8 Ways to Combat Digital Distractions at Your Event
You are standing on a platform facing a podium, addressing 200 people. You’ve been talking for the past half an hour, and slowly people are wandering into their thoughts. You can see that from the podium and it pains you to see them taking out their mobile phones, and dipping their noses into it. Eventually, you have lost every one of them, until it is just you and the podium, with no else really paying attention.
Sadly, with the increased usage of the internet and mobile devices, the attention span of people has shortened drastically, and they get restless when they don’t get to fiddle with their devices. Depending on the time of the session, the attention span could be as low as 8 seconds. In the afternoons, people tend to get fidgety, and their attention wanes sooner. It may have nothing to do with you or the topic; that’s the way they are made. This is why it is so important to engage your attendees and make your event a success.
The days leading to the event are always busy & hectic. All the glorified sales pitches, the motivational nuggets and even real-world examples all boil down to the big day. Now the attendees are getting to taste the real thing at the live event. The human attention has gotten shorten over the years, a number of reasons could be attributed to that, but the speaker has to battle the challenge of keeping the session as engaging as ever. As long as there is meaning in what you present, attendees will not be distracted.
What attendees need from an event
The main reason why people attend an event is that they need something new, something different from what they have seen in the past. They want to get never before seen, relevant information - an insider’s look at the topic. While they look for uniqueness in a session, the breakout session usually happens in half an hour. So you have to give them something to look forward to.
Most attendees look forward to an emotional connection to the event they attend. That’s how they take home ‘takeaways’. This is probably because though they tend to be addicted to their mobile devices, these are all impersonal interactions; there is no sense of belonging. Make an emotional connection with the attendees go beyond the brand storytelling, and you will have some serious listeners.
Bridging the gap between your attendees and you
Learn more about your attendees, what their interests are, how they would respond to breakout sessions, and try various methods to keep them engaged.
Here are some tips you can try the next time you host an event:
1. The participants should know that they are important
Normally, when speakers take the center stage, the attendees are merely spectators, but when they feel they are important to the event’s success, it creates a sense of acceptance. This is a huge motivational aspect and the attendees feel they are there on their own will, and they are really important to the event. So if the speaker starts their session by mentioning how the attendees can collect a lot of important takeaways from the event (For example, “what’s in it for me?”), they will pay more attention.
2. Drive home the point that the event is all about them
You can also start the session by asking the attendees what they find interesting about the event and what inspired them to attend it. Different people attend for different reasons, so be prepared for different answers. Get personal, you will be able to invoke more response from them. Some attendees would have emailed their queries, so you will have to address those as well. Even if there are people who are just attending it out of curiosity, they should carry something solid back.
3. The topic shouldn’t be too easy or difficult
When the topic is too easy, eventually they will tune out, and reach out for their devices to bail out of the session. When it is too difficult, some try to focus for a few minutes before zoning out completely. Look out for audience reactions and the cues they unknowingly exhibit.
4. Distractions and participants don’t gel well
If you feel that your participants are getting distracted, then it would be easier to remove those distractions. For example, if you are planning to conduct a session in a noisy trade show, then the attendees wouldn’t be able to concentrate on the content of the session. It would be better to move them to a quieter location to get 100% attention.
5. Entertainment followed by education
Provide your attendees with some of the entertainment, so they will be refreshed once you get into the topic. Entertainment sets the tone and the mood for a collegial mood, and they will be alert throughout the session. Videos, slideshows, anything to build the anticipation and create excitement. Starting off with entertainment helps in setting the stage for better participation.
6. Use social media itself to keep them engaged
If you are worried about people looking at their phones during your session, then use that trait to the maximum. You can stimulate attendee participation by inducing a scavenger hunt through Instagram during professional networking events. This will get people moving, remove the drowsiness in them completely, and enjoy the event as a whole. You have lots of advantages. Apart from getting to see the happy faces of people, you can also enjoy the benefits of event hashtags when attendees promote the event in their social media accounts. This would definitely increase event engagement several times over.
For bigger events, you can provide the attendees with rented iPads, and engage them with the help of surveys and questionnaires. This would keep them away from other digital distractions, and focus on your event.
7. Try different angles, even literally
Attendees are trained to look at some focal point, so that’s where they naturally look. You can engage them in a different way, and believe it or not, they would really welcome it. This would break the monotony, try different horizontal and vertical dimensions, (you can actually take examples from great horror movies, where the director keeps the viewers on their toes by employing ingenious tactics), so they don’t know what to expect next.
8. And of course, the obvious - props and presentations
If your topic isn’t exactly an invigorating one to the attendees but is something they have to listen to, then you can sizzle it with props, including audio-video presentations. That would really hit home, and make people sit up and take notice. Good videos can invoke emotion, a good photo can trigger memories and multimedia presentations can explain it much better than words.
The best way to engage your attendees would be to innovate and follow the above-mentioned strategies. Understand their pulse, and know what other sessions they would be attending with other speakers as this would help you build some sort of connection or continuity. Research into the interests of your attendees to know what really hits off with them.