It’s the opening morning of your big meeting. You went to bed at 1 a.m., were up at 5 and likely have three 18-hour days ahead. You’ve been preparing for months. You’re the epitome of wired-tired, but it’s worth it. The day is finally here.
If you’re strategic and focused on content and not just logistics, you’ve done your homework and are ready for the general session to start. The doors are open, the audience has been seated, and it’s all going fantastically. Then you tear your eyes away from the stage so you can look at the audience and see their attentive faces.
All you see is the top of heads. Attendees are on their phones, iPads and even laptops. They’re oblivious.
It’s enough to make you scream. The irony is hard to process. Why attend if you have no intention of listening? If the audience is internal (co-workers obligated to be there), why aren’t they interested enough in their company, futures and careers to take in what’s happening onstage?
Sometimes it’s the speakers’ fault. Content can be dull, production quality can be poor and presentations can be inappropriately long. That’s a different issue. In this scenario, the content, presenters and production are top notch. Attendees don’t know this because they aren’t paying attention. So, I repeat: Why are they plugging in to their gadgets and not your content?
The obvious answer: Because they can.
My company offers free Wi-Fi in public spaces but password-protects the Internet in meeting rooms. That doesn’t prevent people from checking their phones, but it’s a start. We have the emcee ask people to turn off their cellphones. Another baby step. We stop people from plugging their devices into wall outlets so some can’t log on because their batteries are dead. Again, small step.
The real solution has to come from the stage. An executive must tell the audience that until the next break, the general session is an electronics-free zone. I’ve had executives tell people that their phones or devices would be taken if they were seen using them. Then he followed through, which made all the difference. If the ultimatum is issued, it must be enforced. After the first cellphone was taken, no others were seen until break time. Problem solved.
The end result? People left understanding why they were asked to gather, understood what the goals, plans and challenges were for the year ahead and no one suffered any permanent personal or professional injury by being out of touch.
Want other ways to engage attendees? Email me for a tip sheet. Christy.firstname.lastname@example.org.