Annual Meetings Overloaded With Scarcity Of Attention

Information overload. Image by Focx Photography.

Attention. It is the currency of today.  Squirrel!*

Oops, back to the post.

Attention is more important and more valuable than reach or impressions. Without it we cannot learn. Using it wisely and economically, we can increase our learning and change our future.

Attention. We all want it. We all have it. We all want more. Most of us want others to give us theirs.

Each of us has our own attention. We try to parcel it out as we please. However, sometimes our attention gets hijacked. Sometimes we spread it too thin. Sometimes we lose control of it and before we know it, it’s gone and we don’t have any more to give. When we’ve lost our attention, we have to slow down, reboot and retreat in order to recharge and get more. And that takes time.

We Want Attendee Attention

What conference organizers really want is attendees’ attention. It is conference currency. Without it, little changes. With it, mountains can be moved and lives changed.

What is attention? Attention is focused mental engagement on a particular item of information. Items come into our awareness, we attend to a particular item, and then we decide whether to act. (Davenport & Beck 2001)

That process takes times and intentionality. Deciding to act on information means attendees must attend to the information, make meaning from it and then decide how to apply it. They must process the information and give it more attention. Yet rarely do organizers or speakers encourage that process during a conference.

Poverty Of Attention In Annual Meetings

In most conferences, attention is scarce.

Conferences begin with attendees paying a lot of attention to the messages and content being shared. Yet it typically becomes scarce within the first ninety-minutes of a conference.

When conference organizers begin to talk about themselves instead of talking about the audience, they lose attention. When conference hosts toot their organization’s horn and showcase their annual accomplishments, the audience turns its attention to something more important.

Most conferences provide a parade of information with monologue after monologue. The conference organizers assume, incorrectly, that the more information they cram into a day, the more the attendee learns and pays attention.

The longer the conference, the less attention attendees have. The more that the attendees must sit and listen quietly, without participating, the more that attention is lost. Often attention becomes a depleted resource at annual meetings.

Growing Conference Attention

The way to grow conference attention is to focus on moving the audience from passive attendee to active participant.

Learning is fundamentally social. True learning is an act of participation. The depth of our learning depends on the depth of our participation. The more we participate, the more we pay attention. The higher the participation, the higher the attention.

Engagement is joined at the hip with empowerment. To increase attendee empowerment, ask speakers to craft presentations that allow attendees to engage with each other. Have them chunk the content into 10-min segments. Then let the participants digest that content together through conversations and discussions for 10-20 minutes.

That’s how to grow attention and to increase conference learning.

*Squirrel is a quote from the Disney movie Up! where the dog gets distracted by a squirrel.

Besides squirrels, what causes you to lose attention at a conference? What annual meeting tactics grab and keep your attention?

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  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Jeff Hurt and others. Jeff Hurt said: Annual Meetings Overloaded With Scarcity Of Attention #eventprofs #pcma […]

  2. Many conferences most definitely can be a brain-drain. And what I have found is that conferences are not adapting to how people act.

    As you point out, “The way to grow conference attention is to focus on moving the audience from passive attendee to active participant.” And that’s probably the most crucial and imperative point that has to be understand.

    Along with that, conferences don’t practically represent how people act day-to-day and asking someone to do something all-day could be rather difficult, especially if you get stuck with bad speakers and presentations. Yes, people can sit through an hour, or so, presentation but to do that multiple times a day can be, well, painful.

    Especially from my Millennial perspective. I do not have ADD and I am in fact very focused, but every conference I’ve attended in no way represents a way I could thoroughly enjoy. Obviously, it’s impossible to please the masses and there are ways individuals go about their own things. But to say there is no room for improvement would be laughable.

    But I think the most worthy and immediate example of innovative and forward thinking would be the recent PCMA Convening Leaders Conference I attended and the Learning Lounge they offered. Just brilliant.

    1. Jeff Hurt says:

      Thanks for reading and offering your insight.

      Your words, “…Conferences don’t practically represent how people act day-to-day…” is so true. We take people away from their normal work routines, shove them into all day presentations at a conference and then ask them to remember it all. It’s not normal. And we don’t teach attendees or speakers how to have a higher ROI and to tap into good brain learning strategies. When we begin to design conferences differently to adapt to attendees becoming participants, we have more success.

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