Designing a Brain-Based Event: Adding Interaction
In the Brain-Based Events Exchange Café--recently hosted at E4-- we talked about ways to engage an audience at an event and make sure that your message is communicated in a way that people will remember. Adding interaction to an event and within presentations is absolutely critical to success.
Studies cite different attention span limits (Dr. Medina stated 10 minutes), but on average, the adult attention span in a live event is from 5-7 minutes.
That means that in most typical presentations, there is going to be a lot of attention atrophy, and the messaging will be lost. So how does one mitigate against this effect in a typical, 60-minute presentation? By adding interactive elements at regular intervals.
During our exchange café, we brainstormed ways to add interaction within a presentation, and here’s what we came up with as a group:
Add a game: In our own presentation, we played a game show. In addition to being a way to review, preview and present the information in a unique way, it also added an element of energy and competition that broke up the content.
Do a skit: At an event we produced, instead of just giving the finer points of coaching, the presenter brought an assistant on stage and modeled the coaching interaction.
Have discussion: Give the audience opportunities during a presentation and an event to reflect and discuss your content with a neighbor or at their tables. Not only does it reinforce content and add interaction, but it also creates personal relevance.
Demonstrate: If it’s a new product presentation, don’t just rattle off bullet point features—have a prototype to show, or things that the audience can “play” with and interact with. If it’s a new process, actually go through the chronology.
Show a video clip: Media is a great way to break up a presentation, add emotion and captivate the audiences’ attention.
Ask questions: When a speaker interacts WITH the audience, it makes they audience accountable for their participation in the presentation. Gathering their opinions, thoughts, misconceptions, etc. makes a presentation more personally relevant.
Switch speakers: While the best-intended panels of mice and men may often go awry, the concept behind a panel or interview or tag-team speakers is a good one. Switching speakers resets the attention clock.
Use different sounds: When this was brought up in our session, it referred mostly to the modality of a person’s voice—varying tone and timbre to be a dynamic, continually engaging speaker. However, using music, sound effects, etc., could be a way to add novelty and re-engage the audience.
Add activities: An audience wants to play. Participating in hands-on activities not only increases interactivity and extends the attention span, but it also gives the opportunity to practice with key concepts and content.
Tell a joke: Humor is a wonderful way to re-engage the audience, because it evokes a strong emotional response (also causing the brain to secrete chemicals that aid in binding memory). Getting the audience to laugh is a great way to keep their attention. (This is another reason why we use live animated characters, like Ellie and Eddie the Eagles.)
Tell stories: Speaking of emotional engagement… A good story can captivate attention far beyond the typical attention span, because that’s how we’re wired to receive information, process and learn.
Dan Yaman is the Founder and CEO of Live Spark, the event design firm that produced Eddie and Ellie the eagles. Live Spark also consults on presentations and events, designs custom game and audience-response experiences and more. You can check out our blog for more tips and event insights—or check back here for more postings to come.
Why we Love Steve Jobs
Our office gathered around a laptop (yes, a Mac) to watch Mr. Jobs announce new iTunes, Apple TV, and iPod Touch (among other) upgrades. As we listened to him speak, it became abundantly clear that he's a walking best practice for presentations.
Not that this is revolutionary, much has been made at websites like Presentation Zen, etc. about the clean, clear way that Mr. Jobs presents.
Has clean slides with lots of "white" space.
His slides are so simple, in fact, that the average presenter would be tempted to add just a bit more. A few talking points, perhaps? Alas, the simplicity is crucial. The slides are easy to understand, impactful and resonate INSTANTLY with the audience.
He is a great technical speaker.
There's a lot of training that goes into a speaker being seen as "down to earth". It's a hallmark of practice that Mr. Jobs presents with such ease, and so that everyone--from your average at-home blogger, to a shareholder, to a technician, to the consumer--can understand the message. Not only is his message colloquially phrased, but he has genuine passion evident in his speaking. Rehearsed/fabricated (we think not) or not, it makes the presentation that much more compelling.
Has a great process for learning.
Mr. Jobs presents the features/benefits of his product, then he demonstrates how it works, then he recaps the features and benefits. Not only does this change the way the information is presented--making it more engaging--but it also reinforces the learning. He'll take out a product and demonstrate the physical process of a procedure on stage. This connects all the dots--from features to function.
Whether you're an Apple user or not, there's no denying that Steve Jobs does one heck of a job presenting his products. It's a style we could all afford to emulate in internal OR external presentations.
Graphic Recordings at an Event
E4 has always been great about introducing new innovations in the event and meeting industry and putting them into practice at their own event. This was no exception--we were treated to a graphic recorder right on the side of the room in the general session. The objective was to provide the audience with an instant, graphically stimulating portrait of the presentation to appeal to visual learners.
