'Only Connect'

By Stevie Moore

My last blog encouraged storytelling over traditional content-dumping. Let’s go a step further. A story brings a strategy to life, but ‘telling’ isn’t enough. To connect, we need a dialogue.

To feel energised and engaged, any audience has to be heard as well as spoken to. More, they need to take part, rather than just receive. Interaction is fundamental if you want a message to stick.

Most of us know this. We nod wisely at the old saying: “Tell me and I shall forget, show me and I shall remember, involve me and I will understand.”

So why do organisations fail to reflect this in their conference and communications planning? I think the simple answer is that opening up a conversation and encouraging participation makes you feel vulnerable. Leaders want to stay in control. How can you be in control when you don’t know what people are going to do – or say?

Actually, it’s not hard. There are multiple ways to ask for input, then manage the response. You can ask for views and ideas before an event. Build in tweets, live chat and blogs, but ensure they are moderated and screened. The same goes for live audience voting. Encourage smartphone video contributions. Stage onsite interactions, debates and discussions. Introduce Apps which let delegates create their own itineraries, or explore content at a level that suits them. Trust your audience, or be brave enough to deal with honest feedback.

Each of these forms of engagement can be woven into a conference or meeting format – and each ensures the audience feel involved and recognised. Employing the right facilitator can make this work particularly well, with the MC acting as the voice of the audience – relating content to audience needs, interests and benefits. This is why a good facilitator is about so much more than energising the running order: he or she can change the tone and impact of the entire discussion.

Fostering connections with the audience does more than engage the individual. It means they share ownership of the ideas discussed – and as a consequence are much more likely to act on what they have heard.

In short, a little creativity can turn a one-way channel …

… into a far more productive two-way conversation.