Why use visuals rather than text in communications

Why use visuals rather than text in communications

People are reading a lot less. 

It is slightly contradictory that the topic of this article is how visuals are often better than text at communicating information, and yet here we are, wading through some text together… And I say we, because we have entered into a strange contract – me as the writer with something to say, you as the recipient, trying to make sense of what the message is. It’s hard to replace text when you want to communicate details, but if you want to grab the attention of your audience, give them a feel for what the information is, rapidly convey a concept or idea, or just communicate in a different way, there’s nothing like a visual image. 

 

Research shows that people are reading a lot less, for many reasons.  

Information overload is all around us – at work and at home. When was the last time you read every single line of Apple’s privacy T’s and C’s? Or read the instruction manual on a new gadget fully before you used it? Even this article, two paragraphs in, will have been too much for some people and they will have stopped reading and moved on. (If you are one of them, it’s probably too late to say goodbye, but we hope you come back soon…) We are all busy people, and the countless apps and programmes and systems and processes that are meant to make things easier can just add their own noise. We have stuff to be doing and if we need to know something, we will spend as short a time as possible finding it out. So, if you need to communicate something, it needs to stand out from the rest of the clutter of daily life.  

 

Studies have shown that we only retain around 20% of things we read. 

That means that for every five paragraphs you write, only one will be remembered… that is, if the recipient has time to read it in the first place… So, as we reach paragraph number three, the irony meter goes off the scale… but for those of you who do like to read, thanks for making it this far! 

 37% of the population are visual learners and visuals can be processed at 60,000 times faster than text. Here’s an example. If you look at a picture of a ham and mushroom pizza, you get what it is immediately. If you got a list of words describing the pizza, it would take you a bit longer to work out what was being talked about. And yet, often the default attitude in business is to tell you about the thin slices of Parma ham and the type of mushrooms used…  

Visuals are also great at getting both parts of the human brain to work together

 

They encourage collaboration between the logical and more cognitive left side of the brain, with the more creative and intuitive right-hand side. But enough describing pizzas. Look at the picture. 

Just don’t think about how much time you would have saved if you’d looked at it first…

If you want to tap into our visual storytelling skills then the best person to contact is our resident visual creator Alana. Contact her on alana@purplemonster.co.uk or by calling the office on +44(0)1926 311347 and asking to speak to the Award Winning Visual Creator. 

Do you need some tips on how to make a dry topic interesting?



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Emcee (MC) vs Facilitator vs Guest Speaker vs Event Experience

Emcee (MC) vs Facilitator vs Guest Speaker vs Event Experience

How can you decide which skill set will bring the most to your next internal conference or event…and what’s the difference, anyway? Find out everything you need to know about the different hosting approaches here.  

We have been in the conference and events business for a long time. We’ve been lucky enough to fly all over the world with large, blue chip companies and so we have seen and been a part of every type of event possible. We have also seen all the variations of running such events, and the pros and cons of each of them.  

In this article we want to share this knowledge and insight with you, so you can make an informed choice about what will best help you achieve your objectives. 

Broadly, hosting options come in four forms: 

  • Emcee 
  • Facilitator 
  • Guest Speaker (not really a ‘host’ but worth understanding where this fits) 
  • Event Experience Lead 

Now, we know that you might well be thinking: ‘We’ve done this so many times, we know what format works’. …Well yes, that is most likely true. You may well have a format works in so much that it isn’t bad. But do you really want to be striving for ‘not bad’ 

Here is our first tip for making your conference or meeting feel different to the norm: 

Only use professionals that treat the audience as the customer. This might seem obvious, but the way that most events are set up means the commercial transaction is with the CEO, the budget holder or the organising committee. These groups then become the customer, not the end user, which in this context is the audience.  

Think about the last speaker or Emcee you saw at an event – how much time did they spend having coffee or building a relationship with the delegates either before or after their slot? How much time, in comparison, did they spend impressing the person that holds the budget? Or the CEO?  

