Guaranteeing audience engagement at your events

engagementMost people won’t ask questions at meetings. So how can you get authentic audience engagement at your events?

In a thoughtful article “Audience Engagement – at the Heart of Meetings“, Pádraic Gilligan writes:

“…We all want audience engagement so why doesn’t it take place?…While the speaker can be to blame for lack of audience engagement, in my experience, it’s usually the fault of the audience!”

I disagree.

I’ve found that lack of audience engagement is due to the generally poor process used during most meeting sessions.

A different workshop
Last Wednesday I led a two-hour workshop in Boston for 160 members of a national education association. Every participant was active during ~80% of the workshop: discovering the concerns and experience of other participants, moving around the room while forming human spectrograms to learn about each other and the group (I used three participant-created chair sets during the session) and learning and connecting around issues and topics relevant to them throughout.

The hardest task of the workshop was getting people to stop talking with each other so we could move to the next part!

Pádraic suggests that hi-tech polling methods can be used to increase engagement. I agree that such technology can help engagement, but it’s not necessary. During my workshop, I showed 12 slides, but would have been fine without them. Other technology I used included 5″x8″ cards, pens, and large post-it notes. No high tech was needed with one optional exception — we projected a Google Doc at the end, to capture and display all the group feedback during the closing public workshop evaluation.

In 25 years of experience, I’ve found that most people have a fundamental need and desire to connect with others with whom they share something in common. When you use good group process to safely facilitate appropriate connection, ~98% embrace the opportunity and learn, connect, and engage effectively with their peers. Anonymity, if needed, can be readily supplied by no-tech/low-tech process, but it turns out that it’s needed a lot less than people think.

Every person in the workshop received a copy of my book The Power of Participation, which explains why participant-driven and participation-rich sessions are so important, how to create an environment for this kind of learning, connection, engagement, and resulting action, and how and when to use a large organized compendium of appropriate process tools. The participants I spoke with after the workshop told me how excited they were: planning to read the book and start putting what they had experienced into improving their professional development work in education.

It’s possible to create amazing learning and connection though approaches I’ve outlined above. When I facilitate longer conferences I can assure you that almost everyone will ask questions in public at some point during the event.

Conclusion
If you aren’t getting excellent audience engagement, don’t blame the audience! Change the processes you use in your sessions, and engagement will be guaranteed!

You can experience how to use process tools to significantly improve the effectiveness of your sessions and events at one of my 1½-day workshops in North America and Europe. If you can’t participate in a workshop, buy a copy of The Power of Participation to learn the why, what, and how of building better learning, connection, engagement, and action outcomes into your events.

Change is a verb not a noun

metronome_2397582359_9e3e7bbb9b_bTo make something change, we need to act.

Yes grammar wonks, “change” can be a noun. But change(-noun) is about the past or the future—”He dyed his hair! orI’m determined to lose a few pounds!”

Change(-noun) is static.

Change(-verb) involves us.

We can observe, wish for, or announce we’re in favor of change until we’re blue in the face. No action required.

The change that counts is a verb.

Photo attribution: Flickr user odolphie

Change first, explain later

Be The Change_4868893727_3bd6f4d34e_bSometimes an experience is worth a million words.

In 1982, Australian physicians Barry Marshall and Robin Warren proposed that a bacterium Helicobacter pylori was the cause of most ulcers, challenging established medical doctrine that ulcers were caused by stress, spicy foods, and too much acid. Their claim was ridiculed, so Barry drank a Petri dish containing cultured Heliobacter and promptly developed gastritis. His self-experiment eventually helped change medical thinking. In 2005, both men were awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine.

So, how do we convince people?

Read the rest of this entry »

Inspiring conference attendees to take action

How do you inspire conference attendees to take action?

This question arose a few weeks ago when I was facilitating Vermont Vision for a Multicultural Future, a conference addressing the challenges and opportunities of a more multiracial, multi-ethnic, and multicultural Vermont. Conferences that tackle wide-scope topics like multiculturalism or sustainable business practices are not going to come up with definitive comprehensive solutions to the countless problems discussed, and this can demoralize participants who are hungry for change or filled with a desire to “do something”.

One of the two Conferences That Work closing sessions, the personal introspective, gives attendees a chance to explore changes they may want to make in their life and work as a result of their experiences during the conference. To address the desire for big-picture change, we pointed out at the start of the introspective at Vermont Vision that many of the participants had influence in their professional life (state government, education, law enforcement, faith community, etc.) and we asked each person to focus on what they wanted to work on in their sphere of influence.

Having supported and emphasized the need for personal change during the introspective, we moved to the group spective, the final Conferences That Work session. I often start a group spective by using plus/delta to quickly evaluate a conference. For plus/delta, participants first publicly share their positive experiences of the conference (listed in the plus column of a flipchart or projected Google Doc).

When all positive comments have been aired, participants then list what they would like to see changed in the delta column. This simple technique provides a quick basis for participants to share experiences and move into a discussion about what the group wants to do next.

To transform plus/delta into a tool for action at Vermont Vision, I redefined the two columns as follows:

Plus ==> actions I/we want to work on

Delta ==> issues that concern me but that I don’t know how to address

This allowed us to move from the personal decisions made at the introspective into sharing, discussion, and support of initiatives to which individuals had committed (the plus column). The delta column then allowed us to explore other ideas and who might be able to work on them.

We were encouraged to find that the plus column was much longer than the delta column. Even though significant issues in the delta column remain to be tackled, participants came away from the session knowing that many concrete plans had been generated through our time together. Unlike the outcomes of many conferences that work on problems that seem overwhelming, participants left Vermont Vision feeling that we had built momentum around specific objectives that we had a realistic chance of achieving. Perhaps that why every single conference evaluation asked us to hold this first-time conference again next year!

How do you inspire conference attendees to take action? Share your thoughts!