We hear it most in terms of adding interaction. "We already spent X on getting people here, we really don't have the budget for Y interaction."
And what we want to say is:
"Then instead of having an event, you should just put your event budget in a big pile on the floor and light it on fire."
At least people would remember that.
We don't say that.
1. Because we don't condone burning money.
2. Because it's not helpful.
However, if a company is spending money to bring people TO an event and then is giving little thought to how to make their audience engage, interact, and retain the event information--they might as well not have the event.
Part of any event budget should be value. Live events have demonstrated value over and over again. It's still important for people to get together face-to-face; to network, get training, new information, goals, and a clear vision for the year. But you have to do more than just bring people together, give presentations, and hope that the message got through. You have to engage your audience.
But let's say you're already committed to wasting money and you want to make sure you get as little value out of your event as possible (maybe there was a dare involved?). Here are some ways to ensure your event will be a waste:
1. Think that bigger a/v is better a/v.An event needs to have base-level good a/v. It's not necessarily wise to cut corners here; when a projector goes out in the middle of a show with no backup, or you have the fourth-string crew, you're really going to see a negative--and distracting--impact on your event.
However, that doesn't mean that bigger a/v is better a/v either. Having all the lighting effects and stage decor and enhanced sound mixing in the world isn't going to save a dull presentation. Sure, a fog machine on stage is cool, but if you're spending budget on the bells and whistles instead of actual engagement, your event is going to suffer. Money wasted? Check.
2. Don't add elements of interaction.You can have the slickest presentation in the world, but even the best presentation...backed by another great presentation...backed by another great presentation...won't stick. The brain simply cannot process the barrage of information. The audience needs to review, reflect, re-apply, and engage with the content. The need is not flexible; it's the limitation of the human brain, not a whim or a desire to be entertained.
We've had clients spend several hundred thousand dollars on an event and then veto an interactive game show that is a fraction of the cost--but would save their event from being a one-way content dump.
Interaction at an event--during the event...DURING the presentations--is not an option. It's a necessity. If the content isn't going to stick, there's no point to presenting it. Not adding in discussion, competition, game elements, etc., means wasting your money having an event at all.
3. Pack the agenda really tightly to get everything in.There are natural constraints at play in determining the length of an event. 3 days of hotel room, banquet, meal, and airfare costs might be within budget while 4 days are out of the question. One might be tempted to have a shorter event with the same amount of content--but this is a mistake.
Which is not to say that the event should be extended; rather an effort should be made to pare down the content so that 4 days worth isn't squeezed into a 3 day package. In the last point, we mentioned how interaction shouldn't and couldn't be sacrificed. The same is true for the downtime the interaction provides. Having, for example, 10 presentations back-to-back-to-back instead of, say, 7 with time for reflection doesn't mean that more content is being covered. It just means that more content is being presented.
Packing the agenda tightly to get everything in results in LESS engagement and retention than if the audience members were given time to breathe. Instead of getting 4 days of content in 3 days, the audience retains maybe a day of content in as much time.
4. Cut the team building.Some team building is superfluous. We're never going to recommend a half-day on the golf course as a way to build team morale. (We don't have anything against golf, but it's not effective team building on its own, and it is a huge expense for little value.) However, one of the most compelling reasons to have an event is to invest in the strength of your team through networking and team building.
This may be a bit of a cheat in this post; team building and interaction often overlap. One of the best ways to add value to an event and boost content retention is to incorporate interactive team building throughout the entire session. Weaving team building in between presentations and workshops not only strengthens content retention, but increases the number of meaningful interactions between team members.
Or you can eschew this value entirely and skip the team building--having your audience stare at a screen for 8 hours a day and not have positive contact with each other that will last far beyond the event. Your choice!
5. Create the event in a vacuum.Why bother to figure out what the audience really wants or likes when planning an event? Because if you don't, you have a static event that loses value quickly.
Thoughtful event surveys (that are crafted to provide "meatier" feedback than "we didn't like the buffet choices on Thursday") post-event are a good starting point to creating a dynamic event. Pre-event surveys asking which content is most relevant for attendees are also a great tool. But don't just take survey results and file them away--change the event based on the survey (within reason--if ONE person doesn't like an element and everyone else does, take that feedback with the statistical significance it possesses).
Creating a dynamic event also happens AT the event. Allow attendees to give real-time feedback on the trajectory of presentations (on a small or large scale) and if it becomes apparent that something needs to be addressed or covered in greater depth--do it. Refusing to change course when needed may mean less work in the short-term at the event, but can have long-term consequences. Just ask the Titanic.