Let’s engage our conference participants!

Below is a “chairman’s summary” and the embedded slide deck of a fantastic session delivered by Jez Paxman from Live Union at Who Stole My Audience which took place in London in April.

How to identify the real value for your audience

Ensuring your audience actively participate in your conference is now generally perceived to be central to its success. Yet audiences are as varied as conferences themselves, so how do you design the right format?

Live Union have created events for a wide variety of audiences from customer service teams, sales people, senior executives and security guards, and they have learned a thing or two. Jez shared his views and I want to highlight what I took form his fantastic session.

Be a zombie killer!

Jez is on the right

Jez is on the right

Photo by Paul Clarke Photography http://paulclarke.com 

Jez opened up with one of the most iconic shots from the whole event. A picture of a conference Zombie. He spoke about the spectre of a delegate moving from area to area totally disconnected, following the crowd and not thinking for themselves. This is the attendee of the past and in the past that must remain. We have new attendees who are more used to being heard. It is worth adding that our participants are more likely to disengage if they don’t receive exactly what they want at any time and that doesn’t just mean more interaction; there has to be a REAL quality and it has to be exceptionally well delivered. Jez identified engagement and participation as a way to remove the Zombie from your events: he wants you to be a zombie killer. So go get gory!

Jez also pointed about that we are simply not put together to be traditional conference attendees. We were never designed to sit and listen for long periods of time, never mind sit there and actually take anything in! He has a fantastic 6th slide which I think every planner should think about when they look at their next conference programme.

If we need to engage exactly how do we do that?

Jez focused on Live Union’s quite brilliant Delegate Value Proposition (DVP) – slide 10 and in doing so he reminded me of a specific character from a kids TV programme. In Jez’s session he includes some albums from Grange Hill (a UK kids programme in the 1980s) so I am in good company mentioning the “Why Bird” from Playdays. The Why Bird answered every answer with the question “why?”: it’s aptly named. Watching Jez’s presentation I was reminded of the Why Bird and its continual desire for the deepest possible truth. Jez’s DVP searches for what actually underpins the requests we receive from clients and stakeholders. This supports Jez’s approach to innovation: get to the heart of the problem before suggestion a solution. 

The six areas highlighted in the DVP cover the types of formats that support interactive events. We can’t just say we want interaction at our events; we have to be more specific than that. Every organiser before they sit down and design a programme should identify what type of interaction they want and then be prepared to say why. This detailed approach gives planners the power to design not just an interactive format but the one that delivers value for the audience or should I say the participants. Every time I see Jez speak I come away with one very useful tool to use when I support other event planners. In this case it is the DVP. You should print it out and stick it on your cubical wall. It is that good!

Who likes Brussels Sprouts?

It appeared obvious to all the attendees why Jez put up a picture of this often maligned vegetable, as it is viewed in the UK, or this MUCH LOVED fellow in the US but I couldn’t work it out. I will ask Jez to explain this in the comments section. Anyway getting back to his crucial final point. We need to design our interactive events to have…… for some…..less interaction. Jez was speaking about the introvert. Here’s a link to his detailed article on this subject on Event Manager Blog. And I have a little bit to add. You can design sessions to cater for not just the introverts but the introvert in all of us. Many sessions don’t need feedback, or questions, or slides or speakers. A great session format is to simply support attendees to do some reading. I wish this would happen for some of the boring sessions which try to deliver information on some very interesting research.

I heard the phrase “conference participants – formally known as the audience” in 2012 and until know it wasn’t exactly clear what that meant. But it is now. Thanks Jez.