How to Add Live Interaction to Events

Small groups talking at a conferenceAt the Meetings Show I really enjoyed attending a masterclass by Erik Peekel (@ErikPeekel) entitled “Session formats: how to add live interaction to your content.”  

It is well documented that attention spans are short and that talking at people is not an effective method for learning.  We are always keen to challenge the traditional conference format and do things differently (conferences should NEVER EVER be dull) and so this presentation on interactive session formats was right up our street!

We have incorporated almost all of these elements into our events and conferences at some stage and seen them in action.  Here is a quick overview of 8 ways to add more interaction to your events.


1. Body Voting

From the outset Erik got our attention by asking us to stand up and vote using our physical position to illustrate our thoughts, known as “Body Voting.”  He asked:

> How important is interaction?
> How much effort do you put into interactivity at your events?
> Do you think your audience like to be activated?

He determined that one side of the  room was 0% and the other side of the room was 100% and we positioned ourselves accordingly and he asked people from opposite ends of the scale to feed back our reasoning.

It is also possible to use two axis and vote about two questions at once to really get your audience thinking.


2. World Cafe Format

World Cafe Format is a really popular brainstorming technique that we have used effectively at a number of events.  The room must be set up in a cabaret or classroom style layout.  The table facilitators stay in one place and at the signal the groups move together from table to table building on the input given by the previous groups.  This can be done in a number of different ways but Erik recommended 90 minutes with 8 people maximum per table and each group circulating around 3 tables, spending 30 minutes at each.  The facilitator sets the scene and gives a brief recap of the previous discussions.  The first group outlines ideas and associations.  The second group turn these ideas into actions.  The third group select one action to develop.  The Facilitator then feeds back to the room.


3.  Fishbowl

The Fishbowl requires a room filled with chairs only, ideally working with 30-40 people maximum and 20/30 minutes.  There must be 4 chairs in the centre of the room.  Three of the chairs in the middle should be filled and one must always be left empty.  Debating a Jerry Springer style issue such as “How Can We Stop Our Clients Running Away” only people on the middle chairs can speak.  At any time a delegate can however join the empty chair and then one of the other contributors in the middle must leave voluntarily.


Open Space4. Open Space

We have used Open Space effectively most notably at the SOL World events (multi day conferences in Oxford and Bad Pyrmont, Germany, with over 200 participants).  Open Space invites the audience to set the agenda with individuals suggesting the topics, time and place.  Others may then join and contribute to the conversations but always adhering to the “law of two feet” which determines that you should only stay while you have something to learn or contribute, otherwise you should move on.  Open Space can be really inspirational and empowering and is great fun to see in action.


5. Debating Competition (House of Commons)

There should be two opposing sides to the room and people take sides either for or against with the opportunity to change their minds at any point during the debate.  Will a skilled orator be able to change your views on the debate?


6. Pitch Competition

The Facilitator outlines a problem e.g. how do we get more business and small groups have a set time to come up with a creative solution.  Each group then has to “Pitch” to the other groups and a winner is determined by the judge or by the groups themselves.  Erik suggested that if only one person is doing the pitch the others should be tasked with doing the sound effects!


7. Camp Fire

Ideally working with small round tables attendees are encouraged to get together with an expert to pick their brains or hear what they have to say in an informal environment (as used at the Meeting Show).  Alternatively this is also a way to keep question and answer sessions short if the Chair explains to the floor that the speaker will be happy to take questions at a designated place and time during the programme, rather than at the end of their presentation.  This allows for more personal and detailed questions to speakers.


8.  Super Brainstorm

This can involve and engage everyone, even in plenary sessions with up to a thousand people in theatre style seating!

The Chair/Speaker/Facilitator should ask odd and even rows to turn to face each other (generally meaning this is someone they don’t know and so this will encourage them to focus on the task).   Give a topic or challenge to discuss and a timescale, for example ‘in the next 2 minutes discuss what is the best event you have ever organised?’  Then the Chair should ask the audience who is impressed by the person opposite them to raise their hand and ask them to summarise the story and what impressed them about the person they were partnered with meaning that others decide the best content.

The Chair should then ask everyone to move two positions clockwise (to the left) and pose further questions and ask for feedback.  This will further boost connections and so is particularly good as an icebreaker before lunch.

At the end of sessions throughout the day you can use this tool to help people to digest the content and share best practice.

If inviting comments from the floor the Facilitator should always give people time to think first – NEVER pass a microphone to someone unawares!

At the end of the day it is a great idea to ask people to think and reflect about how they are going to implement their actions from the event.  This keeps the energy and conversations flowing and encourages delegates to think more effectively about what they have learnt.


Audience at a conferenceDownload the whitepaper from Erik Peekel here: Session Design: How to Add Live Interaction.


A future blog post will look at more top tips we use to encourage and incorporate live interaction – sign up to receive notifications of future posts (top right)!


We would welcome your thoughts on live interaction in the comments below.  

Is live interaction something you are using well in your events or could you do better?  Which tools do you find are particularly well or badly received?  Do you think interaction is an important part of meeting design?  What are your top tips for adding effective interaction to your events?  Do you encourage and support your clients, speakers, etc to add more interactivity into events?