All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.
As Adrian Segar says in The Power of Participation, given everything we know about active learning—and everything today's attendees crave from a conference—it's "almost unethical" to focus on an event's stage, where speakers control the content.
But how do you shift attention from a handful to many players?
Do your homework. The whole of attendees' perspectives is greater than the sum of speakers' parts. So ask attendees through a pre-event survey what content matters most. And consider using professional telemarketers to conduct the survey. The findings will surprise you!
Demand more. Insist your emcee lets attendees know you expect participation and highlight the opportunities attendees have to participate throughout your event. You can technologize participation by adding a second-screen experience.
Offer carrots. Ignite your audience by building in rewards for participation. Chances to win gift cards and sponsors' swag will bring out attendees’ competitive urges.
Deliver an experience. Provide content in contexts that sensually engage attendees (brands do it all the time). Use A/V, lighting, decor, aromas, and professional talent to boost audience involvement.
Continue the conversation. Extend participation after your event through online forums, hangouts, and social media. Create post-event videos and e-books, send them to attendees, and solicit feedback.