Interaction can be scary. It’s something that can’t be fully controlled and largely depends on your speakers as well as your delegates. As a meeting planner, you need to loosen control and let them take the reins. That makes many feel uncomfortable.
But with experience-driven audiences, the shift to more participatory and interactive conferences is inevitable. The good news is that making your event more interactive is not rocket science, and, with a bit of planning and the right techniques, you can infuse a dose of interactivity into your conference too.
Here are five easy-to-implement tips that will help you organize an event that your attendees will thoroughly enjoy.
- Hire a professional moderator
You will need to hire a professional moderator if you really want to make your event stand out. If you think of your conference as a ship, then a moderator is its captain. A skilled moderator is able to not only sail the vessel safely to the final destination, but also entertain the passengers along the journey.
These days, a good event moderator is an audience champion that:
– listens to event delegates
– incorporates their input
– use tech tools to stay in touch with the audience
– collects their questions
– facilitates discussions with speakers on their behalf
- Transform presentation formats
Your speakers are the backbone of your event. And as the conference program is mostly composed of their talks, you need to make sure that their presentations are captivating.
Get inspired by TED and ask your speakers how much time they need in order to cover their topic. They might need only 20 minutes to deliver their message. Forcing them to stretch it to 45 minutes might cause vague, uninteresting delivery. Instead, fill in the remaining minutes with Q&A and let your presenters respond to questions that the audience is craving to hear the answers to.
Some authors even suggest abandoning presentations altogether and having the Q&A instead! In fact, there are already conferences that are adopting this model. For instance, SaaStr Annual Conference, the largest gathering of SaaStr founders, conducted onstage interviews with their guests instead of having them present slide after slide.
- Leverage audience engagement tools
Allocating more time to Q&A is one of the most effective ways to infuse some interaction into your conference without radically changing your working model.
But this could cause another dilemma. What if no one asks any questions? That means no Q&A, and naturally no interaction! And every event organizer dreads having to deal with silence in the room when the moderator asks the audience: “Do you have any questions?”
This is where audience interaction tools come in handy. Q&A tools allow event planners to crowd-source the best questions from the audience. Attendees can submit their questions via their smartphones and democratically vote up the ones they find most relevant for discussion.
The advantage of these tools is that you can gather the questions even as the talk is in progress. So when the Q&A time comes, you have a stack of questions ready for turning the presentation seamlessly into conversation.
- Offer collaborative session formats
In general, people don’t only want to listen to talks at conferences. They want to participate and get their hands dirty, so to speak. According to the Brandon Hall Group study, 85% of companies are currently experimenting with social learning techniques where people can actively participate and learn from one another via observation and imitation.
Conferences are perfect places where event organizers can mirror a professional environment and help delegates gain relevant knowledge via social learning.
Get inspired by the following interactive session formats that are built around interactivity:
Interactive campfire sessions at EMEC 2015
These 30-minute sessions are set in a laidback environment, simulating the campfire storytelling time. The facilitator introduces a topic and then he/she facilitates a discussion, trying to reveal common issues and solutions. Attendees learn from one another through sharing their own experience.
Discussion tables session at FRESH 2014
Divide your audience into groups of five to eight, and seat them at tables. Give each group a different topic to discuss. Let them share their knowledge and experience with one another for about 10 minutes. When the time is up, make them choose another table with a new topic and new participants.
- Stimulate networking
There are two main reasons why delegates attend conferences – knowledge building and networking.
While a large portion of time is dedicated to delivering stimulating content, a lot less attention is devoted to creating networking opportunities. Ironically, it seems that networking is more and more important for delegates these days. Dan Schwabel’s study on millennial audiences revealed that 86% of attendees expect networking opportunities from conferences!
Connecting people during the sessions is the key to creating networking opportunities at events. The interactive peer-to-peer formats, as described above, represent an excellent opportunity to give your participants a push and bring them together.
Infusing more interaction into conferences is not rocket science. By implementing the tips I’ve presented in this article, you can boost delegate learning, endorse networking and pull off an event that your attendees will love.
So let’s wrap it up.
- Hire a professional moderator
• Transform presentation formats
• Leverage audience engagement tools
• Offer collaborative session formats
• Stimulate networking