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Do you hear the noise?

When I look around me, I feel like the world is screaming for more interaction and dialogue in events.  I want to help. So, I created this blog to start the discussion for using technology to create dialogue in events.


Here are some trends that have shaped some of my thinking:

  1. The knowledge gap between the audience and the experts on stage is shrinking. Today’s delegates are more likely to have access to the same tools and information resources as the experts than 5 or 10 years ago.
  2. The scientists have proven that lecturing is an inefficient delivery system for learning. Lecturing persists because it is an efficient way to deliver content to large groups.
  3. Equally important, scientists have proven that passive listening (sitting in a chair twiddling your thumbs) yields less learning and retention than active listening (answering questions, participating in activities, etc).
  4. Research exists in academia proving that audience response keypads and the backchannel (think: twitter) improve learning. 
  5. The technology tools exist today to engage the audience in either structured or unstructured dialogue. 


When events bring together 100, 300, 500 or 2000 of our best customers, employees or association members, I see it is a perfect opportunity to tap into the ideas, expertise and opinions of the many and build a powerful community. Don’t you?


500 Brilliant Minds

Think about your delegates as 500 Brilliant Minds that are ready to share, collaborate and build something special.


This is no easy task for events.  As the groups get larger and larger, it becomes more difficult to organize interaction and dialogue among the participants.  So, as the groups get larger we need to use different approaches for creating and managing communication with these groups.  


Today’s meeting technology tools have the power to connect audiences and engage them in structured and unstructured dialogue. However, these tools are not like the magic beans from the children’s book “Jack in the Beanstalk.” You cannot just plant them in your event and Voila! — interaction happens!  You need to think through objectives, outcomes, processes and obstacles in your planning and design stages to make these technology tools effective.


This is the challenge that we face. The tech tools exist, but we need to discuss how to evolve our planning and design processes to effectively incorporate them. 


That’s how I see it. How do you see it? What else did I miss (or forget)? Do you hear the noise? Should we have a healthy debate?  Do events need more interaction? or is it just me?


What can you do?

I need you to join the conversation. Share your feedback and experiences, challenge my points of view and offer new insights. The goal here is to get as many people as possible commenting – positive and negative – so that people considering these technology tools for their events can benefit from your insights.  I believe that together – we can create better ideas and solutions for how to use technology to create interaction at events.



17 Comments Post a comment
  1. Samuel, great topic. I used to be a huge fan of audience response systems (ARS). Over the past year or so though, I’ve started to change my thinking. As both a speaker and a participant, I’ve found that most of the questions asked didn’t deliver surprising or thought provoking results.

    For audience response, most speakers drill participants with demographic questions to start and follow that up with lagging trend questions. For ARS to be effective, we could really use some best practices on question design that get people to jump up and say “no way” or “wow”.

    For me, I prefer engaging the audience in dialogue or even getting a show of hands. With that said, I’m very high on solutions (texting or twitter) that allow participants to ask questions or share thoughts anonymously and in real time. Open ended feedback seems to improve the learning more than close ended ARS.

    Looking forward to hearing the opinion of others.

    Dave Lutz
    Velvet Chainsaw Consulting

    July 15, 2009
    • Dave,

      Thanks for stopping by and sharing your input! You dropped about 3-4 ideas for future blog posts and discussion ideas. Sweet!

      Question design: I agree with you about the need for best practices for question design. A future blog post on question design strategies is probably in order and would make a good discussion. IMO, the resulting question strategies need to be simple and actionable so it can be shared with meeting planners and speakers — since they are usually responsible for implementing this content.

      Speaker Q&A and Open-feedback is another great topic. I would hope that we could get some ideas and opinions from others about designing sessions to include these tools.

      Thanks for commenting! I look forward to hearing more of what you have to say.


      July 15, 2009
    • Hi there Dave:

      Blaming the technology (ARS) for the reason speaker’s don’t get good information is like blaming McDonald’s for why people are fat.

      To your point, it’s not the tools, it’s the design of the questions that matter.

      Getting the information needed to engage, evoke, elicit, excite, etc… is the job of the questioner, not the tool used to give the response.

      July 15, 2009
  2. It is fantastic to see someone putting some scientific rigor behind the concept of meeting improvement.

    “500 Brilliant Minds” is somewhat catchy. Could be a title for a book! 🙂

    I completely agree with your assertion that technology is not THE answer. We are lucky that we live in a time when technology provides so many tools which can be utilized. We need to understand what audiences want to get out of meetings and work towards that.

    IT developers are used to the triangle of People, Process, and Technology in order to accomplish a business goal. Meeting Planners should approach a meeting in the same way.

    Looking forward to great posts. Keep ’em coming.


    July 15, 2009
    • Thanks for stopping by Swan. I appreciate your comments!

      I think that IT developer triangle is a good comparison. The successful implementation of technology in events is relys on all three legs of this triangle. Could that be a blog post? Could be – I will have to think about it some more.

      Thanks again for your commments! i look forward to hearing more of your ideas.

      – Sam

      July 15, 2009
    • People, Process, and Technology?

      Likely, we need to focus on better, faster and cheaper, yes?

      July 15, 2009
  3. Great insights Samuel,

    from day 1 at writing on events I suggested a cohesive approach for event professionals. I feel we are definitely getting there few years after although we need an even more united approach to learning.

    It’s time to build shared knowledge for the industry and find new ways to integrating online and offline.

