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Engaged Audiences: 5 Considerations When Planning A Meeting Or Event

A buddy of mine once described a tradeshow environment as “a total assault on the senses”. Though he said it kiddingly, it actually made a lot of sense to me when I thought about it later.

Consider when you enter a convention hall, the lighting is crisp and bright to the eye. Colors pop and every little detail comes into keen focus. There’s a curious sort of ear-tickling symphony of video playback, live performers, attendees chatting, background music, and the occasional sound effect. The alluring smell of popcorn or coffee or the aroma coming from a live cooking demo finds your nostrils. Food or beverage product samples are available for tasting … and the basic, human, tactile urge to reach out and feel textures for a more dimensional understanding is stimulated. There’s an unmistakable energy and vibe in the hall, especially in the early hours when everything is fresh and new.

The great news is all five senses – sight, smell, hearing, taste and touch — are engaged at once. The not-so-great news is … all five senses are engaged at once. Our brains can take just so much stimulation before engagement devolves into one big, blinding, cacophonous, belly-achin’ splat. The brain craves new and refreshing experiences but, like all things, in moderation, please.

Obviously, the goal is to lure, connect and resonate with targeted parties but the sheer “circus-ness” of it all can quickly become overwhelming and counter-productive. But there are good lessons to be learned when it comes to engaging audience and attendees in a meaningful manner. (Goodness knows, the search for the next cool, alluring “something” is a never-ending deal.) So, what can we do to foster more authentic connections?

Plenty, actually.

Here are five things you might want to consider when planning your next great blockbuster program that engages your audience/attendees in an evocative, authentic way that will make them better at what they do, how they collaborate, and positively impact your company’s bottom-line. (The last one is a little lagniappe that might just make you the coolest kid on your block.)

Unleash your crazy!

We all own a little crazy. (Yeah, you do.) Put it to good use.

Bring together a handful of people from different levels of your organization with varying titles (and more importantly, varying perspectives and backgrounds). Bring in the warehouse guy, the receptionist, the IT dude, the HR lady, and that eager, 21-year-old summer intern who looks to be making a beeline for a successful career. Sprinkle in an outsider (non-employee) or two. You never know where, or from whom, the next epic idea will come.

Gather all for an equal-footing, no-holds-barred, Texas cage match of a brainstorming session where no idea is too wacky. The more abstract and maybe even absurd, the better. Something will come from it. Capture it all on a whiteboard or assign a cyber-scribe to take notes.

It’s amazing how often someone will, tongue-in-cheek, suggest doing something completely outlandish and get a round of laughs … then someone else says, “Well, we can’t realistically do that but what if we …” and that’s where crazy morphs into magic. Who would’ve thought The Coca-Cola Company would ever use the disastrous 1985 New Coke flop as a 2019 co-promotion with Netflix to hype the upcoming season of Stranger Things? (Just goes to show time does, indeed, heal all wounds.)

The seed of many a brilliant idea has been sown with an initial wackadoodle thought. Declare your brainstorming session a “safe zone” and encourage people to leverage their crazy factor … then build the do-able result into your program. I guarantee you it will be something new, novel and refreshing.

Make a good case for a good cause

Align your company and/or your brand with a worthy cause; be it an organization like Hands on Atlanta or a pet rescue league or something else that benefits society. Doing so will positively

impact your company, your brand, your attendees (basically your entire enterprise) and your community.

Build in a service component while you’re onsite or invite someone from your chosen cause to speak to your group and make interesting correlations between what they do and what you do. Invite a chef to come speak about teamwork amid deadline pressure in the presence of high expectations and high quality standards then go to a local culinary academy and put these learnings to work in a team-based competition. Or find a thought-leader completely unrelated to your industry who can help your group expand their minds.

Keep tech in check!

No question technology has made our home and biz lives easier in myriad ways. But like too many helpings of chocolate mousse, it can leave you feeling … ugh.  Long before smart devices, digital wizardry and cool stuff like 5G, there were just … humans sharing with humans. Mostly in the form of stories.

So, along with that paleo diet you’ve been following, take a second tip from cavemen and bust out a paleo approach to audience involvement. One thing that will never grow old or obsolete is human connection. People need people. And more importantly, people need people to share info with them and to teach them how to do stuff, especially hands-on. Find ways to build good ol’ fashioned human interaction and two-way learning into your program design.

And when was the last time you ditched the evening cocktail gathering and replaced it with a series of business discussions around good ol’ fashioned campfires (loin cloths allowable)?

“Off with their (talking) heads!”

You already know this so why haven’t you done something about it? Seriously, how many more yawns or drooping eyelids do you need to see before totally accepting the fact that talking heads are the bane of any meeting or event attendee’s existence?

Yes, we need speakers. Yes, there’s important info to be imparted. But (not so) News Flash: Folks can take just so much before zoning out, no matter how compelling the content. (Hence, TED Talks’ 17-minute formula for presentations.)

Take a look at that agenda you quickly slammed together in order to gain budget approval for your program. Look at it closely. Examine the various time blocks and space assignments … then turn them on their ear.

Take the planned 90-minute Opening General Session and chunk it into a few minutes of welcome remarks (or open with some form of live performance or experience that violates expectations), testimonial presentations, panels, role-playing, etc. Have speakers tag-team or co-op short presentations. Call “timeout” every 10 minutes or so to do an audience temperature-check, utilizing cell or audience response technology.

Show a 90-minute General Session on the agenda then drop a surprise Plan B on them midway through and assign a problem-packed, team-based business simulation (with props, background info, expectations and a pressing deadline). Break the audience up into teams or 4-6 people and let them unleash their creative problem-solving skills and knowledge while under the clock and under the gun. Then have each group do three-minute “report backs” and share the nine ways that you can skin a cat. Generally speaking, creativity spikes when the clock is ticking and the bar has been set high.

And now for that “little something extra” I promised you earlier …

Picture-perfect cocktails

OK, y’all, this is cool.

A company out of Winston-Salem, NC called KakeWalk ( offers a product called Top Melts, a circle made out of edible paper and ink– yes, you read that correctly — that you can use as a surprise garnish on cocktails at your next evening gathering.

Top Melts are placed on top of the libation before serving and the paper begins melting very quickly while the ink-based image stays on top of the beverage. You can choose from their existing library of imagery or have your branding or meeting event theme graphic custom produced.

Each circle has 0 grams of total fat and no calories and is made with cornstarch, corn syrup, cellulose, oil, starch, vanilla, glycerin, citric acid, polysorbate, and artificial coloring. It has no taste or aftertaste, and it’s 100% vegan, gluten-free and Kosher, as well as fully compliant with FDA standards.


Kenneth Jones