Like many innovations, there were some great elements and some not so great aspects to the graphic recordings. Here are our general impressions from a brain-based perspective:
- Having the graphic recordings posted around the room past the session they were "drawing" was a great recap and reminder of what was covered. It also provided a colorful, visually stimulating environment.
- Having the graphic recordings scanned and available post-event was extremely cool. It was easy to reference a presentation.
- The graphic representations made it easy to recall chunks of information in a presentation and they made for a great review tool.
- Graphic recorders had an opportunity to go back and "amend" the recordings with extra information past the session (or at least they did during our session).
What didn't quite work:
- Having the graphic recorders at the front of the room pulled focus. The novelty aspect of the graphic recording was constantly demanding your attention (and seeing something moving out of the corner of one's eye while focusing on the presenter was slightly off-putting).
- The brain can't multitask, and the tendency was to switch from the drawing to the presenter with little success at "getting" the information from either source while it was occurring.
- When the recordings were i-mag'ed on the main screen, they were incredibly distracting.
- The graphic recording wasn't instantaneous, and as a result if one was watching that element, it tended to drag quite a bit or was incongruous with the information at hand.
@e4 With Ellie the Eagle
The answer is the Hilton Bonnet Creek in Orlando, Florida at the e4 (Experient) conference.
Last year, Eddie the Eagle--an AniMated character produced by us--was the co-host of the event with Experient's Teri Tonoli. Eddie couldn't make it this year (due to various family commitments and a need for variety), so he sent his new wife (and nest partner) Ellie to fill in for him on hosting duties.
Ellie looks quite similar to Eddie--only with a bow--and, like Eddie, belongs to an association of meeting planners (of the eagle persuasion). She and Eddie first flirted at eHarmony--that's eagleHarmony--being matched on 5 different levels of compatibility. (Not least of which, a mutual love of roadkill.) They then grew their romance in the feather at e5--the e4 event...for eagles.
Now Ellie is at e4 to learn how to talk the talk and squawk the squawk. The opening session on Monday already went really well, and you can bet she'll be sitting in on one of Dan Yaman's "Brain-Based Events" presentations on Tuesday at the Exchange Cafes. (Hey, if an eagless can't shamelessly promote once in a while. . . )
So if you're at e4--look for us here! And if you're not, well, this introduction to Ellie the Eagle probably seems kind of out of place...but you should definitely explore how an AniMated character could add humor, engagement, reinforce key points, and be a delight with impact at your next event.
It shows Minnesota Senator Al Franken doodling while the hearings are taking place. This has been remarked on positively and negatively, and while we won't touch the partisan politics, we do believe that this photo illustrates (pun intended) a point.
I, myself, am a meeting-doodler. This has frustrated some bosses I've had, because they take the doodles as a sign of disrespect or inattention. The truth is, however, that I need to sketch, doodle, write, etc. (do something!) with my hands while I'm listening to a presentation. It helps me focus...and I'm not alone in that. (Sen. Franken, for one, appears to be in this camp as well.)
This is why, when we design meetings, in addition to any structured workbooks, sheets, etc., we always suggest blank notebooks. It appeals to the kinesthetic learner--those who need to move to learn.
Some people will write notes (and even if they never look at them again, the act of writing them down helps cement the knowledge), some people will doodle (forming strong visual associations in their mind along with keeping their hands busy and brain focused) and others won't use them/don't need them. Whatever the audience's personal involvement with their notebook, everyone needs the option of having a space to physically write, doodle, draw, note-take. It doesn't mean that their attention has waned, in fact, quite the opposite.
Three Elements that Make an Event Memorable
The brain-based way to engage your audience.
[Also published on the Experient E4 Blog]
The Art of Theater: Nothing engages the human mind like emotion. It’s the connection to our fellow man, our jobs, our world. It’s the primary influence in many decisions. An event should be an emotional experience—and a little theater goes a long way in producing an emotional outcome that supports content retention.
Theatrical elements can include game play (game shows, team activities, etc.), powerful video clips, stories etc. Theater isn’t about being ridiculous or novel for the sake of novelty, it’s about engaging your audience on an emotional level.
The Science of Learning: 95% of what is delivered in a typical meeting environment is forgotten 24 hours later. That’s a scary statistic for any meeting professional. This is primarily because, in general, events are not designed with the science of learning in mind.
Brain-based learning techniques can include giving breaks in between presentations for reflection, paring down information—sorting the nice to know from the need to know, preframing, informing and reviewing for all key content points, and utilizing activities to practice and apply knowledge.
The Psychology of Persuasion: An event is all about buy-in. An audience needs to buy-in to the content, to their participation in the event, to interaction, key content points, etc. A truly persuasive event is framed properly; eliciting commitment from the audience to play full out during the event, getting attendees to write down their own personal goals for the event and—after content pieces or presentations—recording how the new information will be relevant to them.
