How to capture and keep people’s attention

How to capture and keep people’s attention

Two plans of action and a few tricks.

Attention is a must to leave a mark
Every good planner works hours, days and months to organise a meeting that can leave its mark – that is, that achieves the client’s targets, influences the participant’s opinions and behaviours, and it’s long-lasting.

To accomplish all this, a 4-step plan is in order:
– arouse interest (in the topics, the speakers, the event itself, etc);
– capture and keep people’s attention on what’s happening at the meeting (information, activities, directions, training, etc);
– produce a positive and collective reaction (agreement, liking, sharing, etc);
– anchor the memory so that it lasts over time.

How to capture and keep people’s attention

In this article, we will deal with how to capture, keep and consolidate the participants’ attention.

Two plans of action
Many renowned planners and blogs agree on two basic plans of action to engage the audience. They can be summarised as follows:
– participants should arrive at the meeting already knowing the event’s main themes;
– the topics should be kept “hot” after the meeting.

Carrying them out is not hard. Here’s how.

1. Arriving at the meeting with previous knowledge
Having to give the “surprise effect” up seems weird, but it’s been proven that if guests already know something about a certain topic, they will engage more. Because they will feel involved, because they will want to hear if the ideas they have had are legit, because feeling knowledgeable and able to judge instead of stupid is rewarding.
In short, learning something when you already know in which “compartment” of your head you should place it, helps keeping the attention alive. ‘Already knowing something’ includes either the topics, the speakers, the scenario.

How to capture and keep people’s attention

How to do it? For instance:
– ask the speakers to give you a preview or an outline of their speech. It can be a video interview to post on the event website, promote on social media, include in the event app, or a simple post (to publish online), or a summary to include in the invitation;
– ask the speakers to write up a short bio to share with the participants. Knowing in advance who will speak at the event, what they do and have done in their lives, their reputation, is better than just seeing and listening to a stranger on stage;
– if it’s a vast topic, make a list (either in an article or in a video) of all the different opinions, the implications, the most frequent objections (the so-called scenario);
– post outlines of the speeches, abstracts, suggestions, “lessons to learn”, on social media;
– video record the company’s executives in a round table discussion.

2. Keep the topics “hot”
Can people’s attention be kept even after the event? To some extent, yes, even if it’s a rather difficult strategy to implement, for the simple fact that, once the meeting is over, planners are too busy planning the next one and they don’t usually have time to dedicate to it anymore.

How to capture and keep people’s attention

However, you can:
– post a video recording of the main speeches on the event website, or (better yet) a live streaming recording on demand;
– start a discussion on Facebook or Linkedin;
– post the participants’ video-comments and invite others to reply;
– have a Q&A session with the speakers on FB;
– create a trivia game on the contents, and award prizes. This idea, which seems a little irreverent, is actually always successful (if the event’s theme allows it, of course). Remember to announce it during the meeting, so as to create interest.

A few tactical moves
Everyone knows that a planner’s main enemy is the compulsive syndrome of constantly having to fiddle with a smartphone. Winning against it can be difficult, but something can be done by:

a) using technology:
– use Augmented Reality (AR);
– create a channel to ask speakers questions in real time;
– give participants the possibility of commenting in real time;
– give the chance of rating the meeting, either on the event app or by televoting;

b) using paper:
– hand out the event’s abstract;
– create a small notebook with the outline of the different seminars and plenty of space for notes (this can also be done on the app);

c) using meeting design:
– arrange the hall with mixed solutions: one part with classic chairs, another with tables, armchairs or sofas, another one with high tables for those who would rather stand up;
– take a break every 10-15 minutes to encourage debates (3-5 minutes are enough), as it’s been proven that the audience’s attention span drops after a while;
–  switch the tone: take scheduled breaks by using a fake agitator, a gag, an audio interference, a slide that has nothing to do with the seminar’s topic, etc.
– if the program allows it, create two different versions of the same session: a “full” one of about 30 minutes, and a shorter, 15-minute-long one.

How to capture and keep people’s attention

A couple of tricks

Clearly, the best way to capture the public’s attention would be hiring a brilliant, fascinating, witty speaker. But do not give up without a fight – you can follow different paths.

– For instance, turn the speech of your shaky speaker into an interview (live or video)…but be careful, the interviewer shouldn’t steal the scene!
– Or suggest (tactfully) that the speaker does some training. Every planner should be in contact with experienced public speaking trainers, and choosing a good one for your event will make the speakers happy too: they will feel calmer.

How to capture and keep people’s attention
– Entrusting a professional or a motivational speaker with the event’s main speeches is another option, but be careful: you don’t want the whole thing to turn into mere entertainment, because it does not help increase people’s attention span.
– Finally, don’t be afraid to make people laugh a little bit, for example by using a hit song to make a video like this one. Maybe it won’t increase the audience’s attention span (by now, the event is over anyway!), but it will give everyone the impression of having witnessed an interesting and unique event.

How to capture and keep people’s attention

In conclusion
The audience’s attention span can be strengthened. It’s not an impossible mission, but it’s not an easy task either. It is, however, an important step if you want to plan an event that “leaves a mark”.

To sum up, this attention “problem” deserves all your attention. Good luck!