Lee Warren, an expert in behavioural persuasion and influential communication
Live events have never been more important. In an increasingly digital world, more and more we value the face-to-face contact, added motivation, and excitement that a live event can bring.
But there’s a problem.
Getting people to attend events is becoming harder and harder. Even once they’ve arrived, it’s becoming tougher to get and keep their attention and commitment.
Wouldn’t it be great if your event could stand out? If, instead of having to chase and remind people, they were queuing up to attend? If your event was more like Glastonbury, and less like ‘Yet Another Annual Conference’? If people really did engage and leave thinking ‘that was a great use of my time’?
As a professional magician, I’ve spent twenty years of my life studying what it takes to engage people - to get their interest quickly, to persuade, excite and enchant them. I teach many of these skills in my seminars, and I often chat to event organisers about them after my sessions.
So here are 8 tips that you can apply to an event of any size to magically make it more attractive - leading to a boost in engagement, attendance, and your own reputation too!
Engagement. Attendance. Reputation. How to make your event more magical!
1. Get emotional engagement with great titles.
Here’s a fundamental rule of being persuasive - people make emotional decisions first and then justify them logically. If your title has a ‘must attend’ feel to it, you’re on to a winner.
Whether you’re running a 3-day global conference or an afternoon’s local sales update, make sure your titles have at least one of these qualities: fun, intrigue, provocation, urgency, clarity.
Think of the title of every session, as well as the title of the whole event. Lots of events and agendas sound so wooden and dull that it’s not surprising people drop out or tune out. Tell people what they’re going to get, rather than how they’re going to get it. And tell them in simple language i.e. rather than: ‘Client Management - Panel Discussion 45 minutes’, try: ‘Dealing with Nightmare Clients - 4 Experts Battle It Out’.
As a case in point - I run a seminar focused on helping people to become more persuasive in their sales pitches and presentations. I could call the session ‘Improved Presentation and Pitching Skills’ but it doesn’t really grab you, does it? Instead, I name the seminar: ‘Grown-Ups Don’t Use PowerPoint’ and the sessions are always full! The title sounds fun, provocative and intriguing.
Lee engages his audiences' hearts and minds
2. Give social proof.
We want to do what others are doing and be in with the in-crowd. Find ways to show attendees that other people have learnt something valuable, or had a great time, or are desperate to come back next year. Depending on the industry, you could use video testimonials, written feedback, podcasts, articles, and so on. The best social proof is to get testimonials and comments from people just like the target audience. You can use social proof during an event too - Twitter, comment walls and live filming are good options.
3. Create drama!
I don’t mean that you need to start quoting Shakespeare, but think of your event less like a series of business presentations and more like a theatre show.
Good drama has rhythm - usually short scenes followed by long scenes. I’m amazed at how many events give all speakers an equal amount of time, regardless of whether the content or delivery needs it. Think of varying the rhythm of your event; for example, one 45-minute segment followed by two speedy 10-minute ones.
Time to get dramatic.
There are so many ways of making your event a bit more dramatic through simple changes - does everyone really need PowerPoint, for example? Do all the speakers have to be stuck behind the same lectern all day? Is there enough variety in the music? Have you got a variety of media? Even the way you guide people to their seats can build the drama. I always ask organisers to guide people to fill up from the front rows, and never have *quite* enough seats. There’s a real energy when a session is ‘standing room only’
4. Get involved.
Whenever I perform a cabaret, or deliver a speech or run a seminar, I have a rule - the audience must be involved at least once every ten minutes. Let’s face it - few people enjoy sitting still in a room for hours just listening. Take every chance to get the audience involved through things like discussion, online tools, live social media, voting, Q&A and competitions or challenges (and of course magic tricks!).
I’ll often invite people to be ‘my glamorous assistant’ on stage, or give an audience some interactive exercises during a seminar. Doing this breaks up the monotony of just listening, it’s great fun, and it helps to create a more memorable and enjoyable session.
5. Give more breaks.
Assume that people need to move more than you think and give them lots of mini-breaks. This benefits everyone, as delegates get the chance to do more networking, and also process and discuss the speakers and panels they’re hearing. There are two exceptions to this - if you’ve got a big conference, don’t have a break too near the end of the day, as people often take that as a chance to leave earlier. If you’ve got ‘break-out’ sessions, then make sure they all finish at the same time, so that people aren’t hanging around waiting for the next session.
6. Big up the build-up.
When you watch a good magician, you’ll notice that they spend a lot of time getting the build-up right. In fact, magic tricks are usually all build-up! A great build-up can create intrigue, mystery and a sense of excitement. The best build-up will also create a sense of community. If you can get people connected to each other and invested in advance of an event, they’ll usually love it. Social media is excellent for build-up.
For one of my seminars, the audience is given a large envelope on each table with a big question mark printed on the front. As they enter the room a slide tells them ‘Please don’t open the envelope yet …’
This creates a real sense of mystery and excitement, and you can feel a buzz in the room.
Leave 'em wanting more.
7. Keep your promises.
One of the oldest rules in showbiz is: ‘always leave the audience wanting more’.
If the event or meeting is due to finish at 4.45pm, make sure that everything is timetabled to finish at least 15 minutes earlier, allowing some wiggle room. Attendees are always grateful when an event finishes on time (or even early!). If you have an event host or chairperson, ask them to remind the audience about timings, what they can expect next on the agenda, and repeat occasional promises that the event will finish on time.
8. Have a fabulous finale.
All magicians save their best trick until last. You want to leave your audience on a high. This is as true for a small meeting as for a conference of thousands. Don’t finish with low-energy activities such as feedback forms - have at least a few minutes after those to leave everyone feeling great. You don’t have to keep your best speaker or content until the end, but try to have a ‘reveal’ or some essential ‘breaking news’ or the results of a competition. You can ask the event host to drop hints and build the excitement about this during the day.
Bonus Tip: The event isn’t over just because the agenda says so. As a speaker and performer, I know that I’m still ‘performing’ even after the speech has finished. How I look and behave offstage is just as important as onstage. This is true of events - making sure that the departure is slick and professional really helps to leave a great impression. For larger events make sure that there are plenty of cloakroom staff, any goody bags or handouts are ready to go, and staff are ready to help with enquiries about onward travel and so on. Often the very last impression is the most important one, so make it a good one!
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