Dynamic speakers, compelling topics and networking opportunities attract event attendees. But once they arrive, they’re not necessarily a captive audience. They’re often accompanied by their smartphones, tablets and laptops. How do you hold their attention, especially as their energy wanes by late afternoon or the second day of a conference?
While covering various media industry events we noticed different formats and techniques that organizers can use aside from presentations and panels to help keep the audience focused.
Surprise guests not on the agenda: Whether they’re celebrities or top executives, including speakers at the last minute can add buzz to an event. It works the same as on TV shows, and it beats having scheduled presenters who don’t arrive as planned. At the Social Good Summit, Richard Gere showed up unannounced on the 92 Street Y stage.
Entertainment breaks: Most people go to conferences to be informed about the latest industry trends, but a little entertainment can go a long way to break up the stream of panels and Powerpoint presentations. While videos are more typical, a highlight at the Brite conference was a live multimedia performance by iLuminate. Their unique dance number featured wearable, programmable lighting while reflecting the conference’s innovation and technology themes.
Roundtable sessions: Networking is always a draw at events, and roundtable discussions help to facilitate the audience’s interaction with each other in a more organized way. Business Development Institute hosts half-day media industry events that conclude with two roundtable sessions. Attendees sign up in advance based on their topics of interest and at each table of ten attendees one of the event’s presenters leads a discussion.
Vendor pitching competitions: For areas such as digital and social media, attendees often want to hear from vendors offering the latest tools. At the Interactive Advertising Bureau Social Media Marketplace, three digital agencies selected in advance pitched their media solutions to a panel of GE executives in timed five minute segments. After the judges’ critiques, the audience voted on the most convincing pitch.
Twitter contests: Twitter has become the de facto social media platform for use during events and it is rare for a conference to start without the host mentioning the hashtag. At the Association of National Advertisers’ Digital and Social Media conference, they displayed the audience’s Twitter feed and their questions for the panelists on an overhead screen. They also used attendees’ tweets as part of a contest to win iPads, which captured everyone’s undivided attention.