No matter how long your event is or what it’s about, one thing will determine the value attendees get out of it: Their level of recall. Without recall, they can’t put what you told them into action.
Recall is affected by some things you can’t control, like an attendee’s motivation level. The big factor, however, is one you can plan around: Keeping attendees from becoming overwhelmed.
Attendees get overwhelmed when they have to process too much information in too short a span of time. Each person has a mental store of “attention resources” that diminishes over time.
Once someone is mentally “full” – or just plain burned out – they are effectively done for the day. You can keep talking to them, but they are unlikely to get real, long-lasting value from it.
Luckily, you can take action to defeat distraction and make your event more accessible. This makes information overload much less likely, so people remember what was said … not just how they felt about it.
- Distribute Talking Points
Provide talking points both before and after sessions. Many people will want to follow along, and this will enhance their ability to absorb what they hear. Plus, they can refer to this resource later on to jog their memory. That’s essential if they need to take action promptly.
- Provide Plenty of Breaks
Giving a topic 25 minutes of total focus is much more effective than an hour of half-attention. If your sessions must be long out of necessity, be sure there are lengthy breaks – more than ten minutes – so attendees can decompress and discuss the key topics amongst themselves.
- Define the “Rhythm” of Your Event
If one long, brain-busting session follows another, most people will feel adrift in a sea of new information. Likewise, too much light stuff can make attendees question the value of the event. Alternate thought-heavy sessions with lighter interludes that give the audience processing time.
- Schedule Decision Fatigue Away
If your attendees will be grappling with hard problems, it’s best to have them do so relatively early. Going from a warm-up to a heavy mid-morning session means minds will be at their sharpest. Most conference-goers appreciate it when challenging sessions lead directly into lunch.
- Get (and Stay) Organized
The more organized you are, the less energy your attendees will need to spend staying on track. Make sure attendees always know where they need to be and what they are going to do next. This leaves them with extra energy they can use to get through to later sessions.
- Organize Material Thematically
It takes effort to make the cognitive “leap” from one topic area to another. By organizing events according to theme, you encourage people to dig deeper into each topic. This can also be helpful for teams who bring many attendees, hoping to see everything that an event has to offer.
- Set Space Aside for Conversations
When attendees review what they just heard with others, it crystallizes new ideas in their minds. That helps information move from short-term to long-term memory. Not only does this extend the learning experience, it can also provide opportunities for networking and collaboration.
When all is said and done, nobody creates the perfect event from scratch the first time. Even the most experienced event planners take lessons learned from everything they do.
Still, respecting the time and attention attendees give you is never the wrong move. These tips are easy to implement, but they will help your speakers and your audience achieve more.