    Let’s make it happen

    July 15, 2009
    • Julius-

      Integrating online and offline is another great idea. Sounds like I have to add this to my blog post list, too!

      Just for clarification, when you say online and offline – do you mean:

      (1) integrating the experience between the virtual people and the f2f people OR
      (2) creating a more seemless experience between the online and offline experiences
      (3) All of the above?

      Regardless, I think that both are worthy of some additional thought and discussions.

      Great Ideas! Thanks again for your input!

      – Sam

      July 15, 2009
      • What I usually refer to when talking about integration is:

        – Augmenting the f2f experience with online activities, thus stretching the event span to a much wider timeframe.


        – implementing offline schemes for whatever online social networking activity or virtual event is out there.

        Hope that makes sense

        July 16, 2009
  4. beevents #

    Completely Agree Sir! You are speaking to the crowd. I do fully believe we are on the break of a change in how we plan F2F events in a good way.

    Often is it assumed that Price dictates Virtual Meetings are of better value. But, in my opinion, this is shortsighted, because we are not/should not be talking about doing what we do F2F online, nor should we be talking about just placing technology in amongst the crowd at F2F. Regardless of the abilities of technology, I firmly believe that the power of people meeting will always be stronger for some tangible or intangible reason F2F. Harnessing that power is the task. That is not to say that Virtual Meetings and Tech Solution don’t have their place – they are important, but integrated as part of the overall event strategy.

    And that is the answer: Strategy. Why are you doing your events? Who are talking to through these events? And what are you trying to say (or not say) through them? Using a framework, engaging creativity in the delivery and understanding the overall objectives of the organization or brand is the key to delivering great events F2F or through technology. And Conversation among all Event Professionals is key to this change of thought and practice. Thanks for staring the conversation.

    Now here is my question: While I agree wholeheartedly that passive listening, particularly to expert-based lecturing (using *YIKES* PowerPoint!) is ineffective generally, and that people who engage in writing or interacting improve learning (Fascinating research on how people who doodle retain information) the problem with phones, PDAs, (and in personal experience, virtual meetings) is the distraction of its multitasking capabilities. Is it really better to have two people in the audience of a general session answering personal emails or doing non-event related work? Does that actually help retain information? How as an event professional do you frame and build SM content to engage the audience in the conversation in the room and with one another?

    July 15, 2009
    • Hi Beevents,

      Thanks for sharing your comments, ideas and questions. These are great ideas and potential blog topics. These are all things that we will discuss in the coming days, weeks and months on this blog.

      Your question about the guy who loses interest in the session and starts checking his email is an important one. I want to give you a quick answer now:

      Regardless of the speaker, content and format of the event – there will always be people that mentally checkout of the event. Sometimes the reasons are legitimate – other times they are not. You shouldn’t let the one or two people that disengage in the discussion block the decision to use mobile technology or social media for the entire group.

      IMO, here are some legitimate reasons that a person would check email or SMS text during an event:
      Expecting a big contract from a new client.
      Addressing a customer service concern.
      Answering a quick question for a colleague.
      Resolving an emergency childcare issue that popped up.

      I love the energy and enthusiasm! I will make sure that we address your questions!!

      thanks again!!

      – Sam

      July 15, 2009
      • beevents #

        Thanks Sam for the reply. Absolutely there are legitimate reasons why folks check out and I was not meaning that that would be a reason not to use Social Media in a session/at an event. My example may have been mis-typed! What I was chasing was an idea of how splendid it would be to unite the “tribe” in the room rather than having individuals interacting with their own tribes in solo. Not that you don’t want diversification of ideas and that kind of viral growth to the commentaries, nor am I asking individuals to not communicate with those tribes – but I would love to see Social Media at events become increasingly SOCIAL – meaning a support and facilitator of the dialogue in the room. (In addition to those checked out folks and the realities of how people really are.)

        July 20, 2009
  5. James:

    So right . . . you’ve managed to pull together so much of what everyone is saying and what seems to be the central confusion regarding social networking; how to pull it all together?

    For some time, we have had a conversation about the onsite experience, and the value of tools for Tapping Into the Secret Conversation At Your Event.

    I’m looking forward to following this blog because as we all agree, it’s not about the technology. Instead, events should be about the ideas that come out of all the data and the relationships that can be created and improved because of participating in a face-to-face environment.

    July 15, 2009
    • Hi Brian,

      Thanks for commenting. It sounds like we both are hearing the same messages.

      As the conversation evolves, I look forward to reading your comments and insights.

      – Sam

      July 16, 2009
  6. alliancetech #


    Great post. Happy to see strategic thinkers in the industry sharing ideas/info via this and other blogs.

    I completely agree that you can’t throw ARS out there and expect it to make presentations dynamic. I’ve seen ARS used very effectively to engage the audience but more often than not it’s used poorly. If the ARS tool is used to simply poll the audience and not to direct the speaker’s presentation, the audience quickly becomes bored with the excercise. Question design makes all the difference, and I look forward to your upcoming posts on that issue.

    On another topic, event technology has the potential not only of making presentations more engaging but also of automating tasks so that the event managers and his/her team can eliminate many manual aspects of events and focus on what’s truly strategic. For example, an electronic survey solution can release the team from the task of distributing and collecting paper surveys and instead concentrate on analyzing attendance and/or booth visit results, and making any necessary changes to enhance the value of the event.

    Thanks for starting this conversation.


    July 17, 2009

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. The tipping point for events planning « eventastic
  2. Do You Hear the Noise? One Year Later « Interactive Meeting Technology

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