From the Nursery to the National Sales Meeting: when did we move from nurture to torture?

When my daughter was 4 months old I wrote a blog post about how everything you needed to know about an audience and their needs could be observed through the lens of interacting with a 4 month old baby.

My daughter is now in preschool and I’m once again fascinated by the striking difference in how we prime children to learn and how we inflict learning upon the adults in our organizations. (And, hey, it shouldn’t be that way!)

I was looking at her daily classroom schedule and noting how often they changed up the format. Noting the activities they do. Noting how VERY best-practice-brain-friendly their methods were. Now, the child’s brain is more plastic than the adult brain, MORE primed to learn. But somehow along the way, between nursery school and national adult audiences…we moved from nurturing learning to torturing the learners.

And, spoiler? Adults need just as much from their presentations as kids do. It’s just more obvious when kids tune you out—so we think that everything is fine if we’re boring the snot out of adults because they tend not to wiggle around and act out so much.

We’ve learned control—not a different way to learn.

So. Here’s what I observed from the preschool classroom and ways to apply these principles of learning to your event:

Everywhere in my kid’s classroom there are bright, striking visuals reminding the students of what they’re learning. Colors. Numbers. The alphabet. What word rhymes with which animal. They are always there…being passively absorbed and as a reminder if the kids need a reference.

At an event, peripherals can accomplish the same thing. Lining the room with key message points, graphics, and ideas provides an environment that nurtures information absorption. Attendees can ADD to these graphics by writing down their own learning. We once had an event where attendees lined the walkway going into the room with their personal takeaways and quotes.

Frequent changes.
At first I was shocked that preschoolers changed lessons every 15-30 minutes. It didn’t seem like enough time to really dig into a topic. BUT, even in a hands-on classroom environment you’re operating within the limitations of the working memory. You simply can’t go heavy into a topic for an hour and expect individuals to take away all the detail you’d cram into that time.

At an event it’s the same story. The limit of an ADULT attention span for a single presentation style is 5-7 minutes (barring novelty and a shift in style). Having a 90 minute presentation, if not meticulously crafted with the adult learner in mind, is a brain-killer.

Stories. Morals. Lessons.
Children learn through stories, morals, fables, lessons. We tell kids stories because it engages their emotion and imagination. Emotion and memory are so strongly linked that to fail to engage emotion is to fail to invest in your information.

Adults are no different. We learn through the story. We remember a story around a piece of information much more easily than we remember a discrete fact. Anything CAN be a story with the right framing; your marketing plan for the year was developed through a story of research and insight. Telling a story also changes up the presentation style—so weaving a story into your data can reset and expand that 5-7 minute attention window.

Interaction and hands-on learning. 
Somewhere in high school we start lecturing kids. Less so, now that we know better, but there’s still a fair amount of presentation=retention thinking. This is not the case in preschool; kids must try something themselves. They must interact, sing, ask questions, participate in the topic in multiple—sometimes tactile—ways.

Your audience craves interaction. Presentation does NOT, indeed, equal retention. To synthesize information your audience needs to work with it in some way. This can be discussing it, writing down key points (prompted, not just giving them notepads and hoping for the best), asking questions, playing games (yes, games), etc.

While the curriculum is set, kids are always given specific time to explore their own interests where they are then guided and built upon in a more intentional way.

Giving your attendees space and time to explore what they want to seek out is a great way to make the event personal and highly relevant. Ask attendees what THEIR goals are for the event. What problems they would like to solve. Who they would like to meet. Build in networking time and experimentation time.

Elementary learning isn’t elementary. It’s studied, guided, practiced. It is an intentional process built to engage the brain at fundamental levels. And those fundamentals don’t just go away with time. We may fail to engage the adult brain in the same way, but that’s not because the adult brain doesn’t need engaging.

Oh, and recess? Not optional.

Featured at SPINCon: "I'll Take Learning for 500: Using Gamification to Engage, Motivate & Train"

Dan Yaman will be speaking at this year's SPINCon 2019, November 3-5th in Monterey, CA. Dan's session will be on November 4th, and you don't want to miss it!

