July 18, 2014 by Jeff Hurt
“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?
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.
So what is engagement?
There are two types of educational engagement that we want our conference attendees to use: psychological and behavioral.
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.
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.
Read more about the two types of education engagement.
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.
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.
Conference marketing materials should front-load the relevance of the topics, learning opportunities and experience. Start providing the relevance from day one of marketing.
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!
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?
Filed Under: Event Planning
Jeff… I agree with your bonus point of “Smart presenters will also connect their topic to those of previous presentations to build on the relevance.”….but that requires them to show up early and watch the other speakers 😉 (Which they should do!!!).
Thanks for reading and adding to the discussion.
So agree with your comment: “…That requires (presenters) to show up early and watch other speakers.” Yep, they should do that!
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