Going into the specifics of a presentation, presenters tend to lead with what persuades them. Everyone will buy-in to AN argument—but that doesn’t mean they’ll buy-in to YOUR argument. Play to all persuasion styles: data evidence, social proof, personal guarantees of success and relevance to achieving their goals.
The 4 Stages of Learning in a Brain-Based Event
There has been an increased focus on events that are produced in a brain-friendly way and result in knowledge transfer in the meeting and event industry. An event should produce measurable results and fit specific learning outcomes.
However, in order for permanent, real learning to occur, the brain has to go through four stages. They are: Preparation, Presentation, Integration and Performance. Unfortunately, most of these stages are either ignored or mismanaged in the course of a typical event.
Stage one: Preparation: This is where the learner's mind gets into an optimal state to receive information. This state is characterized by:
- Arousal of interest/curiosity
- Strong desire for the learning or the benefits from learning
- Outwardly focused/aware state
- Clear about the goals of learning
Without preparing the student for the learning, the student has no compelling reason to learn and retain the material.
What happens in a “typical” event: Very little information-focused preparation for the event occurs, aside from a few invites, surveys, etc. Once at the event, the attendees enter the ballroom. The environment is familiar to the brain and it draws clear conclusions: “This is going to be more of the same”. Time to get out the smartphone. . . Previous associations of meetings being painful or a waste of time cause immediate disengagement.
Without proper preparation, not only does the brain revert to potentially negative meeting stereotypes, but it fails to connect the event with personal relevance. If something is not relevant, then it won’t be remembered.
Stage two: Presentation: The learner encounters the learning. Optimally the information is presented in a multi-sensory delivery using a variety of brain-friendly techniques:
- Appealing to all intake modalities (VAK)
- Shift of focus every 6-8 minutes
- Big picture to detail
- Utilizing novelty, humor, storytelling, etc. to engage the learner
If the material isn't presented in a way that is interesting and engaging to the learner, it won't sink in and the mind will wander. If it doesn't match their "intake style" (VAK), they wont fully receive the message.
What happens in a “typical” event: Presentation is the main focus of most events—after all, it’s all about presenting the material—whether it’s a keynote speech, learning module or executive summary. This is where most meeting professionals spend their time- but presentation without the other 3 stages of learning is a waste of time—presentation does NOT equal retention.
In the typical corporate event most presentations DON'T appeal to all learning styles; presenters tend to present in their own preferred style. This may mean that a person who is highly visual presents picture slides, but offers little interpretation. Speakers who use their PowerPoint slides to be personally comfortable with their own material tend to overload the audience—subjecting them to “death by PowerPoint”.
There's no shift in focus so the attention span of an attendee is maxed out within the first 8 minutes of a presentation and "brain overload" occurs.
Stage three: Integration: At this point the learner becomes inward-focused as he makes meaning of the new learning. This is a time of feedback, testing, making sense; combining the new learning with previously stored memories to create new neural connections.
If Integration doesn't occur, it's unlikely that the learning will get embedded into long-term memory.
What happens in a “typical” event: The “what does this mean” connection doesn’t occur, nor is there time for reflection and application. One speaker is typically lined up right after another and another (sometimes under the guise of trying to fit as much “learning” in as possible) without brain breaks, and the information becomes compressed and forgotten.
Stage four: Ongoing performance: Memory encoding and strengthening occurs here as the learner tries out and performs the new learning. While some might correctly argue that a portion of performance must occur outside of the event and on the job, the event can also be a vehicle for ongoing performance.
What happens in a “typical” event: There is no review of information after it’s presented, and no hands-on application, even if it’s viable. Typically, there is no strategy introduced within the event to connect it to life and learning AFTER the event, so the expectation of ongoing learning and preparation for retention is not met.
The Environment of the Event
That's right. When an audience walks into a room that is staged (albeit with thematic differences) exactly like an event-as-usual, you send the message that it'll be an event as usual. Their brains prepare for the same old death by PowerPoint, the same old line of speakers, the same old cocktail hour in the evening and golf tournament on the second day. If you're making the effort to produce a transformational event--like on the audience has never seen before--better start with the environment of the room.
Now I'm not saying that the room needs to be fancy, overproduced or expensive, it just needs to communicate what you're going to expect out of the audience/participants.
Rounds instead of classroom/theater seating: Send the message that it isn't just a sit-down-and-listen meeting. There will be collaboration, interaction...and intimate experience in an audience of possibly hundreds. Encourage people to get to know their round-mates right away, and even consider putting kinesthetic devices (a.k.a. toys, notebooks, play-doh) on the rounds.
Make use of peripheral visuals: Use the sides of the room to reinforce your message. Put up key points, slogans and sayings, a collective "sharing" board for insights, a road map of the event, etc. Not only will these make an impact upon entry and allow attendees to immediately begin to engage with the event, but throughout the day/s they'll reinforce messaging both consciously and subconsciously.