The commercial transaction confuses this point, so it’s worthwhile keeping that in mind when you are deciding who to bring in to help you.  

Let’s take each hosting option in turn and help unpick the options open to you as an event organiser.      


Emcee – Master of Ceremonies 

A newsreader is probably the best analogy to use for an Emcee.  

This is a default option for many events, especially those centred around multiple guest speakers or individual presentations. An Emcee provides a structure, acting as a ‘host’ to ensure the whole meeting comes together and that there is a common reference point.  

A good Emcee will have the right balance of professional and humour…but without the cheese. In our experience this balance can be very difficult to find.  

It may be decided that a leader will Emcee the event. This has obvious budget benefits, but also having a leader obviously in charge of proceedings can demonstrate a clear message of leadership by putting them front and centre.  

There are downsides though. Housekeeping aspects, such as where the toilets are and timings of coffee breaks etc. need to be communicated by someone, so if there is no external party then it will most likely fall to this person. If that is a leader, their ‘status’ could be seemingly diminished. Unless of course, you have a leader who is skilled in presenting with humility and humour, whilst keeping up their status…and if you have that, using this person for this role is probably a very good option!  

Key activities you would expect every Emcee to carry out on the day: 

  • Introductions and initial housekeeping 
  • Setting the overall tone, objectives and agenda for the event 
  • Provide context and introductions to each speaker/presentation  
  • Link all the sessions together and extract the main points as the day progresses 
  • Host panel discussions and Q&A 
  • Keep and eye on time and the agenda and keeping the whole event on track. 

You will know if you have hired a good Emcee if they are: 

  • Able to work without reading straight from a script  
  • Able to act ‘in the moment’. Without this skill it will come across as formulaic and lacking in emotion. 
  • Have a good sense of humour and not be ‘quiz show’ like (quiz show MC’s are more common than any of us would like!)  

What an Emcee typically does not do: 

  • Provide content introductions or presentations – this would typically be left to the content experts 
  • Run activities such as ice breakers or team activities 
  • Provide challenge or provoke thinking.  

 

Facilitator 

In a conference context, think of a facilitator as a TV news reporter out in the field: taking care of specific sessions and making their individual ‘slot’ engaging, content-rich and useful.  

A facilitator is often used in internal content-based sessions or workshops where robust conversations and specific outputs are required. However, this skill set is increasingly being applied to larger conferences and events, as people require more focus on developing outputs and increasing level of skill development as well as listening to speakers/networking etc.  

A facilitator’s job is to co-ordinate the group, but in a way that harnesses the collective energy and knowledge to achieve a desired outcome. A facilitator will often issue instructions for an exercise, provide prompting thoughts and challenge for the group to consider, and generally help to guide the group to a conclusion or output of some kind…all the while ensuring everyone is able to participate and contribute.  

Key activities you would expect every facilitator to do:  

  • Look after specific sections of the event, i.e. a team building session, a brainstorming activity or a working session 
  • Understand how their sessions will work in terms of logistics, materials and providing clear instructions 
  • In advance of the event, design formats for specific elements which are engaging and outcome-focused 
  • Run those sessions with confidence and a level of authority (having the presence and impact required to control a large group of people is critical!)  

You will know if you have hired a good facilitator at a conference or event if: 

  • They are able to instruct large groups of people effectively to complete activities or tasks 
  • They fully understand how different sessions will run and how the session will lead the group to an outcome 
  • They are able to challenge and question the group(s) in order to ensure that the conversation is of high quality and considers a variety of perspectives or inputs 
  • They do all of this in a way which is high energy and ensures momentum 
  • They can provide and run elements such as ice breakers or energisers  
  • They spend time understanding your business and what you are trying to achieve 
  • They design activities, exercises and formats that will help you to achieve your objectives 
  • They consider subtle elements such as the knowledge people have (or haven’t) got when they arrive, energy levels and how to best deal with dissenting voices 
  • They are skilled in getting people to participate and avoid free-riding 

A facilitator wouldn’t typically: 

  • Be confident in ‘hosting’ large scale events  
  • Introduce speakers or provide an Emcee service (see above) 
  • Be equipped to design evening/networking elements of the event.  

