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We made a short video highlighting our event philosophy.

These are absolute event truths that a lot of companies don't take into account when planning their event.

For instance: The attention span of an attendee during a presentation is 5-7 minutes. Do you know anyone that keeps their presentation that short? What about all those 90 minute CEO presentations about the direction of the company?

That's important information, right? Right. It is, in most cases, absolutely CRITICAL information. Yet the attention span of the audience wavers at the 5 minute mark. So how do you keep your audience engaged during a long presentation? (And no, the answer is not making everyone fit their content into 5 minute chunks...you can still have very effective 90 minute presentations--think of expert keynote speakers and how they keep the audience engaged the entire time...)

There are multiple ways to engage the audience that accommodates the limitations of the working memory. We employ several techniques: from varying content, to multimedia, to storytelling to more unique solutions like AniMated characters and audience interaction.

And yet, most meetings are planned so that if the right people present at the right time, and everyone who "needs" to present gets to present (structured around breaks, lunches and golf time, of course) the event is considered a success.

But when the attention span of the audience isn't taken into account for EVERY presentation, you lose the value of your event. Something to think about, no?
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The Seven Truths...Truth #7

We're just finishing up the list of Live Spark's The Seven Truths About Events (that you may not want to know). This time, focusing on our last truth--Truth #7.

Truth #7: Audiences only care about themselves.

This one’s no big secret; people want to know what’s in it for them. If a topic isn’t relevant, the brain doesn’t retain it.

It sounds harsh, but people need to filter information by relevance in order to get the most crucial pieces. It was true in the wild, and it's true in the great, wild event ballroom.

An audience needs to see a clear connection between a speaker’s message and their own personal objectives; whether that’s helping them improve their sales with a new product, making their job easier with a new company structure, etc.

So how do you make it relevant?

1. Have the audience set their own personal objectives for the event at hand. Before the event, or even a specific presentation, have an audience write a list of things that they want to get out of the event/presentation. This will help focus their attention to the truly relevant pieces of information; those that will inform, inspire, and help them to perform their jobs.

These objectives can be revisited at the end of a presentation or event. The bonus is, if you have a question and answer session at the end, if the pieces of information were not covered, the audience has a focus for their questions.

2. Include the “What’s in it for you” message with every presentation. What does what you’re saying mean to them? Filter the information; dividing the nice to know from the need to know--and only keeping what's truly relevant. Frame it through their eyes--a marketing team might have different goals and objectives than a sales team, so be mindful of what your audience wants/needs to hear, and mold the messaging accordingly.

At the end of a presentation, have clear takeaways and action items for the audience.

3. Preframe a presentation. Point out specific things that the audience will be interested in hearing. This primes the brain to absorb those pieces of information. If, for instance, you are going to give them training on a new product, tell them that by the end of the presentation, they will learn the three key features and benefits of the new product that will help them sell it into more companies.
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The Seven Truths...Truth #6


We're just finishing up the list of Live Spark's The Seven Truths About Events (that you may not want to know). This time, focusing on Truth #6.


Truth #6: Adults are kids in big bodies.

No matter how responsible our roles in life, our attention span remains all-kid. I would venture to say that the only difference between a room full of kids and a room full of adults in a presentation situation, is that adults have learned to be polite enough to sit still and give the facade of paying attention. There is only so far one can stretch their attention span--and only so much information one can take in.

People want to play and, more importantly, the brain needs to play and stretch to absorb information. It doesn’t want to sit in a room for hours on end with PowerPoint as its only stimulus (it will signal the muscles in the arm to reach for the Blackberry under the table).

Now, this doesn't mean that information is trivialized--merely that it is presented in a way that will fully engage the brain. The more crucial the information, the more critical it is to play.

So how do you treat the kid while educating and informing the adult?

Remember to play:

1. Incorporate right and left-brained activities. This allows attendees to absorb information while doing something creative. Couple intense presentation and learning moments with something that allows attendees to use their hands.

This could be as simple as having a reflection period where the audience sketches out a learning moment from the presentation, or as complex as a structured activity--or even an activity within the presentation.

2. Utilize team competition. Utilizing team competition and activities within an event keeps attendees engaged and makes them responsible for their own learning (as they are accountable to their team.)

Set up teams at the beginning of the event, and have structured and unstructured challenges throughout to keep the competition going.

  • Unstructured Challenges: Asking questions in a presentation and rewarding teams for interaction, calling for responses in workshops, on-time rewards and spontaneous spirit and cheering.

  • Structured Challenges: Games and interactive activities are the perfect way for an audience to feed the brain’s need for competition, stimulation and play while staying on task and on point in an event. These can be game shows, painting challenges, roleplay tasks, etc.

