How tightly should you pack your event agenda?
For a lot of our clients the thinking is: Well, we have everyone here and it was expensive to bring everyone here...so we're going to use every minute of our time!
One can see the (sort-of) logic in that. But utilizing every minute can actually be a WASTE of time (and money).
Not only does it leave the attendees exhausted and frustrated, but it also interrupts business and attendees can't possibly be expected to actually remember all the content in so intense a time-frame. It's just too much (and often times this is concurrent with bad learning design).
One of the biggest complaints we hear is that attendees don't have enough time on their own--or time to decompress (they go from general session to breakouts to team building to some orchestrated team dinner and networking session, etc.). When presentations run over-time, organizers shorten and sacrifice breaks and lunches and discussions. It's kind of crazy--and most certainly wrong--that a jam-packed event (that is supposed to be inspirational or kick off a great year ahead) can leave attendees more stressed out than motivated.
Why people pack agendas:
- Having everyone at the same place at the same time is a great opportunity to communicate a consistent message.
- They want to get the most "bang for the buck"; as long as people are there, they want to communicate as many messages as possible.
- They feel that downtime is wasted time.
- They feel that, left to their own devices, their audience might be bored or even organize their own non-sanctioned networking (i.e. drinking), and that it will distract from the event as a whole.
Why people shouldn't pack the agenda:
- Having the audience leave exhausted is no way to inspire them in the coming year.
- People simply cannot absorb the volume of information in a compressed period of time--especially without consistent reinforcement of the few most important messages.
- People need to take "brain breaks" to process and assimilate information. They need time to synthesize and make personal meaning from the messages they're hearing.
- People need to hear the same information and deal with it in many different ways--whether it's being creative with a message, having a little playtime or downtime to present their own interpretation, or simply going off to work on their own on a project.
- The audience still needs to conduct business--personal and professional.
- Some people simply cannot handle the constant pressure to be "on" at an event with their colleagues, and need some time to recover before the next day or session.
What you should do instead:
- Breaks are sacred: Don't shorten or sacrifice breaks for over-long presentations.
- Focus on a core set of messages/outcomes that you want to get out of an event, and have each presenter speak to those in some way.
- Include time for discussion and reflection: Attendees should get to talk about, deal with, and absorb the information they hear before being forced to move on to the next thing.
- Include creativity: the brain needs to play to interpret information. Having attendees participate with the messaging in a creative, fun way (like a team competition, game show, role play, etc.) gives the brain an "information dump" break and allows them to retain more information.