Clever Carly: How to Engage (and Keep) Audience Attention

As human attention spans shorten, high-engagement meetings become even more important

Hello, planners!

Here’s the deal: Goldfish have long had the reputation of having the shortest attention span—nine seconds, to be exact. But what if I told you the human attention span has sunk even lower? Research suggests that the human attention span now lives at about eight seconds. And though there has been some debate over whether that is really true, there’s no denying that with the influx of stimuli people see every day, human attention spans are getting shorter. 

We all know that planning requires a certain expertise to keep audiences engaged. Shrinking attention spans mean that we have an added responsibility now: We have to craft events that not only command attendees’ attention, but also keep them plugged in and ready to participate. Although every event is different, this is how I would get started:

Leverage Social Media

Take a look at your phone right now. How many apps are related to social media? Everyone and every brand lives on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and—well, I could go on, but you get the point. 

Americans check their phones about 8 billion times per day, and social media plays a big role in that. (Who wants to miss the latest celebrity gossip, right?) You might not be able to stop your guests from using their phones, but you can give them something extra to look at online. Develop a comprehensive, multichannel approach for your event. Think about it as an additional layer of the meeting: What can you offer online that you can’t offer in person? For example, behind-the-scenes insights or footage can help supplement the information presented at a meeting in real life. Additionally, having a virtual meeting space, if you will, allows for different avenues of participation that can continue to grow long after the meeting is over.

Hire the Right Emcee

Speakers can make or break a meeting, which is why it’s essential to hire someone who makes people listen when they speak. Public speaking isn’t everyone’s forte, and there are many different styles of speeches. When interviewing potential emcees, ask to see clips from previous events or have them prepare a five-minute set related to your meeting, so you can get a feel for his or her public speaking skills. Think about your meeting purpose, and choose someone whose speaking style aligns with the event goals. 

If you already have a designated speaker (or speakers) for your event, make sure he or she feels comfortable talking to a large group of people. If he or she is a little shy, consider hiring a speaking coach. The additional training will help your speaker feel more confident in front of a crowd, and it will show your dedication to making the event as strong as it can be. 

Set Up the Room for Success

Planning is all in the details, and room décor is no different. Of course, you’ll want to have the setup match the meeting purpose, but make sure the visual experience of the event doesn’t detract from the meeting itself. Is the lighting right, or is it so dim that guests can’t see? Are any décor elements hindering views of the stage? Either mistake will make it easier for a guest to disengage from your meeting. 

Amid décor planning, it can also be easy to lose sight of venue basics. For example, if the room temperature is too hot or cold, attendees might not be able to focus. But if you keep the room in comfortable balance, guests will pay attention to what’s going on at the event, rather than wishing they had brought a jacket.

Planning an event is hard enough without worrying about whether people will actually pay attention—but if they don’t, the work you’ve put into an event will go to waste. Planning with a perspective of what will keep audiences engaged can be the difference between a great event and a dull one. And a boring event is something we all want to avoid, isn’t it?

Plan well,
Clever Carly