With audience engagement a pressing priority these days, it’s little wonder if traditional approaches to everything from tradeshow set-ups to teambuilding exercises are getting turned on their heads. Here are 10 suggestions from a broad spectrum of industry experts on easy-but-innovative ways to turn apathetic attendees into pleased participants.
1) Less Lecture Time
At any session these days, attendees are always just a few seconds away from tuning out and turning to their mobile devices, notes Shawna Suckow, founder of the Senior Planners Industry Network (SPIN). As a result, planners need to provide content in a more dynamic way, starting with doing away with the full-session lecture.
“Today’s audiences do not want to be lectured for three days, not even three hours,” she says. “My sessions these days are no more than half lecture, sometimes not even that.”
Instead, Suckow works with speakers to design sessions where interaction will be key, not only between the speaker and the attendees but between the attendees themselves. One method is the use of the Catchbox, a square-shaped, throwable microphone that gets tossed among attendees during discussions.
“Everyone really pays attention when the Catchbox is being tossed around the room—no one wants to get hit with it,” Suckow says. “It keeps everyone involved and on their toes.”
2) Reach out to First-Timers
Those most vulnerable to disengagement are first-time attendees and industry newcomers, according to Suckow. She recommends organizing a special networking event for them, possibly consulting with a networking strategist on the best way to facilitate it.
“It’s especially important to engage new attendees, to help them get together and form their own tribe,” she says. “Everyone wants a tribe to attend things with.”
3) Rethink the Meeting Room
When it comes to room set-ups, Dr. Paul Radde, an organizational development consultant, keynote speaker and author of Seating Matters, has no enthusiasm for its two most prevalent forms: theater-style seating and banquet-style seating at large round tables. Instead, he favors alternatives such as curved rows of seating or tables in a rectangular or trapezoidal shape.
“By curving the rows, not only do people get a better view of the presenter, but you increase the dynamics in the room,” he says. “The people in the audience get a better view of each other; they can see each other’s reactions. It gets people to pay more attention and encourages them to talk with each other during the break.”
When it comes to the typical six- or 10-foot table rounds used at many banquets, Radde sees them as wasteful of the room space and an almost fool-proof guarantee that people will not be able to network with each other. “Everyone is so far from each other that the most you can do is nod at someone,” he says. “With rectangles, people are not as far apart. Plus, it’s easier for the speaker to walk through the room and engage people.”
4) Rethink the Show Floor
The traditional tradeshow set-up of booths on a grid pattern is far from the most engaging use of the space, says Dana Freker Doody, vice president of communications for the ExpoGroup.
“People are really questioning all those up-and-down aisles at right angles,” she says. “We had a client do a diagonal row right down the center of the exhibit hall and it really opened up the lines of sight for the exhibitors. Plus, we created some odd-angled spaces that could serve as community chatting areas, places where micro audiences could come together.”
5) Consider Tradeshow Wearables
At huge conventions and tradeshows, it can be difficult for people to navigate their way through the throngs of exhibitors and attendees and search out those they’d most like to connect with. An effective way to surmount this is through wearable technology such as smart name badges and bracelets using RFID (radio frequency identification), NFC (near field communication) or beacons, says meetings tech consultant Corbin Ball.
Ball is equally enthused about the possible uses of Virtual Reality headsets, which he sees “being used to demonstrate products at a tradeshow in a more realistic, interactive and engaging manner while minimizing the need to ship physical products to a show.”