People may learn better when they actively interact with the material. We want adult learners to ask the questions they have and adapt content to make it their own. People get restless when they are being talked at because it is a bit boring.
But there is a risk to participating. Ask a question in a room of people, and we fear there is a chance our question will be silly, reveal too much, or show that we do not know enough. Everyone might realize that we tuned out for 10 seconds because we asked about something the speaker already covered. And what if we can’t state our question articulately enough? Not to mention, no one else is asking questions, so who are we to start? Audiences are predisposed not to ask questions and not participate in most event formats (including the digital chat).
A single speaker who invites participation has to work very hard to knock down the normal barriers. Even employing every method to invite participation may not work well if their session is toward the conference’s end. While speakers may not coax attendees out of their shells, a team effort can work.
Events where there is a ton of audience participation are events where the hosts have primed attendees to participate (these are also events where engagement is super high.)
If attendee participation is on your list of event goals, consider how you can prime for participation. Carefully review your messaging, tone, volunteer roles, format, activities, and timing, and you will likely find many ways to prime your audience for participation, engagement, and fun!