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Wakey! Wakey! How to stop your audience nodding off

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Our fundamental advice is: don’t talk at your delegates all day and kill them with PowerPoint slides. Include a variety of session formats and be sure to give your delegates many chances to take part, learn and network with each other. When it comes to chairing the event, here are some of our top pieces of unconventional wisdom:

Ice-breakers before introductions

To start with a bang, ice-breaking games belong at the very start. Don’t kick off your day introducing a subject or people because your audience may get bored. 

Avoid over-brainstorming

If you think brainstorming is the only way to get people to interact, think again! Brainstorming appeals mostly to creative types, but even they will get bored after too many sessions. Vary the programme to engage more types of people by introducing ‘activations’ like quizzes, simulations, group tasks and storytelling.

If someone is playing with their device

Fight the urge to tell them off; it will give everyone a bad feeling, as it implies a parent/child relationship between you and the audience. Instead, you could invite this person to contribute a particular point. Or, you could simply move towards the part of the room where this person is sitting and engage in an exchange with their neighbour. Your proximity, and the fact that others are looking in their direction, should be enough to stop the person in their tracks.

Avoid the monologue trap

If you find yourself saying things like “you all probably think that…” or “I’m sure that most of you will…” then you have fallen into the monologue trap. Instead of putting words into their mouths, invite audience members to tell you what they think.

Avoid Q&A at the end

Yes, really! Q&A sessions at the end of presentations can be a recipe for disaster. Either nobody asks a question, in which case you will finish on a flat note. Or someone may pose an awkward question, in which case you will also finish on a flat note. Some questions take you back to an earlier point and into a lot of detail, running you over schedule – flat note finish again! Instead, invite questions throughout your presentation so that discussions ensue and final queries come up naturally. You can then summarise the day’s proceedings on an upbeat note.

If you deliver a memorable, inspiring conference, your only problem might be a good one

People insist you hold them more regularly than you had originally planned. That’s when you can start to enlist the support of business partners to co-sponsor your events or you could consider charging delegates to attend, as we do with our Supply Chain Club.

So good luck with your conference and if you only take away one piece of advice from all this, just remember the golden rule: don’t be boring!

Hugh Williams is managing director of Hughenden Consulting

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