“If it takes a lot of words to say what you have in mind,
give it some more thought.” - Dennis Roch
Lately I’ve been writing about something I call Events 2.0, which is a nod to the term Web 2.0. By that I mean events that go beyond just a passive TV-style experience and build in not only audience participation, but also make it possible for every participant to contribute to the experience and, ultimately, the value everyone takes with them when they leave. That can take a lot of forms, depending on the type of event. But if we’re talking about meetings or conferences, here are two fundamental principles for improving the impact of any meeting:
1) Minimize The Presentation Time. Get on, get to the point, and get off!
2) Ramp Up The Interactive Time. Spend at least half of the time facilitating interaction among participants, rather than just telling them stuff.
If a one-way information dump is needed, that can be accomplished a lot more efficiently through other means besides meetings. Send out an e-newsletter. Record a YouTube video. Distribute an old-fashioned memo. Include background info in the event program. Get yourself a bullhorn. Those are all effective and reliable ways to distribute information to lots of people.
The whole point of bringing people together is to give them the opportunity to experience something that wouldn’t be possible if it wasn’t shared with others, in the physical (or online) environment you’ve created for them. And ideally, that will include interactions between the participants, whether it’s just swapping ideas, collaborating on a project or sharing a group physical activity–or even better, all three. It doesn’t matter what scale of meeting we’re talking about: 6 people around a boardroom table or 3,000 people in a general session at the convention center. Same rules apply.
I get some pushback on this when I’m in a position to determine how much time a presenter will be given to show their stuff. It might be a professional who is used to doing 45-minute stand-ups and I’m asking them to limit their presentation to 10 minutes. Their first reaction is that they couldn’t possibly cover their topic with any depth; they would only be able to give it “lip service”. (I’ve learned that lip service, if done well, can actually be pretty powerful.) I see the same thing with groups of my students preparing presentations of their semester projects and, when I tell the four of them that they will have 12 minutes to present, they sometimes protest with, “We can’t possibly present our whole project in that much time!” And you know what? They’re right. But there’s always enough time to present what’s most important.
The hard part? Figuring out what the most important points are and finding a way to get them across in a compelling manner. You might only be able to impress 1 or 2 or maybe 3 significant takeaways on your audience. But that’s okay…as long as those few lessons will be lasting and useful. If they only remember, accomplish, or learn how to do one thing when your time together is over, what do you want it to be? If you’re not clear on that, you’re probably not designing the experience for maximum impact and ROI, or Return On Involvement.
Of course, there are a lot of people working or experimenting with creative approaches to these challenges, and some of them have actually been doing it for a long time. Next time out, I’ll give you a great list of examples of event techniques that are getting better and better at this. In the meantime, make sure you’re getting right to the point! Your attendees—or better yet, “participants”—will thank you for it. (And they’ll also get a lot more out of it.)