You may have the biggest budget you’ve ever had to work with, the most lavish venue and the hottest name in town to host your event; but if you’re not truly engaging with your delegates, then what is it all worth?
At MCS, we are trying to shift clients away from traditional conference-style events where delegates passively listen, but don’t necessarily absorb or embrace the content being shared. After all, an informed and engaged audience is surely the most important ROI measure.
A common engagement tool we use is an audience participation keypad or event app which has been proven to increase concentration, curiosity and understanding, as well as offer organisers the ability to analyse feedback and record data from voting polls. And whilst we feel this is certainly well-worth using, we believe it’s essential to venture a step beyond this.
Delegates may indeed have absorbed the information from your event, and be able to recall aspects of it when they return to their normal daily work routine – but how do they then effectively cascade it to their teams? And how do they put into practice what they’ve learnt?
On this point, and in our experience, we’ve found that clients tend to be nervous about deviating from the traditional and exploring new, creative ways to earn their delegates’ buy-in. This is because the methods we’re exploring can take the presenters off-piste to unscripted or less controlled forums, which naturally can be daunting for some.
However, we know that delegates do respond well to these and they can potentially have an incredibly positive impact on your business. Let’s take a look at what methods you might want to explore:
Very informal – strip out the AV, set and props to perhaps just two senior managers who can chat honestly with delegates in small groups following the traditional conference. It’s unregulated and there’s nothing to hide behind, but it’s simple, it’s honest and it gives delegates the opportunity and confidence to ask questions or follow up on areas they need clarity on.
Recognising that people learn and absorb information in different ways, an expo is a great way to reach those that need that little extra interaction and variety. In effect, it’s a mini-exhibition whereby different business areas are laid out for the delegates to move around and approach at their own pace, providing them with an opportunity to have conversations with colleagues in different areas of the business, thereby cross-learning and sharing ideas, information and good practice. We’ve used this format for a number of clients and delegates always respond well to it.
With the presentation time strictly limited to approximately two minutes, the number of slides is kerbed and content is conveyed in a clear, concise way. Have maybe five of these running back-to-back to deliver a fun and fast-paced top-line overview of business messaging, which is likely to fuel discussions and questions for opportunities, such as huddles, later in the day.
Within a friendly, informal setting, a gathering of likeminded delegates is invited (no pressure) to share ideas. Reminiscent of speed-dating, the session is split into 5-7 minute slots, marked by a buzzer, in which anyone can share feedback, have their say or ask a question – allowing the rest of the gathering to simply soak up all the ideas and atmosphere. Not many people do this currently within the events sector but we’ve seen it used very successfully, particularly within education, and it is a great way to spark conversation and share ideas.
Let’s not forget though that, in addition to these methods, there are three very easy ways to encourage delegate engagement which should be incorporated within any event format:
- Manage their expectations – tell them what to expect from the day and when they will have comfort breaks. Telling your audience about the order of the day is the best way to draw them in. A structured housekeeping schedule delivered at the beginning of the day (and perhaps on paper for each table/seat too) shows them that this event is as much about them as a person, as it is about you as an organisation.
- Keep them fed and watered – where budget allows, hot drinks should always be served with biscuits and tasty lunches should be served in a timely fashion. When time is of the essence, grab bags or under-the-seat snacks are a great way to maintain momentum, and a bottle of water on every seat is always appreciated.
- Offer comfort breaks – give them regular opportunities to reply to emails, make a quick call, or post a social media update about the great event they’re attending. They are more likely to leave their phones alone and concentrate if they know a ‘toiletmail’ break is just around the corner.