3. Break away from PowerPoint. Interact with your audience. Tell stories within a presentation. Use PowerPoint sparingly, and make it picture-heavy to illustrate and highlight points instead of beating them to death. Have the audience take an active part in a presentation--rewarding them with small trinkets (or team points) for their participation.

You can also use innovative presentation formats. Try an interview or skit; roleplays or demonstrations; case studies and stories.
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The Seven Truths... Truth #5

We hope everyone had a healthy and mentally productive holiday break! We're back at it for the new year, and are finishing up the list of Live Spark's The Seven Truths About Events (that you may not want to know). This time, focusing on Truth #5.

Truth #5: All events will produce an outcome--but it might not be the outcome that you want.


If you don’t set explicit objectives for your event and then align every aspect towards achieving those objectives, you messages may be disparate and lost – and even downright confusing. Without having every presenter--every meeting element--in line with the predetermined outcomes, radically different conclusions may be drawn from the audience.

An example of mis-aligned event elements would be playing, "Rainy Days and Mondays Always Get Me Down" as walk-out music for a break immediately after the CEO's upbeat call-to-action and company vision. It doesn't exactly project a musical vote of confidence, does it?

But this is a superficial example. What if the marketing team is telling a sales force that it's important to gather existing customer data utilizing their pre-existing relationships, and the VP of sales is telling them to be proactive in seeking out new leads. These messages are not exactly mutually exclusive, but they could be seen that way if not tied together properly.

Here are ways to keep your outcomes in the forefront of your mind and, thus, into the minds of your audience:

1. Set outcomes for the event, and have each presenter align their outcomes to the main goals of the event. If it doesn’t fit—you must not present it.
Often times, presenters will come up with content based on what's important to them--not what's important to the meeting or the audience. This is not a fault or a surprise, for when one spends their entire working life in their department, executing their objectives it can be hard to see where they fit into the big picture or difficult to acknowledge that those objectives might not be front-of-mind relevant to the audience.

We also see a lot of departments justifying their work throughout the year--which would be fine if they were presenting to the board, or relevant upper management. It might not be fine considering the audience at hand.

Having a specific set of outcomes and requiring presenters to adhere to them can eliminate some of this extraneous content, and keep the event sharply focused.

2. Make sure outcomes are SMART: specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely.
There's a trick to setting event outcomes. When we ask some of our clients what the outcome is for their event, often times we'll get the response: "Well, to get everyone together." Which is a great thing, but not something that can be acted on and carried out after the event.

Outcomes should be specific: Do you want the audience to gain knowledge of new product XYZ? To feel a cohesive sense of team that will carry on to their job performance after the event? Don't be afraid to narrow outcomes.

Outcomes should be measurable: Increasing knowledge of a new product will do what? Will it help the audience sell more of widget x? How much more?

Outcomes should be attainable: Setting the outcome for all audience members to have absolute knowledge of all new products immediately after the event might not be attainable.

Outcomes should be realistic: Events are a great vehicle for producing outcomes (or they can be, if done right), but one event is not going to radically change the job performance of the entire company without adequate follow-up. Be careful of setting unrealistic goals for a 2-5 day event.

Outcomes should be timely: If a new product is not being released till next year and cannot be sold till then, the outcome of knowing and selling the intricacies of the new product is not timly, because the audience cannot use that outcome right away after the event. An outcome of generating excitement for a new product so they can start communicating that it's coming to their customers might be a more timely goal.

3. Have a clear idea of what you want your audience to do after an event—and make it a pointed call to action.
A meeting can only do so much. Have an action plan set up after the event to follow through with audience members--reinforcing the outcomes and leading to execution.
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The Seven Truths... Truth #4

Exploring the fourth truth in Live Spark's The Seven Truths About Events (that you may not want to know).

Truth #4:
Studies have shown that people generally only remember the opening and closing parts of any given presentation.

Considering most presentations, this may be the scariest truth of all. If you think about most speakers—the most important information is generally put in the middle (where it is henceforth forgotten). This is why we call it the "Jan Brady Effect"--poor Jan; the Brady Bunch always made time for and remembered and paid attention to Cindy and Marcia (Marcia! Marcia! Marcia!), but as the middle child, she was forgotten.

How does this relate to your event? You want people to remember the meat of the content--usually placed in the middle of a traditional presentation. The frivolous warm-up joke and wind-down anecdote usually fall to the bookends--where people are paying the most attention. Therefore presentations need to be structured differently—rearranging the content so that the most important things fit in where they’re most likely to be remembered.

So, how do you ensure that they remember poor Jan...errr...your most important content? Here are some steps you can take to negate the Jan Brady Effect:

1. Outline the key points for the presentation in the beginning and the end.
Say it once, say it twice, say it three times.

