Delivered by FedEx.
How many times have you been to a meeting where the speaker drones on and on, clicking through endless PowerPoint slides? This style of presentation tends to overload attendees with too much information, while wasting an opportunity for meeting sponsors to share their message in an effective way.
“We know that the average adult attention span is between five and 15 minutes, yet we ask people to sit in these presentations that are 45 to 90 minutes long,” says Ray Hansen, co-founder of Event Camp Twin Cities, one of numerous groups that are working to make meetings more interactive through new communication and collaboration tools.
“Exchanging information is the core of why we meet,” says Hansen. “But people tune out unless you have a dialogue. They get engaged when they can talk, share information, collaborate and give feedback in real-time.”
Going to a conference doesn’t have to mean sitting in rows of uncomfortable chairs and listening passively to talking heads. Read on for suggestions from meeting planners on how to make your next event more lively and productive.
- Break it up. Encourage speakers to incorporate pauses into their talks. For instance, have a speaker present for 10 to 15 minutes, and then ask the audience to break into small groups to discuss the information. Have them answer a couple of questions or work together on a challenge. After this break, the presenter can resume speaking until the next pause. “This lets people exhale and absorb a lot of the information,” says Samuel J. Smith, an interactive meeting technology consultant and blogger. “It helps them connect to each other and the material.”
- Try new formats. A great way for a speaker to distill his or her thoughts is through a Pecha Kucha presentation. The name comes from the Japanese term for the sound of conversation (“chit-chat”). It’s a rapid-fire speaking style in which the presenter shows 20 images, spending 20 seconds on each one. Inviting six or seven speakers to give Pecha Kucha talks rather than having one person fill 45 minutes allows the audience to hear a wider range of perspectives. “People aren’t used to the format, so they pay extra attention because they want to see how it’s done,” says Smith. “It also focuses the content. You get right to the point.”
- Test new technology. Effective meetings create dialogue between the speaker and audience. Audience response systems are a great way to foster that exchange while also grabbing the audience’s attention. These systems, including products from IML or Fleetwood, can be used to poll an audience to make sure they understand a tough concept or gauge a crowd’s reaction. The data can be shared during the talk or posted online after the conference, giving attendees a chance to reconnect with the material. “The content becomes richer,” says Hansen. “The people who are attending the meeting learn more, you get more feedback, and the overall investment that you’ve made in the face-to-face meeting becomes much more valuable.” Smith is also a fan ofUserVoice, which enables audience members to submit ideas so others can vote or comment on them. He also recommends Wizer, an engagement tool that facilitates interaction and collaboration through brainstorming activities and short video projects. With a “Wizerized” conference, the participants can vote on the video or concept they like best, becoming actively involved in knowledge sharing, learning and creating.
- Get social. Social media is all the rage, and that’s particularly true in the world of meetings and conventions. It’s being used for event planning and marketing, but it also serves to liven up a gathering. At a convention, guests can use common Twitter hash tags to make comments about a presentation or breakout session. When the event is over, other guests or people who didn’t attend can read the aggregated comments to get an overview of the sessions. “By sharing the content, it becomes alive again,” says Hansen. And, for companies that don’t want their business aired all over the Twittersphere, they can use enterprise social software like Yammer for the same purpose.
- Change the seating. Even something as basic as having guests sit on comfortable couches, exercise balls or at tables arranged in a seashell shape can go a long way toward fostering communication among group members. It also sends the message that this is no ordinary meeting. “By changing the environment and making it more comfortable, it also changes people’s attitudes, behavior and ability to learn,” says Smith.
If you’re going to spend the money to host a meeting or conference, you might as well do everything you can to make sure those in attendance truly benefit from what you have to say.
Suzy Frisch is a freelance writer based in Apple Valley, Minn. She’s covered business, politics, law and many other topics for a range of publications, including Twin Cities Business magazine, the Star Tribune and the Chicago Tribune.
American Express OPEN and FedEx have teamed up to provide discounts and a comprehensive resource for shipping, business and print services. To learn more, go to fedex.com/opensavings.
OPEN Savings®: Payment must be made with an American Express® Business Card at the time of purchase; savings will be credited to your account. Other restrictions and limitations may apply. Subject to offer terms and conditions located at opensavings.com. Merchant participation and offers are subject to change without notice.