Let’s talk. Let’s chat, let’s comment, let’s collaborate. Discussion is a defining feature of our online world, and it’s changing the way we approach live events.
Crafting an event agenda that fosters and promotes conversation requires special attention to your audience. Too often, opportunities for conversation are relegated to the “networking” portion of an event. (This can have the effect of making a social occasion feel positively predatory – “I’m not talking with you, I’m collecting contacts!”) But a general session with a conversational tone will set attendees up for more effective and rewarding one-on-one interactions during breaks.
Receptivity is key, so we begin by considering the attendees’ expectations and mindset. What have they come to hear or learn? What preconceptions do they bring, and what anxieties? To get people engaged, we want to address concerns early on, and make it clear that voices from the audience are welcome and will be listened to.
This can begin in advance of the event, be reinforced in an opening keynote, and carry through a multi-day program. Conversation changes the tempo and energizes participants.
A few techniques we use to get things going are:
- Overtures: Along with event invitations and registration, online polls and comment boards help inform an evolving agenda.
- Movement and physical interaction: Motion always captures our attention. And by stepping off the stage, into the aisle, a speaker visibly demonstrates interest in the audience and their opinions.
- Reverse Q&A: Along with the above, a talented presenter can pose interesting questions and bring perspective to the topic at hand. This takes preparation and some find it risky, but the benefits are well worth going after.
- Real-time polling: Cellphone technology can actually strengthen, rather than distract from presentations. Text-based polling allows the audience to respond anonymously, and see the aggregated results accumulate on a central screen. Attendees can also text in their own questions, permitting shyer introverts to easily contribute to discussion.
- Short, fast-paced talks: The popularity of the Ignite and TED-talk formats says it all. A brief, expressive presentation commands our attention, and can also raise questions that will spark follow-up dialog.
That old saw of communications “Tell ‘em what you’re going to say, tell ‘em what you have to say, tell ‘em what you said” no longer holds up. In an information-rich world of diverse voices, one needs to say something – listen for the responses – then ask what it is the audience has really heard. And that two-way engagement will produce greater value than the original statement can ever have alone.