Pay Attention!

By Lain Ehmann

You can plan your heart out, devise a great agenda and pick the perfect venue, but if your attendees aren’t listening to the speakers, you might as well have saved your money. You might think there’s not much you can do to make your audience pay attention instead of playing with their BlackBerries and Palms, but that’s not true. The meeting organizer’s actions have a significant impact on the audience’s ability to listen, says Dr. Lyman (Manny) Steil, CSP, CPAE and president of International Listening Leadership Institute. He offers these tips.

Be thoughtful. “It really begins with the meeting planner thinking about the audience,” says Steil. He suggests stepping back to determine the objective of the meeting, who the audience members are and what their challenges are. Clarity on these basic issues will increase the likelihood that you’ll present a program worth listening to.

Think location, location, location. Some venues are more conducive to listening, while others offer more distractions (Las Vegas comes immediately to mind). If you’re getting your top managers together to put some serious thought into next year’s sales strategy, you’ll be better off gathering in a remote beach location than in downtown Manhattan.Avoid distractions. A wall of mirrors behind the podium is sure to pull eyes away from the speaker, as is a wall of windows looking out on the golf course’s ninth hole. A room that’s too hot or too cold also does not encourage concentration.

Make details count. Think about the room set-up to maximize attendees’ attention. Seemingly minor elements such as the A/V system’s volume and screen size also can affect audience members’ experience.

Play tricks. The back third of the room always fills up first, says Steil, as do the aisle seats. Think about under seating the room – setting up 80 seats for a group of 100, for example, and then bringing in the needed chairs at the last minute. Or set a premium on the front seats by offering a special reward to those who sit in the first row – a prime tee time, tickets to an event or a gift card.

Encourage a positive attitude. If you don’t generate excitement about the program or clarify the meeting’s objectives and outcomes beforehand, attendees won’t be eager to have a seat. The meeting is competing with the myriad items on attendees’ to-do lists. By letting participants know beforehand what is in it for them, you’ll encourage a positive attitude.

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