This is how we do it

A multigenerational event audience is challenging the way conferences are executed nowadays. In Asia, this is fuelling the rise of more interactive delivery styles to capture the crowd’s attention.

In many national and regional conferences in Asia, meeting organisers have recognised that attendees are demanding more interaction and engagement.

As such, this is changing the way conferences are executed, with many incorporating a meeting design that focuses on audience engagement, and sporting clear meeting objectives and desired outcomes.

Dee Dee Quah, director, Medical Conference Partners, explained: “The demographics of the audience are changing as young people enter the workforce and attend conferences. To engage with the younger audience, speakers have had to adapt and change their presentation style. Many organisers are moving away from having conferences wholly made up of traditional one-way lectures with limited time for Q&A at the end.”

Quah further explained that “activity-based learning such as workshops and masterclasses have become very popular”, as the audience – regardless of age – are more interested in learning from experiences as opposed to textbook reading. Another popular format is the inclusion of case studies in programmes.

“Speakers are also incorporating event technology apps such as Slido into the presentation to engage the audience during their presentation, and get live feedback,” revealed Quah.

Mona Abdul Manap, founder and CEO of Place Borneo and Place Business Events, concurred that event apps have become increasingly popular over the last few years.

She elaborated: “It is especially effective in multigenerational conferences, especially in Asia. Young people are usually fearful of asking the speaker or panellists questions using a microphone when there are more experienced audience members present. With Slido and other event apps, questions can be posed anonymously.”

Jay Ishak, event specialist, trainer and consultant at 6E-Events – a PCO-based in Kuala Lumpur that manages national and regional conferences – shared that her company places great emphasis on the delivery of content as that is the essence of any conference.

“We always advise our clients not to have any session beyond 30 minutes, unless the speakers and their topics are very interesting or in-demand. We are one of few PCOs who will run through speaker presentations prior to the event to make sure it is not off topic, and that it can be delivered within the allocated time,” Jay shared.

She added that 6E-Events will also run through the delivery styles with speakers, and advise them on various issues like how not to stereotype, projecting enthusiasm, and engaging the audience better with eye contact.

On how receptive her speakers have been to her suggestions, Jay related: “We have found that even experienced speakers are willing to adopt our suggestions and try something new which they had never done before. Ultimately, it is about ensuring that the audience benefits.”

Meanwhile for Mona, she finds it a challenge sometimes, when it comes to convincing clients to use a format that is more inclusive than a lecture, such as a fireside chat or fishbowl forum.

“But once we are able to convince them and the conference turns out to be a success, they are more receptive to try new meeting concepts we propose at future events,” she said.

Aside from meeting formats, Jay’s clients also look for ideas on how to help their audience make the most out of the networking opportunities.

“At any conference, there are experienced delegates in their areas of expertise, less experienced ones, newbies and perhaps even students in a particular field. Many young ambitious delegates want to build their networks, but not all may feel comfortable approaching someone whom they regard as a key opinion leader in their field of expertise or senior individuals. This is a cultural thing, especially in Asia.”

To get over this hurdle, Jay incorporates ice breakers and friendly contests early on in the programme or during networking sessions.

Roy Sheppard, specialist conference moderator, concluded: “Good conferences are those where the speakers and organisers know how to manage the interest, energy and engagement of everyone in the audience. Adult learning is most effective when there are elements of fun as part of the meeting design and this helps to engage the audience, which in turn increases the likelihood that they learn new things.”

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