 

Guest Speaker 

A good analogy for a guest speaker is the ‘expert’ that are invited on to news show as a guest.  

Although not strictly a ‘hosting’ option, guest speakers are a regular feature in many conferences and so it would be amiss to not explore the value that they provide.  

Inviting an external party to share their experience, their knowledge or their story is a popular way of cementing key messages or providing expertise from outside the organisation. Often large companies can spend a lot of their time looking inward, so a strong guest speaker is an excellent way of understanding expertise from the outside world, providing new and innovative thinking related to the objectives of the event.  

Motivational speakers are frequently used, but in our experience, they can often be used as a default setting. Venue booked – check! Name Badges send to print – check! Motivational speaker booked – check! Used in the right context with a relevant and a well-presented message and story, they can be very powerful; out of context or poorly executed, they are an expensive way for people to spend time checking emails.  

Key activities you would expect every guest speaker to do: 

  • Be happy to send you videos of them speaking and references for people that have heard them speak. Think carefully about booking someone who can’t or won’t do both of these things 
  • Have a powerful message which has been well practised, and is told in a compelling way 
  • Know their material and be clear on their technical requirements (microphones, videos etc) 
  • Understand the context in which they are going to be speaking, and be willing and able to adjust their message accordingly 
  • Have excellent impact and presence – it seems obvious, but unfortunately anyone can call themselves a ‘speaker’. It doesn’t necessarily mean they are any good at it 

A good guest speaker will: 

  • Be available for even a short time, ideally after their slot, to have further conversations with delegates 
  • Be curious and interested in the context of the event and the background of the company – show genuine interest in how their message is going to help the audience 
  • Have good audience connection and warmth. Anyone who comes across in the planning stages as aloof is most likely missing this element 

A guest speaker wouldn’t typically: 

  • Be around for the whole event 
  • Be involved or present in other sessions  
  • Interact directly with the audience apart from maybe asking for a show of hands.  

 

Event Experience 

An event experience lead is like a strong TV presenter – the glue that holds all the parts together, willing to challenge but can also entertain and keep peoples interest.  

This is essentially an Emcee, a facilitator and presenter all rolled into one. This role considers the whole experience from the audience perspective and brings all the pieces together into one coherent, engaging ‘programme’  

This role will work with you to weave together all of the various elements into an overall thread, working through the overall flow, the emotional journey of the delegates and weaving interventions throughout to keep the messages clear and the energy high.  

This is suitable for events where you want the lines between stage and audience to blur, and not so suitable where a more formal, structured approach is desired.  

Key activities you would expect Event Experience to do: 

  • Be focused on the audience at all times and how this event is going to help them learn, be inspired or create a momentum towards individuals taking action.  
  • Review your overall agenda and help identify the ‘red thread’ that ties it all together 
  • Input into the individual sessions to ensure the links to your red thread are clear and consistent 
  • Help ensure content is presented in an effective way – coaching and rehearsing with less experience speakers or suggested different formats to mix it up 
  • Liaise with the AV team to ensure logistics don’t get in the way of seamless execution 
  • Create non-content interventions such as energisers, ice breakers or networking sessions to act as the glue through the event 

A good event experience lead would: 

  • Provide high-energy Emcee as well as serious, thoughtful facilitation  
  • Act ‘in the moment’, ensuring that key messages are not missed  
  • Able to provide witty, funny and spontaneous reaction or playback of the event – creating a shared, memorable experience for employees 
  • Have the detailed business knowledge to challenge and provoke thought, helping to keep conversations away from corporate speak 

Event Experience Lead wouldn’t typically get involved in: 

  • Arranging AV and room bookings 
  • Deciding the detailed content and messages 
  • Designing content sessions or producing presentations (though they might advise or provide ideas on the format and how to make them more engaging) 

 

Each event will have different objectives and requirements, but the likelihood is, if you’re reading this article it is because you want to do something different. If that is the case then come and talk to us about our experiences providing event experience expertise to conferences all over the world.  Get in touch via email on danielle@purplemonster.co.uk or call the office on +44(0)1926 311347

 If you are looking for idea or tips to create your own memorable meeting, then download a copy of our e-book here which explains our PIE (Physical Intellectual and Emotional) Memorable Meeting framework.    



