“How can I increase engagement at my conference?”
It’s a question I hear a lot. “How can I help my attendees increase their engagement?”
What’s my answer?
Increase the relevance.
Increase the relevance of the content.
Increase the relevance of the learning experience.
Oh and by the way, what type of engagement are you talking about?
The Camouflaged Faux Engaged Attendee
As meeting professionals, we struggle with defining attendee engagement.
Too often we think that when attendees stare at a stage, then they are engaged. We believe that if they are not looking at their mobile devices, we’ve got engagement.
Well, not so fast!
We’ve all become very good at camouflaging our true mental state.
As conference attendees we know that the appropriate behavior is to look at a stage, speaker or screen, put a smile on our face and nod sometimes, all while we are thinking about…
…what’s on our desk in the office that needs to be completed
…or what we are going to eat for lunch
…or who is going to pick up the kids
…or where we might go for the weekend
…or how many days before our vacation.
It’s only when a speaker says, “And in conclusion,” or “My final point is,” that our minds snap back to the present.
Two Types Of Engagement
So what is engagement?
There are two types of educational engagement that we want our conference attendees to use: psychological and behavioral.
1. Psychological Engagement
Psychological engagement is mental engagement. In short, it’s thinking. It’s mentally comparing the information to personal experience and knowledge. Or it’s trying to make sense of the information.
But one thing is for sure! Attendees can’t focus on listening to a speaker and focus on thinking at the same time. It’s one or the other.
2. Behavioral Engagement
Behavioral engagement is being physically active while learning. It means some part of the body is moving. Walk and talks are perfect examples of behavioral engagement. Or it can be as simple as writing, typing or standing up and down to answer questions.
Four Ways To Increase Engagement By Increasing Relevance
So how do we help our attendees increase their mental engagement?
By increasing the relevance of the conference experience!
So how do we do that? Here are four ways to increase the conference relevance.
1. Ask “So What?” About Proposed Topics
To increase relevance, conference organizers should ask of each proposed topic and presentation, “So what? Who cares?” If they can’t quickly identify the topic’s relevance from the attendee’s perspective, neither will their attendees.
2. Front-Load Relevance Of Topics In Conference Marketing
Conference marketing materials should front-load the relevance of the topics, learning opportunities and experience. Start providing the relevance from day one of marketing.
3. Presenters Should Ask “Who Cares?” About Each Of Their Points
Attendees don’t always see the connection between a presentation and their work. Presenters should ask “So what? Will it help them succeed? Will it keep them from failing?” If the relevance of the content is not obvious, dump it!
4. Presenters Should Front-Load Relevance Of Their Presentation
Each presenter should front-load their presentation with a short discussion of why this topic is important to the listener. Get the attendees thinking and discussing the connection of the content to their life. It’s only when the brain understands the connection and the value of the presentation that it will engage.
Note: Smart presenters will also connect their topic to those of previous presentations to build on the relevance.
What happens to relevance when we force people into long lectures without any mental engagement? How important is prior experience with the content to an attendee’s understanding of the relevance of that topic?