How delegates absorb information
Think about the last conference or forum you attended; what content do you remember most? Was it a speaker on stage, a video, through VR, or were you just taking in the writing on the wall?
At a recent roundtable discussion at the Business Design Centre, in which CN and Sparq, part of the Saville Group, gathered with 12 senior level eventprofs from the agency and corporate world, how delegates absorb information was put under the spotlight.
After an initial breeze-shooter, we took the delegates into another room where they were first given a short, five-minute presentation by Rob Morrison, client director at Sparq. After that, delegates watched a three-minute video, in which they learned about a couple of recent projects run, again, by Sparq.
After that, the room was invited to experience a VR headset presentation, which again yielded a bit more information.
What was the point of all this? Well to find out how much information the delegates absorbed from each of the installations, we put them through a memory test.
VR did not sink in, with delegates taking in the least information, with most citing afterwards that they were focusing on the VR experience itself, rather than listening to the content.
The second-most effective method of communication was the video, with delegates absorbing around half the information given.
Top of the pile, you’ll be pleased to know, was the live presentation. Morrison’s short presentation to the room yielded the best results, with most delegates being able to recall most of what was said. Morrison was, of course, aided by tidy graphics in his presentation. A simple but effective method of using technology to help add value to a trusted medium.
You may have noticed that we haven’t mentioned the printed graphics on the wall, which in this test was a timeline of random events throughout history. When the delegates were asked questions about what was on the wall, no one got any answers correct, suggesting none of the 12 delegates absorbed any of the printed material.
Proof, then, that people like face-to-face above all else, or at least find it the best way to learn.
Peter Newton, director of events at Campden Wealth, was one of the delegates on the day.
As someone working in events, how does he stay on top of how delegates like to absorb information? He says: “Talk to them. Get their feedback in a measurable and timely way; we use hard copy and online feedback forms allowing us to compare events year on year and event to event.
“Given we’re a tight-knit community and our events are about 150 attendees maximum, it enables us to talk to the attendees throughout the conference and find out what they like. This more qualitative approach is something I encourage all my team to do.”
Grace Miller, events manager at Just Group, says: “Engaging with delegates is an ever-evolving challenge. With peoples' attention spans changing, their time being limited and technology taking a more prominent position in our planning it is something we need to constantly be close to.
“Gaining feedback on events is critical for keeping up to date with these evolving trends and how they absorb information. Insight into where they felt the most engaged, whether it be during presentations or interactive sessions is hugely beneficial when building on future events.
“We are seeing an increasing trend for shorter conferences, more interaction and less ‘traditional’ presentations as ways of ensuring delegates absorb all the relevant information.”
VR remains popular, to a degree, and lots of people have expressed an interest in using it at their events (we are told). So how is it best used?
David Crease, design director at agency WONDER London says it depends on the type of message you’re looking to get across. He says: “If it’s something that needs to be discussed, if it requires some sort of interaction or debate then invariably that’s where it will fall down.
“However, if you’re telling a top-down story, like what we saw today [an introduction to Sparq] then it’s a fantastic tool. People can take away what they want from it.”
Of course, sometimes getting clients to adopt more immersive events can be, as one person put it, “like pulling teeth”. How can organisers and agencies convince clients to be more immersive?
Karen Kadin, who is managing partner at Brands at Work, says: “It’s our job as event organisers to be champions for the audience. I can’t think of a delegate out there who just wants to sit on a chair and be talked at the whole time. It’s our job to illustrate the power of experience, and to help the client tell the story.”
Through all this, though, clients still have to manage their bottom line, so where is the balance between cost and creativity? Sparq’s Rob Morrison, who had laid on the presentation, says keeping it simple is often best.
He says: “On the one hand, clients are asking us to do more, yet they expect more for less, so it’s about finding the balance between the two.
“Creativity is something that can come very simply, or it can be a more radical idea. But it’s important to deliver something that’s on brand for the client, which serves a purpose and delivers a message: it doesn’t have to be expensive. There’s a balance between the creativity of the technology, and how you use to it deliver a different experience.”
Technology, then, can enhance the delegate experience and doesn't need to be expensive. However, it will never substitute face-to-face.