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Disruptive Thinking- Scarman, 17th April 2018

Disruptive Thinking- Scarman, 17th April 2018

“Don’t know what I want, but I know how to get it…”

Clayton M Christiansen coined the term “disruptive innovation” in the mid-1990s, defining it as:

“a process by which a product or service starts with simple applications at the bottom of a market – often servicing an need that is not currently being met by the current incumbents of that field – and, from this foothold, relentlessly moves up-market, changing the environment, and, sometimes, displacing the established competition.”

It’s come to mean more. It’s become a zeitgeist word, bandied about as a new, exciting successor to creativity and innovation, and people seem to think they want it.

Or do they?

Whether people want to disrupt at industry, company, or team level. The first step is to question the currently accepted position… take the music industry as an example…

Where it was… What happened when the established belief was questioned…
Music is a physical product, sold in albums and singles on vinyl and cassette. Music is rented when you need it through Spotify, Amazon and iTunes. People create their own albums as they want to.
Sharing music is terrible. “Home taping is killing music!” Sharing music is to be encouraged as it builds interest, momentum and profile for artists. By turning music into a subscription service, Spotify has made the record collection of the whole world available to everyone.
Artists have to have a recording contract to get their music distributed. Artists control their own output, using the power of their fanbase to produce what they want to make, and what the fans want to consume. Companies like Apple do exclusive deals with artists to make their product available to consumers.
Recording live concerts damages the artists’ product and reputation. Live concerts are an experience that can be added to. Recordings of the gig you have just been to are available – at a price above the price of a live album – on the night of the gig, so the experience lives on for the people who were there.
And when digital is everything… People want vinyl. They want the physical experience of music. They want everything that digital no longer gives them!

“Something’s going on, a change is taking place…”

Things have to fall into place. The environment, timing and technology does have to support it, but disruption often comes from understanding the commercial outcomes and then reverse engineering from that outcome. Consider customer experience. Would people like their bills generated immediately? Enter Tonik Energy…

Disruption can be on a very simple scale but can have huge impact by really focusing on specifics that can meet customer needs better than the current offers. Patanjalimanaged to beat well established household good brands such as P&G and Unilever by focusing on an unserved customer group (natural products) and not adopting market established paradigms (such as having a large advertising spend).

The key is keeping close to the customer problem you are trying to solve.

New technology can open up obvious new markets, but can also create whole new markets. Everyone – or just about everyone – has access to the video capabilities of a smartphone. Why not offer them training, so they can make professional quality videos, without engaging a professional company, or purchasing expensive kit? Customer trends can drive whole industries and the best disruptors are those that can exploit those trends, especially if they can offer it in bitesize content.

A new idea is delicate. It can be killed by a sneer or a yawn; it can be stabbed to death by a quip and worried to death by a frown on the right man’s brow. -Ovid

The fear of failure, however, can stop people taking action. Ideas can die very quickly if not supported, so how do you respond to the ideas people come to you with? Do they get killed with a sneer or a yawn, or do you take a default “yes” approach?

Not seeing the world how it has been but being open to new trends as they develop is a key skill for people who want to work with, rather than against disruptive influences. Look at the rejuvenation of what was once considered an “elderly” market. People who would once have moved into a grey netherworld are becoming more aspirational and better connected – and new trends and new markets are opening up for older people who want to travel the world.

The instant gratification, and always-on solution that is driven by our increasingly app-based culture is providing impetus to rapid disruption, both on the demand side, and, through widespread social media, instant connectivity and high levels of visibility across industries. Disruption in one industry can be inspired by a completely different industry.

