Virtual Team Building

Now that lots of offices are working remotely, co-workers are struggling to connect with each other (both because of all the other pressures in the home--kids, pets, stress, etc. but also because it's just not the same to have a water cooler conversation when the water cooler is your kitchen tap and you might not be wearing proper pants).

Strange times lead to a dearth of connection, and team building is a great boost to office morale--but how do you team build when everyone is in a different space? Here are a few ideas:

Online Competition: Many companies have dipped their toes in virtual competitions already. (Intel, for instance, does a widespread competition for retail salespeople.) Divide offices into teams and host online quizzes, competitions, scavenger hunts, etc. with weekly leaderboard results.

Virtual Trivia: Speaking of online quizzes; having a virtual trivia break at the end of a week is a great way to both review what has been happening that week--getting everyone on the same page even if they've been working remotely--and lighten the mood. Prizes may or may not be involved, but everyone plays along using virtual keypads (see for a great virtual (and classroom) game show resource.

Show your Talent: Virtual meetings are giving co-workers tiny glimpses into the personal lives of their peers. Capitalize on that by doing a bit of a talent show. Can someone play the guitar? Can they make up a parody song about virtual work? Do they have a cat that can meow on command? Time to find out!

Video Presentations: Co-workers (or management) can prepare short, entertaining videos, showcasing what's going on with their projects. One of our clients is sending out messages from their AniMated mascot--featured at their face-to-face events--to keep everyone updated in a fun, lighthearted way.

Hangout Happy Hour: My husband's company enacted a virtual happy hour--and combined this with a trivia/icebreaker game. It was a designated time to unwind a bit in a high-stress climate. Cocktails are optional, of course.
Comments (1)

Virtual Events: Making Do at a Distance

Virtual events have one big drawback: you are meeting in a space where people are inherently distracted. In these times, especially, audience members are faced with more distraction than usual (for instance, I'm writing this while my 16 month old takes a nap and I'm plying my 5 year old with her 50th viewing of Wizard of Oz while I'm supposed to be homeschooling her. That's her beside me busting in on a Zoom call I had earlier.)

You won't necessarily be able to control wandering children, but how do you make the best of some of the other challenges of meeting in a virtual space?

What do you do when virtual events are not ideal, but are a necessity? You make the best of it.

Challenge: Attention span in the online space drops from 5-7 minutes to 2-5 minutes.

Solution: Add interactive elements.

In a face-to-face presentation you lose the audiences' attention in 5-7 minutes if you don't change the way you're presenting. You can do this by adding video, telling a story, adding interaction, etc. In the virtual space, this time frame is even less generous, and changing the way you present is more challenging. The audience NEEDS to interact instead of being passive watchers, or they'll disengage faster than you can say "new browser tab".

Challenge: A lack of experiential "wow" or impact.

Solution: Provide an event experience.

Consider having a virtual event EXPERIENCE instead of slapping presentations together and hoping for the best. Consider having an emcee. Interject humor and connect your event elements together. Consider your environment--music, media, other elements. Break up presentations with networking questions. Make attendees part of their own learning experience by engaging their emotion and active participation. 
Consider turning your virtual event into a team building competition--put attendees on teams and ask game questions in between presentation points. 

Challenge: Virtual presentations can feel canned and not suit the needs of your audience.

Solution: Pare down your presentation and add dynamic elements.

Don't just put a presentation online--create a virtual experience (i.e. play in the space you're in). Brevity has always been the soul of wit, and in the virtual event space time is attention. Focus in on what is absolutely need-to-know and strip out extras. It's even more important to consider what your audience will actually be able to SEE in your presentation, and what will be an eye-chart (or is just your talking points on a PPT slide). Every visual should be clean and have impact. 

Challenge: Lack of accountability.

Solution: Make attendees part of the experience.

