You are at a conference, and with a big smile the moderator says: ”I would like you all to stand up!”
What is your gut reaction? If you’re thinking: OH NOOOOO!!! then you are reacting like most people do. Instantly you get worried about what you will be asked to do. Will it be awkward? Will I look stupid? Will I be asked to talk in front of lots of people? Will it make me break a sweat? Don’t forget this the next time you should think up a way to engage your audience at your next large meeting.
The secret here is to provide participatory activities that always have a professional focal point – and are fun at the same time. Avoid silly program elements that only serve as an entertaining intermezzo between boring sessions. The more participatory activities are related to the theme of the meeting, the more participants will perceive them as meaningful and relevant – and the more motivated they will be to participate.
The common thread
Another meaningful thing you want is to provide equal amounts of learning and laughter to your audience. For example, hosting a highly professional but incredibly dull speaker followed by a standup comedian wouldn’t be the best idea – the common thread of your meeting’s theme will be hard to find. Instead, choose a speaker with a solid academic background, one who can really get his point across, or a quirky speaker who can say something about the meeting’s theme from a completely different perspective.
If you want your participants to perceive something as meaningful, then you must give them something authentic. Let’s put it in this way: if you ask your audience to give their input on something, you should actually use it afterwards – that’s the only way they’ll feel like they’ve made a difference.
So, not too heavy, not too cheesy and not entirely meaningless. Once you come up with activities that make sense to your participants, they won’t hesitate to engage.