This calls for a laser sharp focus on what you are trying to achieve, and most importantly, what your customer is demanding from you… for example Chiltern Railways overcoming a traditional obstacle of lack of station facilities and simply building their own station.

 

“When problems come along, you must whip it…”

To adopt a disrupter’s mindset you have to see the barriers or obstacles that currently exist – or the threats to your current model that are manifested in the “desire paths” that your customers are taking to meet needs that you are not currently serving – as opportunities to be exploited, even if they appear to defy conventional wisdom for your industry. Sometimes it helps to consider what your overall product or service offering feels like for customers. Do you have an attention to detail over and above your competitors? Is something being missed that people would value?

 

F.E.A.R… Freeing Excellence Affects Reality

If you want to encourage disruptive innovation at a team level, it has to be obvious that support and permission is granted from the top down, even though the reality of taking on challenges and looking for new approaches will inevitably result in failure. The established culture – in life, society and business – can often mean that experimentation and failure is not celebrated and indeed, is often punished.

How can leaders or teams help to celebrate failure? “Failure cake” that is handed out at Tonik is one way of making light of people making genuine mistakes in their attempt to make improvements. Sometimes, you just have to stand up and celebrate with the “failure bow”. Don’t be ashamed of failure. The person who never made a mistake, never made anything.

It requires some personal reflection too. How comfortable are you as the leader or your leadership team with failure and risk? And what structures will you, as a leader, need to establish so that creativity and innovation can flourish without creating chaos and efforts being focused in the wrong area?

 

Tips for encouraging creative thinking and therefore more disruptive ideas are:

  • Hire well – don’t just hire on technical skills but hire for cultural fit and individual desire to keep developing and their ability to challenge in a constructive way.
  • Ensure that principles for decision making are clear from the top and provide guidelines for how people should act. This will give people a compass when they need to make decisions.
  • Look external for inspiration – don’t just look at your own industry.
  • Consider what you are measuring and how that is driving decisions and activity – if you change what you measure you are likely to change what people focus on.
  • Find a way to celebrate failure, so the word “failure” is not seen as a bad thing, but as a necessary step to refine thinking, remove doubt, and tighten the focus on what needs to be done.
  • Could Improv skills help you and your team be more confident with uncertainly and building skills in building on ideas? Would they benefit from learning to embrace ambiguity and change, operate from a “yes, and” position, provide mutual support and hold multiple thoughts while moving towards a common goal?
  • Where are the clichés in your business, and what would happen if you reversed them? What established practices are you simply sticking to but are restricting your ability to innovate and disrupt? What benefits could result from Re-inventing Organisations?

 

We do business differently, experimenting with the idea that there are other ways to do business, connect with people and get results. Different ways to learn and share outside of the normal taught approach, common in workshops, business schools and L&D environments across the globe. If you want to become involved, please sign up here to learn more.

To download this article as a pdf, please fill out the form below.



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“Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM”- how to raise the bar at your next event

“Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM”- how to raise the bar at your next event

We specialise in creating Memorable Meetings, and as a result, we’ve been involved in the design and delivery of thousands of events throughout our history. Most of the events we get involved in are for the private or corporate sector…and we’re used to tackling many complexities, challenges and pitfalls these bring in order to create a good event experience. 

 

Recently, we’ve also attended a number of industry events for a variety of groups and organisations and have been a little bit surprised that we’ve found the exact same issues there, too. Surely, you’d expect things to be a bit more…polished? 