Dan Yaman - Live Spark
During this fun and engaging presentation, Dan will show how embedding gamification throughout an event dramatically increases audience engagement, enjoyment, and emotional impact resulting in a higher content retention and ROI.
Dan will outline several different strategies: Large-scale game shows, audience-response technologies and team competition. More importantly, the session will take the form of a game so the audience can understand why they are an effective solution to any event.

BONUS: Each participants will receive a copy of the training industry's best selling book on game shows: "I'll Take Learning for 500" as well as a 6-month license to Gameshow Pro Go which lets meeting planners create their own Jeopardy or Family Feud game on their computer.

Learning Objectives:
  • The 5 essential ingredients to gaming success.
  • Brain research on why games work and how to increase their impact.
  • Types of games that can be tailored to any event and budget.

Event Gamification Bootcamp: Build a Better Game Show Question

So you're using a game show at your event. Great idea.

You want to increase content retention, boost engagement, have a highly interactive experience and make the event energy soar...right?

But you want to make sure your game show doesn't fall flat. One of the key components to a game show is also one of the basics: The questions.

Event game shows can be made or broken on the strength of their questions. Here's why:

  • The audience needs to feel the experience was worthwhile. If questions are too easy and everyone is getting 100% all the time--what's the point of the game? It's not competitive. It doesn't keep peoples' attention or inspire them to cheer on their team, after a while.

  • The audience needs to feel success. If questions are too difficult it's likewise discouraging. Game play will drag. The audience needs to experience enough success to remain engaged.

  • The audience needs to stay in the spirit of the game show. The audience can't feel so far behind or helpless that they "check out" of the game show. Scores need to be relatively even.

  • The audience needs a positive overall experience. Questions shouldn't cause controversy (unless it's intentional).

To achieve these things, questions must achieve a balance of being challenging but with attainable answers.

Your questions are too hard:

  • Trivia questions are obscure.
  • Content questions are irrelevant.
  • Questions are meant to stump or focus on tiny details. 
  • The distractors are too close to the correct answer.
  • There is no *objectively* correct answer.
  • There are "trick" questions.

Your questions are too easy:

  • ANY of your questions contain "all of the above" as the correct answer. 
  • The correct answer option is longer/more detailed than the distractors.
  • Distractors are too obvious/not close enough to the correct answer. 
  • Difficulty is set way below the expertise of the audience.

Your questions are poorly constructed:

  • The answer segments are longer than the question and more complex.
  • Questions and answers don't make sense.
  • It's unclear what's being asked.
  • Multiple answers could apply where a single answer is needed. 
  • "Trick" questions are used to confuse instead of challenge. 
Watch out for...:
  • True/False questions are often too tricky or too easy by their very nature. 
  • All of the above is almost always too easy unless it's very carefully constructed.
  • Give the audience enough time to read and digest more complex questions.
  • Run your questions by someone at the level of the audience--not just your team of experts. 


Disengagement Does Not Discriminate: Making Engaging Events for All Generations

Some time right around when the Millennial generation was first hitting the workforce we got calls from frantic event planners: "How do we engage this new generation who just want to be on their phones all the time, won't pay attention, etc."

We would ask a few questions: How were you engaging your audience before? 
And in most cases the answer was: Well, we didn't have to. This is a whole new generation we're dealing with!

While it's true that there are some generational engagement differences (i.e. Millennials skewing toward favoring collaboration), the truth of the matter is: The audience always NEEDED to be engaged...but previous generations just didn't have as many outward signs of boredom. 

Disengagement does not discriminate; audiences need to be actively engaged no matter their age, generation, gender, race, creed, or other. 

Here are 4 ways to cross-generationally engage your audience:

1. Competition and Collaboration: Capitalize on the very human need to connect and compete by incorporating participation in the form of competition and collaboration. Divide the audience into collaborative teams that compete against each other throughout the event--not just during one big block of dedicated "teambuilding" time. 

2. Technology without Distraction: Embrace technology, but put the phone away. Audiences are often reluctant to part with their phones--particularly when they know that an event isn't going to be compelling. It's an entertainment crutch that keeps them afloat when presentations are dull. BUT being an event luddite is also totally out of touch. 

Balance the need for tech with proprietary hardware, dedicated engagement points, and plenty of face-to-face interaction. If you're polling or gamifying your event--do it on a system dedicated for that--not the attendees' phones. 

