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A Simple Trick to Help Your Speakers Keep Attendees Engaged


The keynote speaker that required a big chunk of your budget is on stage to kick off your annual meeting. Maybe she’s telling an inspirational story about overcoming failure or sharing groundbreaking business tips. Her name alone was a major incentive for attendees to register. There’s just one problem, though: Many of those attendees are looking at their smartphones.

Sound familiar? While programs feature powerful advice and captivating storytelling, getting attendees to pay attention is increasingly challenging due to the devices in their pockets. “We’re growing more attached to our mobile devices,” Salvatore Camarda, managing partner at MeetApp North America, told the audience in “Leverage Your Event Participant’s Smartphone Addiction,” a recent PCMA webinar.

“Addiction” may sound like a strong word, but data confirms its accuracy. According to research firm Dscout, the average person touches his or her cell phone 2,617 times each day. For more “extreme” users, those swipes and clicks clock in at a staggering 5,400 times each day. So how can you motivate your attendees to stop spending so much time on their phones? That, Camarda said, is the wrong question. Instead, event organizers should embrace those glowing screens. “We’re not going to stop people from staring at their cell phones,” he said. “What we can do is disrupt those disruptions by using the same channel for our benefit.”

Camarda offered a solution that he uses in his own public-speaking appearances. He cited research that shows audience distraction typically kicks in somewhere between seven and nine minutes into the speaker’s presentation. Camarda uses that to his advantage and programs the conference’s event app to publish a push notification to the audience every eight minutes, so that attendees — many of whom are already looking at their phones — receive an alert that directs their attention back to what’s happening in the program. These notifications don’t ask for hide-in-the-crowd poll responses, either. Camarda uses feedback-based questions to create a more personal relationship with the audience, and he often incentivizes their participation with some type of reward for the person who answers first.

“The push notification through a mobile app is your best friend,” Camarda said. “It’s the tap on someone’s shoulder to let them know that something is waiting for them.”

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