Well, even the groups who you’d expect to be pushing a more interactive, exciting conference agenda, setup and format, really aren’t. The experience is largely the same. We see the same old issues cropping up time and time again, wherever we are, whichever event, whichever audience. We call it “Same-Old Syndrome” 

Symptoms of this include, but are not limited to: 

  • Same old structure: you know the drill…arrive, get your badge, grab a coffee and a biscuit; awkwardly greet other attendees or attempt to network; sit down and listen to endless presentations; guest speaker parades for a while; panel debates; wander round trade stands; leave with a handful of pamphlets 
  • Soulless venues: usually corporate, stale or lifeless buildings and old conference centres; often in rooms with little or no natural light; air conditioning and heating optional 
  • Bored people: the energy in the room plummets; people on their phones; fidgeting and distractions; awkward coughing; people leaving early; no meaningful conversation 
  • Terrible refreshments: grey tea and coffee in stainless steel jugs refilled throughout the day; never quite hot enough; always bitter; only drunk for an energy boost or as a distraction; sad biscuits or pastries 
  • Endless PowerPoint presentations: slide decks galore; full of bullet points; presenters using slides as speaker notes; no interaction; goes on too long 
  • Panel discussions and debates: usually unfair; sometimes very heavily weighted; gender bias; can involve “mansplaining”; easily derailed and easily dominated by the loudest voice; badly facilitated (if at all); mostly not particularly useful 
  • Lack of facilitation: little consideration of audience experience; often self-guided rather than structured; emcee and/or host more like a quiz show than a conference; audience interaction feels forced and/or shallow 
  • Overegged networking: dedicated “networking” time in the agenda; full of forced fun; lack of true conversation; icebreakers usually include at least one of: “tell me something nobody knows about you” or “tell me a fun fact about you” 
  • No dialogue: very passive experience; presented to and talked to without ever getting to interact; Q&A sessions sometimes shoehorned in; networking forced; social media can take precedence over in-the-moment interaction and conversation; lack of reflection time 
  • Trade stands or expos: endless pop-up banners; business card prize jars; egotistical selling; giveaways galore; leaflets, handouts, papers everywhere that just get thrown away 
  • Egotistical guest speakers: who sometimes want their own agenda; can be ruled by ego and levels of sponsorship; can sell instead of imparting insight and learning; are the customers of the conference organisers; don’t often focus on audience needs 
  • No focus on the experience: little consideration of the audience’s needs and wants; no consideration of mindset or emotion; lack of objectives; unclear takeaways or key learning; no wow factor 

 

Do you recognise anything on the list? I know I do. Set yourself a task: think of the last conference or event you attended. If we use the above bullet points as a checklist, how many could you tick off as having seen at that conference or event? 

1-4, maybe that’s not too bad. 5-7, things are starting to look a little…samey. 8 and above? You’re in full-on “Same-Old Syndrome”. 

We probably all know what this looks and feels like, because the likelihood is that we’ve all attended something that ticks at least a couple of these boxes. But is everyone really that happy with turning up at the same old conferences, hearing the same old things, getting the same old freebies and cold coffee and going home?  

We know what the bog-standard conference feels like, what the coffee tastes of, how uncomfortable the chairs are, how anything is more interesting than somebody who’s been presenting slides for 45 minutes…yet we still attend them. Time after time. And not only do we still attend these sorts of events…even worse: WE CREATE THEM. 

This brings us to one question: 

WHY? 

Well, people are scared. There’s the status quo, already established, whether you like it or not. Whether you can see it, feel it, it’s there. There’s a routine, a set of unwritten rules (who knows how they even came to be in the first place), that dictate “how things are meant to be” when designing or organising an event.  

 Venue- check! Date- check! Delegate package- check! Save the date- check! Invite- check! Speaker- check! 

There’s a fairly well-known saying for this: “Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM”. (The phrase came into being as IBM was known as a safe, reliable choice for many companies: you weren’t going out on a limb or risking your job if that’s what you chose. No risks taken there.) 

Well, the saying is true in the conference arena too. People organising events or conferences usually do have something on the line- their reputation, their confidence, their relationships within the organisation- sometimes their job. It’s no easy feat, either, and the pressures can be great. So why would you NOT “choose IBM” if it’s the easiest and safest option presented to you? 

We know that conferences and events can be boring, dull and downright demoralising. But why would you want to be the person to mess it up, by trying something different? 

