Some events today have innovative formats and strong audience participation. However many conferences still sport essentially the same format as ever, a series of people presenting on a stage in front of a passive audience. It needn’t be this way. Technology eenables us to re-conceive what a presentation is and can be.
I approach this idea as both a speaker and an event organizer. I have been a professional speaker for over 15 years, and have also organized many conferences and events, including our Future of Media Summits, the first cross-continental conferences ever held.
A recent article in Sydney Morning Herald on how the new app Zeetings helps “keep audiences awake” looks at Zeetings, “a presentation app that is both interactive and social, and promises to stop audiences slumbering in their chairs.”
The article describes the background of the app and goes on to quote me:
Ross Dawson, one of Australia’s most prolific presenters, said the advent of more social presentation tools was timely as people generally wanted more engagement.
“I tend to work in situations where the audience is knowledgable and insightful. This is not about a guru on stage but being able to tap the experience of the audience. You would be getting participation from the one person on the stage but with everyone engaging and contributing to the content,” he said.
These are hardly new opinions from me. An article in News.com.au in 2009 quoted me extensively on the future of events (the original story has been taken down but the quotes are still available online here):
“In a world of instant access to information and videos of the world’s best speakers, it makes no sense to sit in a darkened room and watch a series of talking heads all day,” says Mr Dawson.
“Usually the best ‘networking’ opportunities at traditional conferences are during coffee breaks, where you have to hope you’re standing next to someone interesting in the queue.”
“There are many forms of unconference, however the basic idea is that participants create the agenda on the day,” says Mr Dawson.
“This leads to highly interactive discussions, and the topics reflecting the interests of the people there.”
“Over the last year or two Australia has been catching up with some of the world’s most innovative event formats,” says Mr Dawson.
“Offering many opportunities for people to keep up to date on new trends and ideas, plus benefit from being able to connect with their peers. I believe and hope that traditional conference formats will struggle in coming years.”
“Traditional event formats are dry and stultifying. People like interacting and conversations. Unconferences create unparalleled opportunities to meet and engage with like-minded people.”
“In a world awash with information, it is critical to be exposed to many diverse perspectives and insights,” says Mr Dawson.
“A very few speakers and presentations merit 45 minutes. Most other ideas can be highly condensed with little loss, creating a far more dynamic and stimulating experience for the audience.”
“Online social networks now allow us to find and connect with people who share interests with us,” says Mr Dawson.
“Very importantly, they also make it easy to keep in touch and develop relationships that people we’ve met.
“Since networking is not about exchanging business cards but building relationships, online social networks are invaluable.”
Let’s hope that more event organizers use the fantastic new technologies that are available to create more engagement and more value for audiences. The future of events will be different and better, but it’s not happening fast enough, yet…