Videoconferencing has upped the ante for the webinar (attendees can no longer, for instance, leave the room to go to the bathroom on the call), and some platforms like Zoom let presenters know when their attendees have shifted their attention to other windows. However, a better way to make attendees accountable is to make them part of the experience. Have them craft pieces of a presentation, incorporate training techniques like roleplays, etc., within the event. You can also have quizzes/game questions throughout the virtual event that ensure that attendees are paying attention and accountable for knowing the content. 
Comments (1)

Events in the time of COVID-19: Revisiting the Virtual Event

In 2008-2010, the events industry went through a heck of a downturn (along with the rest of the country). Companies simply weren't hosting events anymore--whether their business was ailing, they needed to be economically shrewd, or they simply needed to maintain the appearance of austerity.

We discovered that the stopgap measure of virtual or hybrid events was better than nothing--but that no one was ready to give up large face-to-face events. As soon as the economy rebounded, people were meeting again (and more than ever).

There were a few reasons for this:
Face-to-face events provided superior engagement and networking experiences.
Video and virtual events didn't replace human connection.
In-person and destination events were highly motivating and produced a significant return on their investment.

But. Virtual events were better than nothing.

Now we find ourselves unable to physically get together to quell the spread of a pandemic. None of us really know how long or short-lived it will be, or when companies will go back to hosting face-to-face events again. (And it isn't an IF, it's a WHEN.)

In the meantime, we revisit virtual events. Videoconferencing. Virtual tradeshows.

The good thing is: we've learned a few things about best-practices for virtual engagement from the 2008-2010 years. In the next few blog posts we'll cover some of the problems you're likely to come across in the virtual event space--and some of the ways you can mitigate those problems.

Your Presentation is the Ugly Baby

There's an old Seinfeld episode where Jerry and Elaine struggle with their friends' baby being ugly. Their friends, you see, think their baby is adorable. Of course they do. It's their BABY. They viewed it with bias and love and affection (and I'm sure it had many redeeming qualities), but it was objectively unattractive.

The author William Faulkner once said: "In writing, you must kill your darlings." Which was not in reference to characters or themes, but rather in sometimes having to cut a particular turn of phrase or paragraph that you are particularly in love with.

What do these two anecdotes have in common? Perspective. When one is too close to something--when it's their life, their livelihood, their expertise--it is hard to view it objectively. It's tough to see that your presentation baby is ugly and you might need to kill that darling section.

The audience, an overwhelming majority of the time, will come at your presentation with a different view--being on the outside of it--than you have on the inside.

Here are things to consider when crafting your presentation to kill your own darlings, make sure your baby isn't ugly, and keep the audience in mind:

The audience doesn't share your perspective:
Where you may see the beautiful poetry of the R&D story of your product, your audience may see unnecessary background that won't help them sell.

When you are convinced that everyone absolutely must know the last 20 years of sales data for your niche silo, your audience may struggle with seeing the relevance (but succeed at seeing the inside of their eyelids).

Consider your audience first and then think about how you fit into their needs.

Filter what's "nice to know" versus what they "need to know": 
You have limited real estate in your audiences' brains. Use it wisely. Your audience will not be able to take in your 10-point-plan-for-success. They will maaaaaybe remember 3-5 points. But are those 3 points going to be the most important?

How do you make sure the most critical things are remembered? Hone your message down to the truly important--the need-to-know--and include ways the audience can find additional information and detail as their curiosity dictates. (You may even want to play a game to get them familiar with resources they may need to find the nice-to-know stuff.)

Unlimited slides, limited words:
Everyone is familiar with "Death by Powerpoint" as an expression--so we've had clients try to limit their presenter's slides...only to find that their presenters will add more information to each individual slide (we once had a company whose standard practice became a "quad"--4 slides on one--because they limited the slide number but not the content).

We never put a limit on the number of slides, but each slide should be clean, clear, and minimalistic.

The audience must be able to see your information.
To that end; Slides shouldn't be fancy. They should be uncluttered, message-supporting (as opposed to message-conveying), and should NOT be speaker notes. Numbers should be easily seen and uninterpreted data charts should be minimized.

It doesn't matter how important your number charts are (and they are!), if the audience can't see them and easily interpret them--they're a distraction.

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:

See Older Posts...