3. Compelling Presentation: People of all generations need to be re-engaged every 5-7 minutes. We use the example: "Are you ever in church listening to the sermon and you find yourself with a wandering mind wondering how they dust way up in the upper reaches of the ceiling?" It's an example that transcends through the generations. 

All audiences need active engagement. Ways to do this within a presentation include: Telling stories, taking a poll, doing an activity, showing a clip, adding humor, and much, much more. 

4. Meaningful Downtime: Letting the audience into the great wild of the evening event with the idea that they'll have some sort of meaningful connection or networking is, well, aspirational. 

Have directed and meaningful downtime with structured networking that revolves around activity and events instead of loose conversation.


Persuade Perfect: Be better at convincing your audience at your event.

We all have different styles of being persuaded. In other words: different personality types look for different types of evidence to determine the viability of a persuasive argument.

So, naturally, what persuades Donald Trump wouldn't do much for Mr. Rogers (and vice versa).

As with learning styles there are a number of personality and persuasion models. Fortunately these models pretty much agree on the cross-section of criteria needed to reach most of the personality profiles.

We use the personality profiles suggested by Dr. Tony Alessandra in his book The Platinum Rule when building persuasive presentations at an event. The profiles are as follows: 

  • The Director: Challenge-oriented, decisive, propelled by the inner need to be in charge, overcoming obstacles and accomplishment. Think Walt Disney. 
  • The Socializer: Chatty, expressive, fun-loving optimist that likes the crest of ideas, causes or projects. Key for socializers are building a network of friends and admirers. Think Austin Powers. 
  • The Relater: Friendly and personable, they operate at a slow steady pace and seldom show emotional peaks or valleys. They like to progress slowly and methodically. Think Mr. Rogers.
  • The Thinker: Cerebrally oriented, prefer tasks over people and are contemplative, cautious and thorough. They thrive on detail and discipline. Think Joe Friday. 
 The above profiles are extremes; people tend to be a blend of types (i.e. a Socializing Director).

You can see some of the implications of persuasion profiles here: 

How this manifests at an event:

Your audience is full of people who can have radically different persuasion styles from each other, or from the presenters. A room full of sales people is more likely to be aligned with each other and a sales manager presenter on persuasion style than an audience of mixed roles and professions, however, a room full of social workers is less likely to be aligned in persuasion style with a CFO presenter (for instance). 

With this in mind, the trick is to craft your event and event presentations with subtle appeal to ALL FOUR persuasion styles. Even if you're not looking to overtly sell something or convince people to change--you are looking for buy-in on your information; a reason for people to listen. 

Four-point Persuasion Plan: 

For every presentation, include the following 4 elements:
  1. Facts: What something is, how it's going to work, and what you KNOW to be true about the effects. 
  2. Case Studies: Success stories of how something has worked before with peers or in other organizations.
  3. Plans: Detail on how something will be implemented--from front to back. 
  4. Relevance: How the implementation will make their life better/make them a star. What it will look like in the future when it's successful.

The 4 Stages of Learning that MUST take place at your event

In order for anyone to learn anything--from riding a bike to building a rocket to learning a new sales process--they need to go through the four stages of learning: Preparation, Presentation, Practice, and Performance.

 Most sales meetings focus on the Presentation stage exclusively... but without addressing the other 3 areas, your content will not be retained. 

See what happens when you account for some--and not ALL--of the 4 stages of learning at your event:


7 Event Truths: #7: Audiences only care about themselves.

Wrapping up our 7 Event Truths series with the final truth:

To mitigate this:

See all the 7 Event Truths here.

7 Event Truths: #6: Adults are kids in big bodies.

Our next installment in our popular 7 Event Truths series:

And to mitigate this:

Keep an eye out for more of the 7 Event Truths here.

7 Event Truths: #5: All events produce an outcome.

Next in the series of 7 event truths:

And to mitigate this:
Keep an eye out for more of the 7 Event Truths here.

7 Event Truths #4: Jan Brady was right.

The fourth in our popular 7 Event Truths series:

To mitigate this:

Keep an eye out for more of the 7 Event Truths here.
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