Leading Meeting Professionals

Professional Convention Management Association

June 2013

'The Audience Was Now in the Driving Seat'

By the Editors of Convene

In this excerpt from their recently published book Into the Heart of Meetings: Basic Principles of Meeting Design, Netherlands-based authors Eric de Groot and Mike van der Vijver describe the elegant solution they came up with for presenting a multicultural series of presentations in a short time frame without overloading attendees.

We want the people who come to the conference to tell each other about the projects on school improvement they have done. And we want these stories to be attractive for everybody.” That was in summary the brief we received from one of our clients, who was thinking of “perhaps a fair with stands of some kind, or a series of short presentations. The time slot is about two hours.”

Hmmm. A fair or a series of short presentations. Let's see.

The countries of origin of these projects were wildly diverse — from Belarus and Egypt to Turkmenistan and Denmark. If we let participants decide for themselves how to deal with their presentations, these would become equally diverse. Simply from the point of view of length, for instance. This could cause problems if the event was organized as a kind of fair. Likely as not the Nordic representatives would release the group in their stand after maybe five minutes, while people who first went to the stand with the Egyptian project might spend half of the available time there.

We designed a format in which we asked the project representatives to focus on the single-most important success factor of their project and to take along an object that symbolized this success factor. Participants would take a guided tour and visit a series of “micro-stands.” The micro-stands displayed these symbols of success in an attractive way, and people standing around could all get a good view of it. The project representative would explain the meaning of the symbol in about two minutes, after which those attending the presentation had 10 minutes to ask questions. And then on to the next micro-stand, with the same format.

It was immediately obvious — and little knowledge about cultures was needed — that with this diversity of presenters, not “guiding” the presentations was a road straight to the edge of a cliff.... At the same time, simply asking people to present the entire project in five or even 10 minutes was almost an insult. And so we ... narrowed down the possibility for input about the projects to the one most important characteristic, relieving the presenters of the burden of giving their audience a huge stack of information (with the consequent risk of information overload). Instead, the audience was now in the driving seat, asking questions that provided information relevant to them. The presenters were given the opportunity to show pride in their projects and the audience could ask for further insights — whether positive or negative.

Excerpted with permission from Into the Heart of Meetings: Basic Principles of Meeting Design, © 2013 by Eric de Groot and Mike van der Vijver. Published by MindMeeting BV.

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