 

We help organisations to do business differently. As an external party, it’s easier for us to come in with the ideas, themes, red threads and experiential expertise that is more likely to make a meeting memorable. But we know that that’s not for everyone, and that something so “different” sometimes scares people away. 

We get it. We don’t all have the confidence, buy-in and, quite honestly, “balls, to try something different. We’re not suggesting a complete overhaul of the conference status quo (not to start with, anyway!) We’re also not asking you to “buy anything other than IBM. You don’t have to do anything fancy. You don’t even have to spend a lot of money. But what you can do is start to make a few small changes that will catapult your events miles ahead of anyone else’s.  

So, what can you do to ditch the same-old, same-old, and raise the bar for your next event or conference? 

 Here’s a couple of tips: 

 

Find an engaging space 

Find a venue for your event that feels a little bit different- conference and events venues don’t have to be dull. Choose a quirky building, innovative space or just somewhere a bit “different” (converted church, factory, racetrack?) Even if you go with something a bit more “typical”, like a conference centre or meeting space, make sure it sets the right tone for the event. Go for somewhere light, bright and airy- there’s nothing worse than an event room with little natural light, or even no windows! Websites like Engaging Spaces focus specifically on fulfilling this need. 

 

Get the facilities right 

Check the heating and/or air con to make sure your guests won’t freeze or boil to death (yes, room temperature really is a common complaint!), and make sure all the facilities you need can be provided. There are few things more embarrassing than an AV setup that glitches or goes wrong, so sort out your requirements with the venue in advance. Events spaces can usually provide extra equipment such as stationery if necessary, so have a chat with the team about what you might need. Most importantly…refreshments. We’re not kidding- this can make or break events. Conferences where the lunch ran out, the coffee was cold and the biscuits lacking usually get feedback focusing on those specific things, rather than the event itself. Stock up on breakfasts, lunches and snacks, and don’t forget tea and coffee! 

Check out our Memorable Meetings video on Refreshments for a few hints and tips. 

 

Limit your PowerPoints 

We often encounter conferences and events, across many industries, which are an endless tirade of slide decks. It’s tempting to do, and very common, but it’s also incredibly lazy and not very engaging. Nobody wants to listen to somebody speak to a set of slides for 45 minutes…and nobody ever wants to listen to 3 people doing the same. 

So…cull your PowerPoint. We’ve designed and facilitated some events where the organisers had implemented a complete PowerPoint BAN, where presenters weren’t allowed to even touch the software. We’re not suggesting you go that far but imposing a limit might be a good idea. For your audience’s sake. Don’t subject them to it. 

Here’s a rule for any presenters: the slide deck is for your audience, not for you. No using it as an aide memoire, no using it as your speaker notes. Limit the words on screen and use as many visuals and emotion-provoking statements or images as possible. You want people to connect with your topic, not switch off. 

This article sets out more information on avoiding the dreaded “Death by PowerPoint”.  

 

 Talk like TED 

If culling PowerPoint isn’t your bag, there is another way of making presentations and content more engaging. Set your speakers a challenge: talk about only 3 key points. If you say more than 3 things, you’ve said nothing, so stick to 3, and people are more likely to remember.  

Another thing to try is the TED talk format, which has become famous around the world for its focus on clarity and brevity from all of its speakers. Talks are between 5 and 18 minutes long, and must have a clear, focused topic for discussion. This means that messages are shorter and more streamlined, there’s no 45-minute presentations with endless slide decks, and the key takeaways are punchy and hard-hitting. There’s nothing else to be with only 17 minutes to cover your content. Try it if you think your presenters need a time limit. 

 

 Hire the right host 

Sure, emcees and conference hosts can be useful, and lots of people use them, but sometimes you just need that little bit more than somebody announcing the next speaker and cracking a few jokes. Consider hiring an event facilitator to help focus on the experience of the day- it will make a big difference to expecting one of your leaders or team to step up. Facilitators can not only host, but they can also help structure the day, guiding sessions and people as necessary. They’re especially great with group working and smaller sessions, where they can help deconstruct topics discussed, guide and encourage conversation, and get to the outcomes you’re looking for. 

