Tuesday, September 4, 2012
Is Your Audience Prepared for your Event?
Your first response might be something like, "Of course, all flights and travel are booked, all days are marked off and important meetings rescheduled or scheduled..."
But we don't mean this in the technical sense; packing, flights, hotels, teambuilding activity choices, signed up for the event app, etc. While this may be the only way that MOST meeting planners think about their audience being prepared, we're thinking about something much more impactful: Are they prepared for your messaging?
Our CEO's daughter is currently taking developmental psychology course in college. The other day, she came to him with a quote from her professor: "'The difference between adults and children is that children will learn for the sake of and love of learning. Adults have to have a reason to learn.' See dad? It's just like you always say!"
Small validations aside, you have to give your *audience* a reason to learn. You have to prepare them for your event. That's the biggest thing that we see missing from major events: Preparation. Not only is preparation the first stage of learning (followed by presentation, practice and performance), but it's crucial in captivating the attention of your audience. Preparation should answer the question, "What's in it for me? What do *I* get out of sitting through this event?"
Here are four ways to prepare your audience and to make sure they get the MOST out of your content:
1. Pre-event communication:
Your audience knows that this is going to be your "best annual event ever" because that's what you say when you send out the invitations, right? Go beyond that. This isn't going to be the best event ever because it's in a great resort or because the weather looks perfect for golfing--err, teambuilding--day.
It's going to be great because the CEO is going to reveal the top 10 reasons why the latest product will be great for their personal sales. The marketing team is going to unveil the new ad campaign that will help drive business in the coming year. The CFO is going to show us a roadmap that will make it clear where we've been and where we're headed. Plus we're going to have an amazing keynote speaker that will do x, y, and z. Etc, etc, and so on and so forth.
You want your audience to know how tremendously valuable this event is going to be for them. How those three days they're spending away from the field not making sales are going to be WORTH it and pay them back in heaps and piles over the coming year.
2. Pre-event feedback:
Do your attendees act like passive players in your event because they feel like passive players in its design? Surely THEY weren't all consulted about the agenda, the presentations, etc.--so why should they listen to some stuffed suit? Give them a reason.
Put out a pre-event survey asking them what they want to get out of the meeting. What questions will they want answered? What workshops or breakouts are most important to them? What issues do they have on their mind coming into the event?
Turn them into active participants by asking them to develop their own event learning outcomes. Sure, you have outcomes, but what are theirs? By the end of the event, what do they want to know, believe and do? What will they be responsible for learning that will make this event "worth it" to them when they get back to their office the next Monday?
3. Pre-frame the content:
Every presentation should have a pre-frame, and every opening session, too. Attendees need to know what they're going to get out of a meeting, a speaker, a presentation, and why it's important to them. Issues also need to be addressed, lest they stew in the minds of the audience leaving precious little space for the actual messaging.
For instance, if you've had 4 different CRMs in 5 years and you're introducing ANOTHER one...and talking about the importance of getting completely on board with this CRM... why would your audience believe that they should be actively embracing your message? It's just going to change in another year or two anyway...
Address those objections and points of skepticism. You have to exorcise those thought and points before the audience can move on to accepting your message. (You also, in the extreme case cited above, have to provide hard evidence that they should adopt this program or that it's not going away in 2 years...it's not enough to say it when it's been said dozens of times before with little veracity.)
4. Use preparation activities:
So your audience knows it all. They've had YEARS of experience. You want to tell them about the new protocol, but THEY know how to do it. They're experts. How do you shake up that dismissive mentality and get them to focus on learning? Prove them wrong in an engaging way.
One thing that we'll do is include an audience response game as a pre-test (of sorts) before a presentation. The audience gets to compete on teams and engage with the material, but it's also a rather stark wake-up call highlighting what they do and do not know. Not only is the presenter aware of their knowledge gaps--but they are as well. And if, by chance, they should become aware that there is going to be another round of the game AFTER the presentation...they're going to be listening VERY closely for the answers they need to score well.
This is just one example of a preparation activity. You can also have someone perform a task or do a roleplay, try to install a new product, or give a team pitch. The point is to illuminate the need for the presentation/learning in an interactive and engaging (and fun) way.