How to Rethink Event Content

Ditch the traditional educational session and instead give these interactive learning activities a try at your next gathering.

In a world of constant distractions and shrinking attention spans, maintaining attendee engagement is harder than ever. Whether hosting an in-person, hybrid or virtual gathering, now is a great time for planners to rethink their event agenda and content approach.

As a futurist and keynote speaker who's worked with more than 1,000 brands and hundreds of meeting planners to help make complex concepts more approachable, I'm often asked to educate audiences in a short amount of time. It's become increasingly clear to me that the same principles speakers use in a traditional on-stage presentation can be adapted to other forms of learning that are more effective and engaging. Using a new training method I call "Pop Future," educational sessions on future trends, new innovations and important business concepts can be reworked to improve the way we teach, train and communicate with professionals of all backgrounds and skill levels. 

Below are seven ways to mix up typical content formats and programming in order better connect with attendees and facilitate more rapid learning and retention. Weave any of the following activities, programs and exercises into your next gathering, and don't be surprised to find that audiences appear more awake, more attentive and more apt to walk away equipped with the tools they need to better adapt to change and disruption.

1) Scenario-Planning Sessions

These role-playing exercises challenge participants to puzzle their way through real-world scenarios. Examples include adapting to new supply-chain disruptions or dealing with a hack or data breach in real-time. 

2) Ask-the-Expert Segments 

Also known as fireside chats, these informal conversations include an industry thought leader answering questions from a moderator and the audience on a pressing topic. The unstructured nature of the conversation allows for more free-from answers and makes for a more intimate and engaging session.

3) Call-and-Response Programs

These sessions feature your traditional keynote or panel with a twist. Rather than just sitting through a straight hour-long presentation, the audience is periodically asked to respond to questions. This can be done by raising their hands or answering a poll on their mobile devices. The speaker or panel will then adapt the conversation based on the responses.

4) Disruptive Thinking Exercises

The goal here is to present participants with a task (such as designing a new product or marketing strategy for your company), and then hit them with various disruptions (Covid-19 surges, labor shortages, etc.). Ask attendees to rethink their strategic approach on the fly and push them to be more flexible in their thinking. 

5) Rapid-Fire Brainstorming

For a high-energy, hands-on learning session, split your attendees into roundtable groups. This can be done randomly or based on background, department or experience level. The teams will be tasked with answering a series of pointed questions in short five-to-10-minute bursts. For example: Which trends will most impact your industry and company going forward? What are you doing to stay ahead of them? Where can you turn if we need further resources and insights? 

6) Entrepreneurial Contests

Another option is to create a session similar to "Shark Tank," where teams are invited to design and pitch new ideas, products or services. Audience members or a panel of judges can vote on the winners, who will receive some sort of prize.  

7) Speed Mentoring

Invite a group of five or more mentors to serve as expert consultants in a speed-networking program that lets groups of meeting participants cycle through five-to-10-minute meetings with them. This type of activity provides attendees with invaluable one-on-one time with industry experts to ask questions and get personalized business advice.

Scott Steinberg is an award-winning professional speaker and management consultant. He has been a strategic adviser to over 1,000 brands, and is the bestselling author of "Think Like a Futurist," "Make Change Work for You," and "Fast Forward: How to Turbo-Charge Business, Sales and Career Growth." Steinberg is also the president and CEO of BIZDEV: The International Association for Business Development and Strategic Partnerships.