“A single conversation across the table with a wise man is better than ten years’ mere study of books.” – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
When organisations seek to bring an audience together – whether across the business or externally by way of congresses, advisory board meetings, or partner collaborations – they often turn to engagement experts to help them achieve their objectives.
The question that I expect many people and organisations have, however, is just what is an engagement expert? The answer is complicated, since the role of an engagement expert is highly varied. However, a simple way to think about audience engagement is that it is about taking the time and effort to improve the experience of every participant and speaker in a meeting, in a way that makes those individuals feel that the meeting has added value.
In practice, the outcome will depend on whether you are viewing the meeting from the point of view of the delegates, the organising team or the presenter. To the delegate, engagement is a combination of entertain or engage me, tell me something I didn’t know, deliver material that will move me, stimulate me, challenge me or even confirm that my approach to something is right.
To the organising team, it is about people turning up, appearing to have a good time, providing positive feedback and actively engaging in the meeting. To the presenter, it is whether the audience seemed to be listening to their presentation, and not nodding off, leaving the meeting, spending time on their phone or otherwise appearing to be distracted. A good audience engagement expert understands these different needs and expectations.
You might want one because you are worried about creating something data rich or you are concerned your agenda might not excite your delegates. For example, a compliance workshop could potentially be a bit dry but it can be made engaging, if not necessarily entertaining – and let us be clear, engaging and entertaining are not the same thing.
You might want an engagement expert because you are suddenly confronted with a whole lot of new technology that you don’t know how to use. Or you may have a great technology platform that you have been using for some time but your speaker group has too many data-heavy slides and you need someone to coach them on how to make their presentations more engaging.
We will often sit in a rehearsal and listen to a presentation from someone in finance or procurement that is likely to leave their audience with number blindness. We will then offer suggestions on how to present the data in more interesting ways, such as highlighting the areas of focus or using boxes to break up content.
One of our roles when working with clients is to help them gauge the level of audience engagement, which is often very subtle. For example, during a discussion, members of the audience might lean forward or show they are interested through other physical cues. They might be trying to attract the facilitator’s attention in order to respond to a point by waving or raising their hand.
Even the level of energy in a room – both physical and virtual – can be indicative of audience engagement. A good engagement expert can help the meeting organiser or facilitator read these signs and respond to them to further elevate that level of engagement.
Audience engagement touches every button – from better outcomes, to better journeys for people, to better use of time. A good engagement expert strikes a balance that keeps everyone happy and engaged, so that the audience gets what they expected, the meeting goes as planned for the organisers and the result pleases, surprises or excites everyone involved.
Over the next three blogs, I will describe the services we offer, as engagement experts, to help our clients to deliver powerful, engaging, effective and insightful meetings. These will cover how to engage your audience during the meeting, how to ensure you are setting up, preparing and managing the meeting effectively, and how to gather insights about your audience and their expectations before, during and after your event.
As Lionel Richie put it, “Is It Me You’re Looking For?” We think that it is.
Leslie Robertson is the Founder of Open Audience, an audience engagement consultancy that specialises in making life sciences meetings more engaging with more positive, successful outcomes – whether in-person or in the virtual space. The Open Audience team helps to strategise and prepare pre- and post-meeting as well as providing real-time support and guidance during the meeting. Open Audience also offers customisable, multilingual engagement platforms that include interactive polling, surveys, and ideas exchange.