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How to Set the Interaction Dial

Endless PowerPoint presentations and stale ham sandwiches have been making attendees comatose at meetings and events for decades now. While many event organizers recognize the need for more interaction, few know where to start.

Most leap for technology tools and new formats.

By immediately starting with technology solutions, you risk over-engineering OR under-engineering your interactive experiences.

Ask The Key Question

In my opinion, there is a better way. I prefer to start with this seemingly simple question: What are attendees supposed to do as a result of this interaction (or session)?

Here are some possible responses:

  • Stay awake & not fall asleep
  • Stop playing with their mobile gadgets
  • Ask questions
  • Answer a question
  • Give their opinion
  • Learn a new skill
  • Embrace the organizational change
  • Feel better
  • Accept an invitation to meet a sales rep
  • Reinforce product benefits
  • Experience the brand
  • Find 5 new association members
  • Purchase your products
  • Go change the world
  • Tell 47 people that your company rocks!
  • Create 25 new ideas
  • Be a part of the grass roots effort to ______
  • Change their way that they work

Set the Interaction Dial

I view answering the question above as setting the interaction dial, because it sets a target for your interactive experience. Also, interactions have different intensity levels. Some interactive solutions are really simple (like having attendees ask questions). While others are complex  (like brainstorming with 500 people) and require additional planning, design, session time and sophisticated tech tools. By setting the target – you make it easier to match the interactive experience to your desired outcome.

After you set the interaction dial, don’t be shy. Get your stakeholders involved in creating a solution. Ask the speakers, facilitators, meeting designers, A/V team and technology services providers to help you. These are smart people. Don’t be afraid to use them.

Bottom Line

When you are planning interactions – start by thinking through the action that you want attendees to take afterward. Then, work on matching the right processes, event formats and interactive technology to your objective.

Where will you set the interaction dial?

3 Comments Post a comment
  1. Sam:

    You’re speaking my language here! Right on the mark too.

    I take the same question in a different direction: “What 1 to 3 things do I want people to remember from the presentation?”

    Then I build the Learner Objectives using Bloom’s Taxonomy with this question: “After attending this session, the learner will be able to…” What is it the learner can really do after attending that presentation? Next step is I look at Bloom’s and ask myself, does the attendee need to know, comprehend, apply, analyze, synthesize or evaluate the main takeaways.

    Once I decide that, I proceed to find quantifiable action verbs for the learner objectives. Someone attending a 60-minute presentation can’t walk out with improved sales techniques for example. But they can walk out from the session with a list of ways to improve their sales techniques. This is where many meeting professionals get it wrong and try to use marketing hype, “Improve your sales, take my course” as an example. When I choose my LO action verbs, I look at my interaction dial and decide the level of engagement by the attendee.

    When you look at an overall event or conference experience, you design a lot of different interactions and try to help people proceed from the basic to the higher levels of Blooms Taxonomy. Add attendee interaction and you’ve created a successful engagement model.

    Well, I probably lost a lot of meeting professionals with my education design thoughts here. 🙂 Thanks for the post.

    November 20, 2009
  2. Thanks for getting to the meat, Sam. Your posts always get right to the heart of an issue in a short time. I think with all of the technological options out there these days, it’s easy to lose site of the forest for the trees. A great way to stay within a budget is to just go back and reassess your goals. There are lots of non-technological ways to achieve a desired outcome for an event. But first we have to get out of our “business as usual” mentality. Just because no one’s ever done it, doesn’t mean it can’t be done.

    November 20, 2009
  3. @jeffhurt – Thanks for bringing in the educational design perspective to this discussion. I think it is really important to look at the solutions from a variety of perspectives and Bloom’s is a great tool to use.

    (note to other readers: If you don’t know Bloom’s taxonomy google it.)

    I am really happy that you wrote “When you look at an overall event or conference experience, you design a lot of different interactions and try to help people proceed from the basic to the higher levels of Blooms Taxonomy. Add attendee interaction and you’ve created a successful engagement model.”

    To me the attendee’ experience is the sum of all of the interactions and experiences at an event. AND, I believe that event organizers engineer all (or most) of these experiences and interaction opportunities – knowingly and unknowingly. I think that gets lost sometimes.

    Jeff, thanks again for your contribution! Always appreciated!

    – Sam


    @Jenice – Thanks for the nice compliment! I appreciate it!

    I think that you hit it right on the head. We need to first get out of our “business as usual” mentality. That is the real problem here isn’t it? In some cases using an unconference format or the fishbowl technique would be a perfect solution. I don’t see the business as usual crowd – using those formats either.

    In my opinion the promise of interactive meeting technology is in its ability to bring together people that couldn’t be or wouldn’t be brought together otherwise at the event. This could be for networking, exchanging ideas, etc… But, it doesn’t have to be done with technology – there are so many wonderful interaction ideas out there.

    Thanks for your comment!

    – Sam

    November 21, 2009

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