, social media sharing, or audience feedback. This is an incredibly effective engagement strategy, which can increase engagement by up to 60%+.
You also don’t have to limit interaction to within the rooms! Some audience response systems or event apps incorporate easy ways for attendees to post on social media using your event hashtag. Be sure to remind your attendees at the beginning of sessions what your hashtag is and how / where to share on Social.
Finally, make sure you keep the interactivity flowing outside of your session rooms. At each step of your event flow, ask yourself ‘Are we interacting with our attendees?’; ‘Are we giving our attendees an opportunity to interact with the environment?’; and/or ‘Do attendees have an opportunity to interact with each other?’. If the answer is no to all three, re-evaluate that component of your event!
Theater, Classroom, Banquet – when’s the last time you set up a session room using something other than one of these three layouts? Granted, they’re convenient and classic. No one ever got fired for choosing Classroom seating, amirite?
Now think about the last time you sat in a Theater set up, or were seated at one of the Banquet tables with your back facing the stage. How comfortable were you taking notes? Was it easy to talk to others in the session before and after? What was the ‘vibe’ like in the room?
Room layout is an integral part of getting and keeping people engaged and interacting with your sessions. 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.
But if you’re not quite ready to move from rows of chairs to a laid-back lounge setting in your sessions, think about doing something like a U in U which lets attendees see each other. Or a more casual cocktail table layout with crescents or smaller rounds organized not in straight lines to get rid of the ‘classroom’ feel and get the creative juices flowing.
Stage design and lighting can make a big difference here too. Do you want to keep your presenter(s) on equal footing with the audience? Ground-level ‘stages’ are popping up to make more of the audience more comfortable with interaction. The right lighting – not too bright, not too dim, natural if you can get it – can keep people present also.
Entertainment Extras for Connection
For the interactive B2B event, entertainment & extras need to focus on connecting attendees: with your staff, with sponsors, and with each other.
There are a number of entertainment extras designed to bring people together and talking, in-person and on social media:
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!
Speed networking: Like speed dating, if you’ve ever participated in one of these you know it can be surprisingly useful for meeting new people at the conference.
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.
Set up 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. And check out this super cool Event Tech called Photoboxx. When an attendee posts a photo using your event hashtag, Photoboxx automatically prints out the picture for the attendee to keep!
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!
Create a blank canvas for guests to express themselves. Use giant dry-erase boards, chalkboards, or paper. Pick a topic or cause to guide the creation then let everyone go! This area can serve as one of your photo ops spots and you can incorporate the end result in various follow-up content pieces or on a travel mug you print onsite and give to guests before they leave.
Let’s discuss turning your next corporate event into an experience your audience will remember!
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About AVT Productions
AVT Productions is an independent AV & Event Production company, serving the San Francisco Bay Area for 30 years. We fuse strategy, design, production, and fabrication to carry your message throughout every component of your event.