As the organizer, you are fully invested in the success of your event. However, not all of your participants are equally motivated: Some sort through their email inboxes while others book their next holidays or watch cat videos online… How do you notice when your participants are distracted, why are they not paying attention, and above all, how do you react?
For months, you have been working on an especially important event with a high strategic impact: A company-wide motivational training seminar, the launch of a new product, a workshop… Rightly, you expect reactions and feedback. But while you are on stage are you sure that your audience is paying attention? Are your efforts going to have the expected impact?
Detect a lake of attention
In the heat of the moment, it is not always easy to notice whether your audience is listening to you or not. However, there are a number of sur tell-tale signs that you might have lost the attention of some:
- Not all eyes are on you or your presentation. Instead, your audience’s heads are lowered.
- The level of noise in the room is slowly rising.
- Or, on the other hand, the silence is deadly. Nobody reacts to your arguments or chuckles at your humorous remarks.
However, these signs are often rather subtle. To be able to detect them while you are on stage, take small breaks throughout your talk to quickly evaluate whether your audience is still following along. These breaks can take on different shapes:
- Ask your audience a question.
- Or, on the contrary, invite your audience to ask questions.
- Animate your talk with short interactivity sessions (wordles, polls, quizzes…)
By observing how much your audience gets involved, you can evaluate their interest in your talk.
Understand the lack or the decrease of interest in your event
By dividing your participants into groups, you can gain a better understanding of why some of them are no longer listening to you or your speakers after a certain amount of time.
The participants of your event can roughly be divided into two categories:
The volunteers are those who registered of their own accord because the agenda of the event sparked their interest.
The “appointed” were obliged to attend by their boss or clients.
The different members of each of these groups have two options: To either participate actively throughout the event or to simply do something else. Since any self-respecting location usually provides access to WiFi, there is an infinity of entertainment possibilities available other than actively participating in your event:
- Reading personal or professional emails
- Working on a report or an important file
- Chatting on social media
- Watching videos and thereby monopolizing the available bandwidth
But why is it that one part of your audience participates in your conference or seminar while another part is occupied otherwise? The following table will help you better understand the phenomenon by identifying four psychological profiles:
|Kind of participant /behavior||The volunteers||The “appointed”|
|Participate actively||The invested||The conscientious|
|Occupied otherwise||The disappointed and the dropouts||The rebels|
The invested actually want to attend your event and, consistent with their motivations, they listen and participate.
The conscientious would have preferred not to come but they are professional: They listen and participate.
The disappointed had high expectations when they decided to attend but end up not finding what they were hoping for. Amon them, some notice this immediately while others, the dropouts, only stop following along after a certain amount of time.
The rebels did not want to come in the first place and are determined to make the best out of the situation by working or searching for more cat memes on their smartphones.
Of course, it is the latter two categories that are of main interest here.
Revive attention and participation
Prevention is always better than the cure: Plan your event carefully to avoid disappointments. Two factors are essential in doing so:
- Precise targeting of your participants ensures that only individuals who are actually interested in the points on the agenda of your event will register.
- Let the registered individuals participate when planning the agenda of the event.
Ask future participants which topics they are interested in, which questions they would like answers to, the speakers they would like to hear, etc. Depending on the kind of audience (for example, close collaborators or external consultants; a rather active audience or passive listeners…), different degrees of involvement are possible. Let them vote on a list of different propositions or ask them to fill the agenda alongside you!
By doing so, you significantly lower the risk of disappointing part of your audience on the big day. However, you will probably still face dropouts: Despite your careful preparation, certain individuals are bound to lose interests at some point.
Therefore, you need to be able to get the dropouts back on board. As seen in the first part, live feedback throughout the event is the key to success. Polls, wordless and other types of interaction will guide your way, allow you to readjust your direction and realign your talk with your audience’s expectations.
Finally, the rebels. While they are physically present in the room, their minds couldn’t be further removed. They have come in with clear expectations of what the event is going to be – completely irrelevant to them, that is. As a result, they need to be surprised. Prove that your event is not as uninteresting as they expected.
Actually, the rebels’ attendance presents an opportunity: If you succeed in surprising them and sparking their interest, they often become the most vocal advocates for your future events.