Engage your audience at your next event


Chris Elmitt, MD of Crystal Interactive and author and expert in engagement, Scott Gould gave an enlightening presentation at last week’s International Confex, uncovering the secrets behind true audience engagement.

For those who didn’t make it through the snow or would like a reminder of the great advice Chris and Scott shared we’ve summarised the top 5 considerations from the session below. 

1. What is engagement?

Scott defined engagement as ‘the active alignment between two parties’.  He explained, people are like magnets, we are drawn to each other, we want to connect and engage, but sometimes our connection is blocked by a number of resistors.  He talked the audience through his Scatter, Gather, Matter model which explains the 3 stages of engagement and how we can overcome these resistors.

Debbie Roberts from Engage Visually captured Scott’s model on the sketch note below, which details the 3 stages of engagement:

Picture caption: Debbie Roberts of Engage Visually has summarised the session in one of her awesome sketch notes that she was creating throughout the two-day exhibition. 

Scatter – engagement as expression

Scott explained scattering is about putting things ‘out there’, much like a farmer would scatter seed.  It is an invitation to participate.  Scott advised the audience to spread their message widely and to scatter liberally, as you never know which seeds will return the most value. Make your message spreadable, and push it places where it is likely to be spread.

Gather – engagement as experience

Scott continued with the farming metaphor and explained after we’ve scattered, we need to gather the harvest in and focus on those who want to engage.  This is where people engage for a gathering experience, organisations bring together a likeminded audience and deliver a powerful moment, a memorable experience.  When we share in something we become more attached to it through our participation, and therefore more engaged.

But don’t stop there, FOLLOW IT UP, this leads us to the third stage.

Matter – engagement as enablement

Create ongoing value from the gathering interaction, don’t let your audience forget about the gathering experience, reconnect with them and nurture the relationship and look for on-going opportunities to reconnect.  

2. Participation and engagement – two very different things

Chris explained how buzzwords such as participation and engagement are used interchangeably in our industry, but do we really know what we mean and the difference between them?  At many events, audience engagement technology is used for live polls and Q&A and the audience takes part in the poll or sends in a question: this is participation, and is valuable, but to truly engage we need to go further – something has to change in someone’s beliefs or relationship as a result of the participation. Only then do we achieve the “matter” in Scott’s model. 

3. In the world of events whose job is engagement?

Is it the meeting owner, the agency, the speaker, the event manager or the software vendor who is responsible for audience engagement?  Chris believes to get the highest levels of engagement we need the meeting owner to desire engagement from the outset.  With the ambition to engage set by the meeting owner, the wider team can then create all three stages of engagement and to ensure the event format is aligned for engagement. 

4. Can technology tell us if engagement is happening in events?

Focusing on event apps, Chris explained how event planners can measure if engagement has happened at their events, via the data collected through their event app.  Take a look at the slide below and consider these questions for your next event.

5. Catch the speaker before they create their presentation

While the meeting owner sets the ambition for engagement, it’s very often down to the speakers to deliver it. But how many speakers stop to think: “what is the connection I want to make with my audience, and how will we both be changed by the engagement we achieve?” Many go straight to PowerPoint and start building slides. As the meeting organiser, you have to choose the best time to approach them to ensure they think deeply about engagement – and the best time is during their idea development phase, not after they have prepared their content and slides. 

Allow them some thinking time and then approach them and define what audience engagement you want and remind them of your event objectives, that way you can work together to ensure you realise the power of your audience.  If you are using event technology, explain the benefits and why it’s being used to get your speaker onboard. Event technology, when deployed correctly, will deliver a higher level of engagement. 

In summary…

  • To summarise, spread your message widely, focus on those that want to engage and create events to gather likeminded individuals. 
  • Create memorable experiences through events that have been designed to enable engagement from the outset. 
  • Catch your speaker before they prepare their presentation and share your desire for maximum engagement.
  • Don’t forget to nurture the relationships you have built after the event and continue the cycle of engagement.





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