Associations are continually battling some of the unintended lessons we learned in grammar school. Don’t speak out during class. Don’t stand out. Some questions are stupid. There is a risk for contributing in public, especially when you may not have the right answer.
Many participants are hesitant to contribute or ask questions. Even when they are yearning to ask a burning question, they do not ask their question. Every unasked question is a potential back and forth exchange that is lost for everyone forever.
Presenters who want to make a session interactive have to work hard to get everyone comfortable with contributing. Sometimes a single presenter can guide a group into much more participation and occasionally the group barely budges.
Many attendees say they want conferences and other learning opportunities to be more participatory. Why? Because when you participate, you are engaged, and when you are engaged, you learn more. Participating also means that participants can adapt the top themes for their use. They can play with ideas, build on ideas, and maybe even use ideas right there in the session. We need to change our attendees from attendees (passive) to participants (active).
What can conference hosts do to encourage participation?
- Set expectations. Call them participants, not attendees. Call out all of the participatory elements in each session.
- Shake up the formats. Experiment and try more formats conducive to participation. Introduce round table discussions, or debates, or brain dates.
- Break the ice. Welcome participants one-on-one at registration. Warm up the audience in the opening session and allow them to participate in some way. Demonstrate fun, playfulness, and curiosity.
- Hire interactive speakers. Share your goals with them in a personal conversation. Connect speakers and see if they can build off of each other’s themes. Let them know how the MC will warm up the audience and explain how participation can be carried through each session.
What do you do to encourage participation?