This post is part of a series about interactivity in meetings “When Everybody Contributes, You Get Awesome Results: Boost Interactivity In Your Meetings, Trainings and Events!”. The introduction is here.
Your schedule is now properly planned to give your audience time to interact with the speakers and panelists. With excellence in mind, you aim to engage your participants and make everyone benefit from the resulting collaborative intelligence.
But what is the right way to do it?
We definitely cannot give a microphone to every participant and let them talk randomly at any time. We need to structure the interaction.
In the classical format with Q&A at the end of each session, participants cannot ask their questions when they come to mind. They have to keep the questions in their heads till the end, which causes loss of attention. The master of ceremony and speakers cannot anticipate if there will be zero or twenty questions, and what the quality of the questions will be. No sorting, no filtering are possible.
Then a few people get the microphone, many others do not dare ; questions are not always the best, and they do not spark conversation between attendees. You end up with little impact on content and little impact on networking.
There are new ways to achieve fantastically better!! When participants experience a highly interactive event, they cannot go back to the previous format anymore!
NEW INTERACTIVE FORMAT
In conferences, trainings or meetings, the speakers own the audio and visual dimensions, for the sake of clarity and attention. They must be able to speak without audio interference and must be able to display multimedia content without visual disturbance.
Now, thanks to mobile technology, we are able to create a new dimension, often called the “back-channel”. In this virtual dimension, the audience can freely express themselves without disturbing what is happening on stage. Attendees use their smartphones to interact, by clicking, texting or taking pictures.
Then, using the main screen smartly, you turn it into a collaborative board, showing the results of the interaction happening in the back-channel. You obviously need total control on what is shown, plus total integration with what is displayed.
ENGAGE WITH SIMPLICITY
Engaging your participants must start with very simple things. The best is to start with a few polls, to make them feel at ease with the technology. Allow them to interact with just one click on their smartphones, tablets or laptops.
Start with asking where they are from, who they are, what they expect from the presentation or test their level of expertise. Polling is a great way to trigger interaction, bring meaningful content and allow the speaker to better understand the expectations of the audience.
With ConnexMe, we have introduced an innovative way to interact live with 1-click, to capture people opinion easily and provide the speaker and the master of ceremony with instant feedback. We will develop this more in Key #4: User Adoption Requires Very Simple Things.
It is as important to engage the rational part of the brain as to connect with the emotional side!
To go one step further, attendees must be able to express themselves freely, either to ask a question, or add hints and complementary information to what was said, or give their point of view on an issue.
The idea is to let participants write textual comments, similar to tweets, but which remain private to the event, are better crafted (no retweets, no need to specify context), are reserved to registered attendees and cannot be polluted by outsiders.
They might add a slide too, to easily give the context. For instance, we often see participants ask questions about a graph or a table of figures from a previous slide.
They may also want to post photos.
We have tested a lot of different scenarios on the field, and here are our detailed findings on what works best and why.
WHAT WORKS BEST
1/ Named comments: Display first name, last name and photo, along with the comment
We found out that there are a lot of misconceptions and false beliefs about anonymous comments. We observed on the field that keeping comments anonymous generates similar volumes of contributions, but with lower quality, less motivation, and no networking. Let’s compare anonymous comments versus identified comments:
- the number of comments posted are roughly the same: when attendees don’t know each other, there are a little more comments in case of anonymity ; when attendees know each other, more in case of identified comments
- the quality of the comments are much better when guests are identified. No need to moderate. On the contrary, with anonymous comments, moderation is required even if just a small percentage of the comments are actually discarded, and that’s a heavy burden for the organizer
- identified comments cause some restraint at the very beginning of the event, exactly as you may have experienced for the first “question to be asked” during Q&A sessions. However there is a very simple way to remove this inhibition: by having in the audience one or two accomplices that will post the first comments and set an example for the others. When people are passionate about the topics, you don’t even need that
- on the other hand, the effect of named comments on your guests’ ego is awesome: they virtually share the stage with the speakers. Their presence counts, their personal opinion matters
- people do not trust anonymity through electronic devices: they feel that if they really say something bad, they will be traced anyway
- people are used to identified posts: all the social networks, all of them, have identified profiles. The vast majority of people post on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and so on, with their real name. This is because they benefit from it!
- with identified comments, the networking effect is tremendous.
We have hundred of stories of people that have met, talked together, discovered each other and did real business just because they posted a comment with their name and photo. Here is the story of Jennifer, who posted recently 3 comments in a two-day conference: in return she got private messages from people interested by what she said. They met at the lunch, recognizing each other thanks to their photos, and she ended up doing business with two persons she did not know before.
Networking increases interactivity and interactivity increases networking. There is positive reinforcement in this duality.
Overall, there is so much benefit of having identified comments, and we have so much proven field evidence it’s best, that we decided 2 years ago to remove anonymous comments from ConnexMe — totally.
2/ Display Comments LIVE
Speakers prefer to talk to faces, not skulls.
We want the participants to keep their heads up, look at the speakers and the presentation screen. They should look at their smartphones only when they want to react and contribute.
To achieve this, you need to display all the contributions on the main screen. So that everybody will follow what is said by the audience by looking at the stage. It is irresistible for an attendee to look at what others say. If you don’t display the comments live, they will go and read them on their mobile and you will lose their attention.
Displaying the comments on screen is not for the speakers or the MC, it is for the rest of the audience!
Displaying them live is fundamental to keep the motivation high, provide an instant reward to the attendee, and get a snowball effect that will make your event highly interactive.
3/ Everything merged on ONE screen
When displaying comments, where should you put them? Should you have another screen dedicated to comments?
First, you need to keep your participants’ attention focused on the speakers and their presentations. When you add a second screen, you divert attention — not punctually but during the whole session. That’s terrible.
Second, a good solution must be easy to setup and work everywhere, including the breakout sessions and all kind of small meetings. For those cases, you cannot afford to add more equipment, it should just work with what is available.
The best way to display comments and poll results is therefore to use the same screen and the same computer as for the presentations. Comments should be smoothly merged as corner popups or banners, and poll results should be full screen.
No need of additional equipment or dedicated devices, it must remain simple, affordable, and doable for small meetings too.
4/ Adapt to population and culture
Different populations are not equal when it comes to interactivity. According to countries, culture and job positions, people react very differently, and may express themselves a lot, or not at all. Our experience shows it does not depend so much on age or technology skills.
In Northern Europe, people are pretty cautious and slow to express their points of view. In South-East Asia, a little less. In the USA, Southern Europe, and Middle East, people talk much more openly.
Marketing and Sales people are big contributors. On the other end, IT, and paradoxically Communications professionals (probably because they are obsessed with controlling reputation and brand image!) comment usually much less.
Technology adoption and age have little influence over how much people contribute.
So according to your your population pedigree, you may need ice-breakers. A good recipe is to have a few accomplices in the room that set an example for the others by posting messages and reacting to what is said. More and more participants will then follow.
Highly interactive events require good practices but also consistency: your participants must feel the same recurring experience, and feel valued every time they contribute. Reaching high interactivity works by snowball effect. If you break it on the way, you have to restart from scratch.
Now that your master which formats are the best, how should the speakers and MCs behave? How to train them and raise them to excellence?