Conference ideas: 5 alternatives to the passive presentation

So the pressure is on. You have a conference or company event  to pull off and the powers-that-be demand something that engages, energises and educates. They want it to hum. Easier said than done.

What’s the problem?

Well, standard operating procedure since PowerPoint became popular in the 1990s is for keynote speakers to hop up on a platform, deliver their speeches and bombard the audience with a host of slides and hey presto all done. Delegates leave suitably educated, throughly impressed and ready to implement everything they’ve learnt.

Or are they?

The problem lies in exposing your attendees to a conveyor belt of presentations that follow the same formula and drag on for hours. Not only is it a flawed approach, it’s also an abysmal failure. No one is concentrating through hours of presentations. They are too busy levelling up their doodling skills, texting their Superbru Whatsapp group or trying to restore feeling to their left leg. Your delegates, no matter how sincerely they try, are going to lose focus in such a passive position.

Here’s the deal

You need to get the crowd involved and using their grey matter for your event to buzz. People like to be challenged, they enjoy trying things out and seeing for themselves. They want to feel like they are a part of something and that what they say matters. So give it to them!

1. Active not passive: get your audience involved by trying some of these ideas:

  • Ask your keynote speakers to save a portion of their presentation time for Q&A. This serves a dual function. It will give the audience a chance to have their say and it will keep them concentrating through the presentation in order to think up questions to ask! It may be a good idea to have a moderator on hand to ask some questions in the event that the crowd is a little shy. The moderator can get the ball rolling and help draw a reticent audience out. Or try some “hands up” questions and then ask for delegates to share their experience or expand. Use technology so the audience can submit questions digitally rather than speaking up in front of a large crowd (see app suggestions in point 2).
  • Include sessions where large audiences can separate into smaller break away groups and complete feedback tasks or group activities. This gives attendees a chance to share their experiences and allows more opportunity for everyone to have their say.
  • Use quizzes, ice breakers and physical movement. Build up rapport and team work through obstacle courses or fun mental competitions. Allow for real time audience polling and let people use their devices (see more on this in point 2). Intersperse the more passive presentations with games. Everyone likes to play. Even serious adults.
Brahman Hills Break Away Group

2. Use technology: people will be on their devices anyway, so harness this resource:

  • There are a host of conference apps out there that allow your audience to engage in real time with you and your presentation from their own phones or tablets. Speak to your presenters and suggest a few apps if they do not already have their own favourite go-to presentation tool. You could do anything from live polling of the audience, to competitive quizzes and slide sharing. Using apps like this helps to keep your audience interested and individually engaged. If your speakers use the right ones, and prepare the presentations well, they are a gold mine.
  • Apps range in purpose and in price. Most interactive apps, like Poll Everywhere, Presentain, Mentimeter, Participoll, Swipe and Slido , allow you to create, upload or embed your presentation and then share with your audience via a URL. This means each audience member gets to use his or her phone to interact with your presentation. Arguably, the real value comes in with the interactive real time quizzes, polls and question features of the apps that allow your audience to get involved. Of course, all this comes with a price and the cost varies so do your homework first.
  • Education apps aren’t just for school. There are some great education apps out there that would work really well for an interactive conference. For example, try Kahoot, where you can build quizzes and competitive games with question by question updates to the leaderboard displayed on the big screen. With its funky music and bright colours, it’s a sure-fire way to liven up your presentation. And they also offer a business package.
  • Top tip: all these apps offer free basic packages or free trial run periods, so put them to the test and use them before laying out any of your hard earned money.

Interactive Live Polling

3. Choose unusual places: give them something interesting to see and do and half the work’s already done:

  • Don’t opt for hosting your event in yet another beige and boring conference room. These places are so excruciatingly bland and featureless, that they are darn near indistinguishable. Indistinguishable is not the adjective you want associated with your event. So, start thinking beyond the projectors and white screens and look for a venue that offers something more holistic. Sights, games, spas, wildlife….
  • You could choose a venue with beautiful views and interesting surroundings. Give your delegates something else to look at, enjoy and discuss before whisking them away for screen time.
  • Think about hiring a place where your event can get physical. Ziplines, obstacle courses and outdoor games are all great ways to energise your event and get your attendees involved and having fun.

Get out. Get physical.

4. Schedule in entertainment: because everyone likes to sit back, relax and be entertained:

  • No matter how interactive, hip and happening your conference is, by the afternoon session there is going to be a lag in energy. People have been working, concentrating, learning and interacting (hopefully) all morning. They’ve filled up on a wonderful buffet lunch (hopefully) and now have entered the stage of “magies vol, ogies toe”. Counteract this drag by scheduling in some entertainment.
  • Give your delegates a chance to relax and be diverted by a video, storyteller, comedian or any other appropriate, light performance. It’s purpose must primarily be to entertain and amuse. Use this opportunity to re-energise the crowd and they’ll be ready to go again for the late sessions.

Your next conference needn’t be a traumatic experience for you to organise or for your delegates to attend. Pick the right place, choose the right speakers, use the right technology and hey presto…let the magic buzz begin!

Brahman Hills Team
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