Standing at the white board, dry erase pen raised, I invited the participants of a recent brainstorm I led to list the challenges that the upcoming annual meeting posed for the communications team.
“The problem today,” said Jackson, one of the meeting planners, “is people are too busy looking at screens to pay attention to what’s on stage.” He said this without a trace of irony as he scrolled through his phone, never once looking up.
We live in an age of distraction – where what’s happening now takes a backseat to what’s happening now, albeit somewhere else. While this is a great environment for people who must be in the know for all things known, it presents quite the challenge for those of us tasked with corralling this audience’s fleeting attention span.
Rather than raging against the machine, make tech your new BFF, starting with the moment this tech shows up in the room.
Most meetings start with a “please silence your cell phones” message. These voice-overs and/or graphics can be played straight or spun for humor. While most of your attendees will double-check that their smart devices have been set to silent, it will not keep them from furtively checking for any urgent messages…or just updating their social media status.
Why not change things up? Start your meeting with an invitation for everyone to check their phones one more time – send that last email, compose that last tweet.
Next, state exactly when the next break is coming up, complete with the number of minutes away. This not only alleviates the anxiety that many of us feel when we’re not checking our phone, but also puts the time away in perspective. It’s only 35 minutes, or 50 minutes. If it’s more than that, you may want to review your agenda to see if you are including enough breaks to accommodate what has become a natural tendency.
Since longer presentations have a natural lull around the 20-minute mark. If your presenter’s content simply must extend beyond this time, introduce an online poll for your attendees here. Not only does it bridge the gap between the stage and the audience and keep both engaged, it also lets people use the devices that have become such a natural extension.
If your budget can accommodate it, consider using a meeting app that an audience can use not only during breaks but during the presentations themselves. These apps can provide a richer meeting experience for individuals who like to dive deeper into content that interests them. The app can store not only the presentations, but explanatory videos, background graphics, team profiles, a glossary, and links for additional content (possibly housed on your intranet).
Invite your audience to become your onsite candids photo crew by having them send their best shots to an email address or web storage folder, then post these photos during breaks. Of course, this is something that you will have planned before you arrive onsite and surprise your production team with this request. (Not that they couldn’t handle it! But it’s good to know this need ahead of time so any potential tech issues can be flagged early.)
And finally, remember that just because your audience’s devices are always on doesn’t mean they always want to hear from you. Be selective in the post-show content you push to attendees. Use this open connection to share content that doesn’t just look back on the event, but has relevance to their work moving forward. For example, if a project was unveiled onsite, ask attendees if they would like updates before they leave the meeting, then send video or graphic updates.
Technology is here to stay – no question about it. And the more you can incorporate this technology into your meetings, the more your attendees’ attention will stay with you too.