When we meet, we change the world—unless we’re bored, that is. How many times have you sat in a conference session and:
- Texted every person from your phone in 30 minutes (yes, it is possible)?
- Fallen asleep (you may or may not have released an embarrassing snore)?
- Liked so many Facebook photos that you’ve now become a professional social media stalker?
- Doodled on your notebook until the person next to you calls you Picasso?
- All of the above.
Being a meeting professional is an incredibly powerful thing. You have the opportunity to create environments that connect people for a greater purpose. However, if the atmosphere leaves people feeling like they need to take shots of Red Bull to survive or you’re simply looking to spice up your content format, then you need to explore the innovations in meeting design environments that are changing the way we meet.
The ability to create meeting environments that engage audience members in atmospheres of action and collaboration is well within the reach of any planner. We’re fortunate to work in an industry that places great value on being creative and pushing the limits. But sometimes thinking outside the box can be challenging, so here are some basics to get you started.
Your session is only as good as your speaker
At the end of the day, attendees won’t remember every statistic or theory presented in a session. They will, however, remember whether the speaker was effective and engaging, or a total snooze. When selecting your speaker, consider the audience. Is your keynote relatable, accredited and exciting? Don’t be afraid to ask potential speakers for video footage and testimonials from previous engagements. Ultimately, you’re interviewing the person who will be a determinant of your attendees’ overall event experience.
Talk about things that matter
Remember the lyrics, “Let’s give them something to talk about”? The goal of any meeting planner should be to provide attendees with content that stimulates conversation beyond the conference. There are many channels for people to spread the word on: social media, video sites, texts, word-of-mouth, blogs, the list goes on. If you’re not pushing the boundaries with content that attendees are asking for, the conversation begins and dies in the 60 minutes they’re trapped in that room. There are a handful of effective strategies to determine what content your attendees are asking for, without having to ask you at all.
Engagement is key, even if it’s uncomfortable
Sometimes there are genuine, audible moans from the audience when a speaker asks people to connect with one another during a session. I, myself, dread engagement in sessions from time to time. However, unless attendees start moving and talking, they will inevitably zone out within the first few minutes. Did you know that the average attention span of an adult is four minutes and 52 seconds? That’s only if you capture their interest within the first eight seconds! There are many ways to connect attendees, both in and out of their seats.
Don’t run from technology, embrace it
Technology tends to be loved or hated. For those of you out there who aren’t the biggest fans, I ask that you give technology a chance to prove you wrong. The purpose of technology is to be innovative and solve pain. As meeting professionals, our most important objectives are often our greatest challenges: connecting, engaging and inspiring our attendees. By implementing tools that were designed to meet your objectives, you change the game—and your attendees’ experience.
– Courtney Stanley is a business strategy consultant and professional speaker with extensive experience in the meetings and technology sectors. An active member of PCMA, ASAE and IAEE, she currently serves on MPI’s International Board of Directors.