Breaking out of TV-Mode

The Engaging Events Series, Part 1

Here’s a simple question for you: why do people come to events? 
To help answer that question, I’m going to ask you another: Take a minute and think back.  What are your personal favorite events, out of all the ones you’ve ever been to?  Your answers might be different depending on the type of event—you might have a favorite social event, a performance of some sort, or maybe it’s the most memorable conference you’ve ever been to.  Or think about the best course you ever took in school (every class is an event, no?), one that you really got into and, probably, took the most from.  In all of these cases, what was it that made these events most memorable, even years later?


I’m going to take a guess: I bet it’s because you got deeply engaged in whatever activity was taking place and because of that, you threw yourself into it—using your brain, of course, but possibly also your emotions and maybe even your body, or all three at the same time.  And you took from it an experience that still comes to mind despite the time that has passed.

I’ve been a college professor for over twenty years now, and one of the things I dread most is a class (my audience, you might say) where the students go into what I call “TV-mode”.  TV-mode is when you sit on the couch with that glazed look on your face and the remote control in your hand, ready to jump to another channel if you’re not appropriately stimulated for a period of time.  TV-mode is when you have adopted the role of the watcher and expect someone else to do all of the work.  It’s the difference between participating and just showing up.  And it rarely results in much of lasting value.

So I’ve put a lot of thought and effort into designing experiences for my students where they can’t stay in TV-mode. For centuries, the traditional educational method has been what presenters like to call the “sage on the stage” approach—where the content expert lectures to the audience, who sit passively and listen, as if knowledge was something to be poured over their heads and simply absorbed.  It’s one-way communication and, although it may be entertaining and informative, it only rarely results in measurable change or action.  And in the age of YouTube and podcasts and Twitter and eBooks, it can make the event experience appear suspiciously unnecessary.  Instead, I’ve learned that the most effective way to use the time we have together is to avoid spending too much of my own time as the “sage on the stage” and play more of a role as the designer and facilitator of an experience created for them.

Lots of event professionals are experiencing great angst about the future of live events, particularly meetings and conferences.   Will people continue to invest lots of money and–perhaps even more valuable–their time in traveling and attending events, when they can get the same information by going online or ordering it from Amazon.com?  My answer is: yes, they absolutely will!  But only if you deliver an engaging experience that delivers value far beyond what they could just as easily read or watch on their TV, computer monitor or iPhone.  And that means an engaging experience, one that gets them actively involved.  The same principles hold true whether you are gathering face-to-face, or doing a teleconference or webinar.  You need to design ways to get people “out of their bubble”.   Remember when you were a kid and your mom or dad used to say, “Get off that couch, stop watching TV (or playing PlayStation, if you’re younger than a Boomer) and go outside to get some fresh air and exercise!”?   Well, this is the adult version of that.

Why is this important?  Because it is the key to maximizing the impact of your event and changing the way people will think, act or behave in the future.  And in the end, that’s why people come to events.

Up Next: Strategies for Engagement
As this blog series continues, I will be offering lots of examples of strategies event planners are using to engage their audiences, increasing the impact of their events and make a difference in people’s lives and their communities. 

In the meantime, I want to return to my original question: what is the most impactful event you’ve ever been to, and what do you think made it that way?

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About Peter Straube

educator, experience designer, writer, speaker and explorer, specializing in the power of events to create positive change View all posts by Peter Straube

4 responses to “Breaking out of TV-Mode

  • Tomm Brassard

    After 20 years as an entrepreneur and as a small business owner, particularly in a sales capacity, no matter what the apparent “agenda” an individual appears to be on, the bottom line question that is in the minds of clients, students, participants, vendors, sponsors, and organizers, etc is… “what’s in it for me?” The answer can be: educational, financial, environmental, social, political, spiritual, or whatever, but at the end of the day each of us is looking to gleen a benefit; something of personal or professional value that makes attending/participating/visiting/engaging worthwhile.

    I personally believe that each of us values our time and that if we perceive a demand on our time that is of no or little intrinsic value to us “personally”, we are less likely to be engaged. The world is rife with individuals who are in the wrong jobs, wrong schools, wrong places of worship, wrong marriages, wrong clubs/organizations, etc. Yet, in each of these examples the choices are individual ones where the “choice owner” is the only one who stands to win or lose, be happy or sad, or progress or regress.
    Ultimately, in any given situation or relationship, we should only want participants who truly want to “be there”. This philosophy charges BOTH parties (teacher & student, vendor & client, husband & wife, voter & elected official, manager & worker, etc) with the responsibility to “deliver the goods”, to meet each other’s needs in such a way that anything less is subject to suffer the consequences. When I think of it, an “event” is many things in life: a dinner out, a sporting event, a webinar, a class, a company dinner, Sunday worship, a class reunion, and on and on. Those who appear to drift into “tv mode” probably should be in attendance to begin with. But part of this is out of the organizers control and so the best an event can hope for is that the organizer has done his/her due diligence, prepared very well, and delivers as much “what’s in it for me” value as the target audience can reasonably expect.

  • Peter Straube

    Thanks, Tom. I agree that if we perceive any activity as not worth our time, we tend to “tune it out”. (There’s that TV metaphor again!) It’s also true that participants can come with varying levels of motivation and there’s not always much we can do about that. On the other hand, organizers of an event have a lot of control over the experience that is created for each participant, and that’s where a little creativity and conscious effort can produce a more engaging outcome–and that’s better for everyone involved!

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