This is the Greatest Show!

Attendees today are looking for more than an informative event. In an age where you can learn almost anything via YouTube, why would you take time out of a busy schedule to attend an event in person? It's all about the experience of learning with others and connecting with new people. Fortunately, event producers do not have to resort to bringing in elephants and fire breathers a 'la PT Barnum, there are a number of ways to drive the interactivity of events.

Many times the biggest hurdle to making a show more interactive is not technology or process, but attitude. During the planning stages, there is frequently a push-back that, "our attendees won't like that." While it is important to know your audience, a look at some basic demographics shows that most attendees (especially those going to Government-focused events) will embrace the opportunity to participate in a more interactive event.

People who were educated in the U.S. over the past 25 years were most likely exposed to "team learning." They broke into groups, discussed findings, gave presentations, and often experienced a very democratic way of learning. In childhood, the cartoons people watched talked directly to them and asked for help in problem solving - Blues Clues or Dora the Explorer broke the fourth wall of theater asking children to help find the circle.

Going back to people who were educated 30-40 years ago, you find the Sesame Street generation. A group used to learning in small snippets. The only demographic that may be culturally adverse to interactivity are the early Boomers or members of the Silent Generation who believe in the knowledge of the leader.

So now that we've debunked the, "no one wants interaction" myth, how can events become more interactive?

People

Interactivity is first and foremost about getting people to work together and become part of the show. To meet the needs of diverse audiences, interactive sessions must take into account different learning styles -- visual, audio, physical, solitary, logical, social. This does not mean designing sessions for each style, rather it means incorporating these styles into each session. For example, a physical learner may need to doodle the concept to fully grasp it. They should be encouraged to do so without making "doodle your answer" a mandate for all.

The setting can also have a huge impact on how interactive people are. Instead of seating people at rounds of 12 in a ballroom - where they may have to yell to be heard across the table - consider setting up conversation areas with couches or high cocktail rounds for a more social feel.

Tap into attendees' desire to share and be heard. Integrate polling into your sessions to get real time feedback on what people are learning and what else they want to hear. Video interviews of attendees not only provide fodder for the event's social feed, but encourage people to share those videos and, by proxy, their experience at your event.

Games

We've written here before about incorporating gamification into events. Now that we are comfortable downloading and using mobile apps -- and those apps being easier to build -- creating a game experience is a reality for most events. Think of event gamification like a grocery loyalty program. At grocery stores people get more points for buying certain items, so they tend to buy those items more often. If you award points for things you want people to do (say visit exhibitor booths) you can drive desired behavior while making it fun for the attendee. Other game ideas include:

  • Use trivia to test attendees' knowledge of your product or service or get a pulse on what they are learning in sessions.
  • Run photo contests to encourage people to post their photos on social channels by awarding points to amplify the reach of your event.
  • Bingo boards can be digitized to make networking more fun and competitive.
  • Scavenger hunts can also get people mixing and mingling in ways that they may be outside of their comfort zone.

There's also an opportunity to step away from the screens and use old fashioned yard games or board games to get people interacting in new ways. Yard-sized Jenga blocks can be set up in the exhibit hall or in break areas. The shared goal of keeping a tower standing encourages a feeling of teamwork that could carry into educational workshops.

Technology

In addition to mobile apps there are a multitude of technology options that can build the interaction at an event. Apple TVs can be rented relatively inexpensively and can be useful for projecting images from a small device, such as from an app, onto a bigger screen so that more people can see how it operates. The newer models can also be voice operated via Siri, lending a high tech feel to a standard presentation. Video walls that highlight social media posts are also a great way to highlight the experiences that others are having at the show and allow attendees to see the event through other people's eyes.

Of course if you are employing all of these mobile device-centered activities you want to make sure to have plenty of charging stations. These kiosks provide a great new avenue for sponsorship, allowing companies to brand themselves as the savior of the low battery.

Let us know the best interactive ideas you've seen implemented at shows. Share your thoughts in the comments.

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