You’re reading a great novel. Which parts do you find more engaging — descriptive prose or compelling dialogue? I personally find conversations more dynamic as they simply move the story forward. Now imagine that the whole novel has been written without a dialogue. Would you finish a book like that?
Storytelling has become well established as the basis for powerful communication, yet many speakers continue to deliver presentations in a formal, one-way format — like books without dialogue. With the ubiquity of content, two-way online communication, and shorter attention spans, speakers need to ramp up their delivery methods. Because what attendees really want out of a conference is greater engagement and more interaction with presenters as well as with one another.
Here are five ways to encourage your speakers to make sessions more participatory:
1. Change the room set. Speakers are able to boost interaction when the room is designed with that in mind. Ditch traditional theater and classroom-style room sets that restrict peer-to-peer interaction and explore other seating options — it can be as simple as putting groups of four to five at round tables.
2. Leverage polls to tailor content. A common mistake most speakers tend to make is saving all interaction until the closing Q&A time and not engaging their audience right from the get-go. There are many methods to boost audience engagement but one of the easiest and most successful ways is by using live polling. Speakers who run one to three quick polls to get to know the interests and background of the attendees tend to better engage the audience than those speakers who stick to a canned script, because they are able to tailor their message to their needs.
3. Make networking a part of sessions. Attendees are looking for every opportunity to speak with each other and this should be embraced at speaker presentations, not just relegated to networking sessions. Giving the audience a task is not only an easy way to engage participants but it’s also one of the most effective practices to stimulate peer-to-peer networking.
Event consultant Donna Kastner uses the engagement technique think, write, share at her seminars. After being asked a question or given a challenge, participants jot down their answers and share them at their table. Then Donna encourages volunteers to share their views with the larger group. This engagement technique takes the delegate from the role of listener to speaker and provides an impromptu networking session.
4. Provide aha moments. The trick that all speakers should use to get to an aha moment is to ask the kinds of questions that point out a knowledge gap. That stirs the interest of listeners and makes them want to know the answer. At his PCMA Convening Leaders session on designing engaging experiences across cultures in January in Vancouver, MCI Group Director of Learning and Development Avinash Chandarana displayed cultural pictograms and asked the audience to guess which country they depicted. The answers surprised many. Once they realized that they had a lot to learn about cultural differences, they were more receptive to listening to Avinash.
5. Help the audience overcome their challenges. It may sound obvious, but presenters are invited to events to help participants tackle their challenges. Unfortunately, speakers rarely know exactly what keeps their audience members awake at night. When I am presenting on the topic of interaction at events, I like to ask midway through my presentation, “What is your biggest challenge when it comes to making your event more interactive?” I let people brainstorm in pairs and then have them submit and upvote their input via Slido. I address the most pressing questions straight away and keep the rest for the Q&A at the end.