Highlight your key points in the beginning. This both prepares a learner's mind for more in-depth content, and it introduces the topics once. Keep it high-level and simple, but very relevant.

Go in deeper in the middle. The meat of a presentation is a great place for depth and detail. Not all details may be remembered, but the content will be closer to sticking.

Recap at the end. The end of the presentation--after the "in conclusion" should be a highlight of the most important, most actionable, most relevant key points. This is what you want the audience to act on, and what you really want them to take home.

2. Pepper different presentation elements; stories, jokes, anecdotes, videos—throughout the presentation.
Every time you introduce a new stimulus or media, the attention peaks in the audience. Our brains look for novelty, and if it's different, we can't help but listen up.

Putting in multimedia elements--such as videos and visuals--reinforces the content for visual learners in addition to mixing up the presentation format. Video and visuals can be great speaker support as well.

Stories, anecdotes, relevant jokes and metaphors are naturally engaging formats; they reinterpret information in a different way--so it's like a review within a presentation--and they add relevance and personality to the content or data.

3. Save the year-in-review for the middle of the presentation.
This is one of the most frustrating things that we see in corporate presentations.

The stage is set--this event is going to be new and different, they say. The audience is in a new ballroom and they're prepared--nay, they're *expecting*--to be motivated. . .

And then the first executive starts his speech with an inspiring. . . year-in-review. We're not saying that the year-in-review isn't important--indeed, it's crucial to know where you've been so you can see where you're going, and it's certainly important to highlight past successes to motivate the group. However, the past shouldn't be the first thing in a "brand-new" event.

Aside from that, though, is that the audience already *knows* (or should know), basically, what already happened. Therefore, it shouldn't take up prime attention real-estate at the beginning of a presentation. Instead, review current topics/goals, and then put the year-end review in the middle of the presentation in the context of future plans/actions and learnings.
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The Seven Truths... Truth #3

Exploring the third truth in Live Spark's The Seven Truths About Events (that you may not want to know).

Truth #3: The thing that convinces you isn’t necessarily the thing that convinces someone else.

Not everyone buys into the same type of argument. One of the biggest barriers in motivating audience action is that they don’t buy into your message. Some people want facts and figures, others want to see evidence that a plan has worked before, still others want to know that it’s what their peers are doing.

Your audience will be made of people that aren’t ALL convinced in the same way, so it stands to reason that a presentation has to approach persuasion from many different levels.

However, we tend to naturally want to present information in the way that convinces us personally. If numbers and pie charts are what convince me that our company initiatives are the right direction, naturally I'm going to load my presentation with so many pie charts you'd think it was PowerPoint Thanksgiving. Never mind that 3/4 of my audience may want more empirical evidence; case studies that show a successful implementation across other divisions or with other companies, etc.

So how can you turn a one-sided (or single-approach) message into something dynamic that will appeal to many?

Get the buy-in you need:

1. Acknowledge outstanding issues. When an audience is stuck on an objection, or their minds are elsewhere on an issue that isn't discussed, they cannot accept new arguments. For example, if you're talking about new company goals, but you have a huge distribution problem, people are going to be thinking, "These goals are nice and all--but how would I ever meet them with that distribution problem?" It doesn’t need to turn into a griping meeting, but briefly recognize problems and then give solutions or plans for improvement. You may then move forward.

2. Play to all persuasion styles:
  • Data evidence--This is for the numbers people. They want to see charts, facts and figures that support your point.
  • Social proof--This is for the consensus people. They want to see examples of how things have worked for other people in similar situations, or how things have worked in the past. They want case studies and stories.
  • Personal guarantees of success--This is for the certainty people. They want hard evidence that it will work, but also that it will make them successful. They want to see visions of the future where they are successful.
  • Relevance to achieving the goals--This is for the whole-picture seeking people. They want to see how a plan fits in with other elements in the company, and how it's relevant to the overall goals.

3. Don’t assume that your audience will be persuaded in the way that you are—do a reality check before a presentation. Run your argument by someone else, or filter your presentation through the lens of the four styles of persuasion. If it doesn't hit all of them in at least some way, then it's not going to be relevant to a portion of your audience.
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The Seven Truths... Truth #2

Exploring the second truth in Live Spark's The Seven Truths About Events (that you may not want to know).

Truth #2: The attention span of the average adult is between 5 - 7 minutes.
(And wandering minds are NOT an acceptable form of exercise.)

Hmm, how many of your event presentations are under 7 minutes? Probably not many. In fact, a lot of the Very Important Keynotes from company leaders probably clock in around 45-90 minutes (depending on how verbose the speaker and how much they're trying to cover).

Unless your information is delivered in a new, compelling way at this 5-7 minute interval, your audience will tune out. Blame it on the brain, it's just the way we're wired.