Pay attention to the music: Most events are preceded by some sort of walk-in music. Usually, it's some sort of popular blend that the A/V crew might have on hand, and it's not something that is typically planned out to a great degree. Leading the event with purposeful, high-energy, positive music that gets people clapping/dancing/chatting as they walk in can set the tone for an interactive event. (Just don't rely on energetic music to carry attendees past the opening if the rest of the event isn't engaging.)
Control the entrance: Don't just have attendees trickle in willy-nilly, chatting or checking their Blackberries as they mull about and wait for everything to get started. Keep the doors closed until people are mostly there. Have leaders in the room already, greeting the attendees and directing them to tables. Have PowerPoint branding/messaging up directing attendees to stay on their feet and clap along to the music.
Of course, these are just *some* suggestions. But whatever you do, if you don't want to communicate that this is an event as usual, don't start your attendees off in the "usual" environment.
The Award Ceremony Conundrum
Perhaps I'm being a bit harsh. However, clients, production companies and audience members alike have expressed such derision within my hearing at some point or another.
Then why do we still do award ceremonies?
Because they can be really, really meaningful to people and very motivational. When we're not the subject of the ceremony, it's easy to forget the impact of recognition. I first realized this when one of my family members won an award at their company and were invited to the award ceremony. It was a *huge* thing for them, and their excitement and enthusiasm was palpable.
In short--award ceremonies are important, but problematic. They're a big deal to those nominated or winning awards, and a potential bore to those in the audience, (perhaps that's punishment for not winning...) or award winners after their portion is done.
So how do we deal with this? There are a few ways we can start to improve award ceremonies:
Break the awards up into chunks during the day. I know the traditional award ceremony night appeals to many--and can take the place of another structured evening of entertainment--but we've found great success in breaking up the awards into categories and presenting them in between other topics/speakers in a general session. Not only does this give small bursts of recognition and makes the whole day about recognition, but it also gives the audience a break from straight content, or presenter after presenter after presenter.
Break the awards up with other content during the award event. Having dinner during an award ceremony is fine, but there are other business matters that can be addressed here as well. We were at an association awards dinner where there were awards, then a keynote, then awards, then dinner, then swearing in of new board leadership, then the final awards.
Increase the pace of the awards. This is really a band-aid fix, but there are ways to speed up award ceremonies. Include the bios/qualifications of all nominees in a program can eliminate lengthy readings. Holding applause until the end is a way of cutting down on transition time. Having a big group picture at the end of the night instead of having individuals come on stage, get their award, snap a picture and leave can also be a time saver.
Add entertainment! There are a few different ways to add entertainment to an award ceremony. I'm not talking a juggling act or dinner act or any other kind of hired entertainment. (Though that can be a diverting part of an award ceremony, it can make the rest of the presentation look even more deadly-dull in contrast unless there are other entertaining elements incorporated.)
Engaging hosts--We'll often pair two dynamic presenters together, get them out from behind the podium and let them have a dialogue. Humor is key, but no cheesy Oscar-style jokes allowed. Professional emcees are also a great option.
Engaging presentation--We've often pared down award PowerPoint, added in stories, metaphors, etc., so that it's not just a presentation as usual, it has captivating elements. You can change the format of the actual award presentation, too. I.e. We once had nominees "compete" in a game show format.
Video clips, multimedia, sketches, etc.--Don't just give award attendees a PowerPoint deck framed by an immaculate stage. Pick out relevant video clips (or create your own), present in a song, add in audience participation activities, etc.
Homer Simpson Builds a Computer: An Event Design Parable
Ever-ambitious, he gathers up the necessary supplies and assembles his masterpiece. He knows that a computer needs a keyboard, so he gets a typewriter. He finds a television set for a monitor. He attaches a CD player for a CD-rom drive. This continues on. All the elements come together and finally, Homer has a machine with all the functional parts of a computer.
But it doesn't work.
Just because all the elements are there, doesn't mean that it can perform the desired function, or produce the correct result.
We see the same thing happen with a lot of presentations in an event. (Or an event as a whole.) Not that we'd dare say that any meeting planner is akin to Homer Simpson, but they fall into the same trap.
They have the PowerPoints. They have the presenters. They have the content. They have the audience. They have the staging and breaks and food and evening activites. ALL elements have been collected, put together, and voila! Event!
The problem is, these individual elements don't make an event. Just as a computer is more than the sum of its parts, an event has to have every element designed with the outcome in mind. Just having content doesn't mean that the audience will absorb it. Having PowerPoint doesn't mean that there's a good presentation.
This is where event design comes in. When the event is designed with the brain in mind, instead of the individual elements that make up an event, the audience walks away knowing, doing and believing in the key objectives. Next time an event is being produced, don't just think about each element going into place--think about the whole direction of the event.