I believe that the key to better events is by communicating this message to the audience/attendees: you matter to the event.
It’s not just that you are the nameless crowd who will fill the seats and bring in the money and connections, but that each attendee has something to contribute to the event. This attitude can radically change the build of events. How can this message be delivered in a tangible way?
1. Panelists and speakers are made to hang out with the audience.
Coffee breaks should be organised in such a way that conversation can be facilitated between everyone. A way to do this is by dissolving hierarchies through the rest of the event. Which brings me to the next point.
2. We stop the practice of reserving the entire first row only for VIPs or speakers.
Many events continue the tradition of making the first-row off-limits to the attendees. On top of that, the first-row seats are often filled with extra goodies or some VIP sign differentiating it. And as I have noticed in most such events, 50% of the front-row people don’t even show up. Even if they do, they rarely stay for long. When pictures are taken of the event or videos are made to capture content, it’s unfortunate that the event looks like it’s missing important people who should have been there. Instead, redistribute speakers and attendees throughout the venue.
This encourages listeners to assume a more active role in the event and also feel more included. It also puts speakers among those they will be speaking to.
3. Normalise speakers staying for the whole event.
Often speakers just come to deliver their piece and skip out on the rest of the event. This creates a gap between what the audience/attendees are experiencing and what the speaker is experiencing. They are essentially not attending the same event even when they are physically at the same venue. It would be good to ask speakers to stay for the whole event and to do it during the contract signing, as early on as possible.
I remember a speaker at an event repeating a segment of information in his talk in an animated manner as if he were introducing the audience to something novel for the first time. Unfortunately, that same point had been made by another speaker earlier on in the event. If the speaker had been there, he would have heard it and been able to connect or refer to that point in the event. That would have created flow instead of segmenting the event into just talks with speakers and listeners but with an absence of synthesis.
4. Create opportunities for networking.
As an emcee, I love and find what is happening on the stage to be the most important. However, I’m only one small element at an event. Personally, I have heard audience members talk about how they have loved making connections at events. Events that provide attendees the opportunities to connect with others professionally have a lasting impact. So, events that could facilitate professional matchmaking of sorts during coffee breaks would also move one step closer toward bridging the gap between speakers and attendees.
Instead of keeping speakers as the centre of the event, we have to move toward a more integrated approach where attendees are given their due consideration. It’s time to design events such that it becomes a way to let attendees know that they matter as much as the speakers.