There are, however, a variety of tactics you can employ to maintain engagement throughout the presentation; stories, changing the focus of the presentation, and keeping the speech fresh and entertaining.

It’s just that somewhere in between getting the PowerPoints down and lining up speakers, someone forgets to employ these tactics. It seems that as long as a presentation has the right information in it, how it's presented becomes irrelevant. The truth is, if it isn't presented correctly, the information becomes irrelevant because it won't stick. Heck, it might not even make it into the brain in the first place.

So how do we solve the problem?
Herd their minds:
  1. Tell stories in the presentations to make examples relevant. Stories are intrinsically captivating, and short stories to highlight your point will refresh everyone's attention span. People will also stay engaged in a story for *longer* than the normal 5-7 minute attention window if it has a clear narrative and payoff. Using story metaphors are also a great way to increase comprehension of material.
  2. Change the presentation format every 5-7 minutes—add pictures, video or sound. You can maintain the same content points over a long period of time as long as you're changing how you talk about those points. Put in a video to illustrate a new product, show ad campaign material instead of just talking about it, and interview key experts instead of quoting them. Even a joke or anecdote can help. If multiple people in department worked on a project, have them tag-team on the presentation. Anything to vary it from just one person talking at the audience for an extended period of time.
  3. Get clean from your PowerPoint addiction—use PowerPoint to enhance what you’re saying—not as speaking notes. There's nothing more un-engaging than slide after slide of the same points as the speaker is talking them through (note--not talking TO them, but reading them). The brain cannot process both sets of identical information inputs and checks out.
The human brain is drawn to novelty, variety and relevance. If you emphasize these things within your content at continual intervals, you can capture your audiences' attention.
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The Seven Truths... Truth #1

When we communicate with clients, often times our primary meeting includes revealing what we call: The Seven Truths About Events (that you may not want to know).

These are the things that WILL happen in your event unless you take measures to prevent them. And they're not great for the event OR your bottom line.

We'll go into detail about each of these Seven Truths, but briefly, they are:

1. 95% of what is delivered in a typical meeting environment is forgotten 24 hours later.

2. The attention span of the average adult is between 5 - 7 minutes.

3. The thing that convinces you isn’t necessarily the thing that convinces someone else.

4. People generally only remember the opening and closing parts of any given presentation.

5. All events produce an outcome...but it might not be the one you want.

6. Adults are just kids in big bodies.

7. If a topic isn’t relevant, the brain doesn’t retain it.

Frightening--but don't worry, you can negate these factors through techniques like brain-based learning, interaction and strategic planning.

Let's explore the first truth: 95% of what is delivered in a typical meeting environment is forgotten 24 hours later. You might as well shake hands with your colleagues at the end of an event and say, "Congratulations, we've just had the best event that no one will remember."

Maybe that's a little harsh--the average person will retain that 5%--but you have no idea which 5% is going to stick. What if it's the dinner entertainment and not the CEO's goals and directives for the year?

So how do we solve the problem? Utilizing brain-based learning strategies you can make more of your content stick in the minds of your audience—and strategically reinforce key content to make sure that the most important messages go home with them.

Help your audience remember more key content:

1. Give breaks in between presentations for the audience to write notes and absorb the information.

Your brain needs a break. Going from one topic to the next, to the next in a typical event can lead to information overload. Something as simple as writing down notes after the presentation, or being encouraged to share one's key takeaways with a neighbor can dramatically increase retention. Of course, encourage attendees to take notes during presentations as well.

2. Have 3 key points per presentation—no more.

Simple is best when it comes to your key content. Sure, there may be many things to talk about (I've never been in a situation where there was a *lack* of things to talk about), but narrow them down so that you're sure the most important things are going to stick.

3. Reinforce key points at the beginning (pre-framing), middle (informing) and end (reviewing) of a presentation.

Tell the audience what you're going to talk about, elaborate on it, then review what you've just talked about. It may seem redundant on the surface, but that doesn't mean you have to say things the exact same way every time.

Pre-framing will prepare your audience for the information. This is why we look at maps before we go on a trip--to see where we're going. This way, the audience can also "look" for your messaging within the speech--they know which key points to watch out for.

Elaborating using stories, pictures, video, etc. will give your audience the meat of the information. They may not remember every detail from this elaboration, but they'll still remember the key points.

Reviewing will tie the speech up neatly, and remind the audience about the key points. This is also where you can insert action items related to the key points. I.e. "We want to grow revenue 16% this year...and this means you have to..."

Do these things consistently, and you can stretch that 5% retention. Most importantly, you can begin to control WHICH percentage of the meeting is sticking in the minds of your audience--the key message points.
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