 

Shake up your panels 

It seems like the obvious, but please ensure diversity and inclusion is present in your panel discussions. We understand that the people you’d like to include might not always be available, or that some industries might be predisposed to a certain demographic, but it’s always disheartening to watch a panel discussion that’s actually a “Manel”- with nobody else on it but middle-aged white men in dark grey suits. Try where you can to be as relentlessly inclusive as possible. 

On this topic, facilitated panels are also a very good idea- it’s incredibly common for unmoderated panel discussions to descend into people talking over each other, or just one person who talks on and on and on whilst not giving their fellow panellists a chance to speak. This isn’t nice for the panel or for the audience, so if you have a facilitator, use them to guide conversation and ensure good representation, taking questions from the audience and responding in the moment to everything that takes place. 

  

Make it interactive 

Now, by “interactive”, we’re not just talking about Q&A sessions. They can actually prove to be not very interactive at all- especially when there is nothing but silence following the dreaded: “any questions?” 

Of course, Q&A sessions are a good start, but there are other interventions to consider that will make the day two-way and interactive. For example: breakout sessions after presentations, where people can either chat about what they have heard, ask the relevant questions; or a fun exercise which puts the content on its feet and gets people to think about it in greater detail. 

 

Our favourite model for this is Context, Experience, Reflection. Whatever is to be conveyed is established by setting up the context and why it is important; the context is then brought to life by an exercise that provides a parallel experience; these two factors are then combined in a period of reflection where the group reach their own conclusions and decide on the actions that should be taken.  

 By following this model, your audience won’t be a passive one- they’ll be actively involved, engaged, and will feel a part of what’s going on. 

 

Network with purpose 

We’re not against networking- far from it. We’re just against the typical, stale networking that sees people awkwardly shuffling around a room telling other people how bad their journey was, or what they had for breakfast. There are far better ways of networking that will create greater connection between people. 

 It doesn’t matter if the attendees are strangers, if they know each other a bit, or are people who work with each other every day. We like to start with “hello.” So, start with that, and then move on to something with a bit more purpose.  For a content-based suggestion, give them a subject from the day– no details, just the general topic– and in small groups of 3, 4 or 5, come up with a few areas, or questions that they would like to have answered. Or, for something a bit different, try an exercise that builds connection via finding commonality, and telling stories. Much more fun. 

 And if it’s more traditional networking you’re after, try something akin to speed meetings, where people are greeted with a card and given the challenge of finding a certain number of facts about those around them in the allotted time. 

 …Just don’t get us started on “ice breakers”. 

 

Allow people to breathe 

Take a look at your agenda, and allocate some time that isn’t a session, but isn’t a coffee break. It’s free time, for people to digest, reflect and discuss everything they have seen and heard. In this time, encourage people to do anything they want…apart from check their emails (though to be honest, if they do check their emails, at least they aren’t doing it in a session). 

Consider it reflection time. Not enough events have it, and it’s like a breath of fresh air, especially if the day is content or presentation-heavy. 

 

And, if you’re feeling brave… 

Consider the overall event experience 

Take a look at all the elements of your event- ticketing/invites, registration and arrival, venue, refreshments, content or presentations, speakers, panels…and ask yourself one thing: would I be happy attending this conference? If the answer is no, you should probably reconsider a few things. Return to the list, and pick something to focus on. Consider your audience. After all, your answer to the question: “is this the same-old, same-old?” should be…no. 

 

Of course, we can’t expect that you’ll go storming into your next design meeting with your own set of conference rules and a revolutionary new way of thinking. 

 So, you know what? Start small. Pick something- one thing– from the list and focus on it next time you have to plan a conference, event, or even meeting. Don’t completely ignore the other elements, by any means, but make that one thing your priority. It will raise the bar just that little bit higher…and next time, pick something else to work on. Try things out, experiment, and raise the bar every time. We promise it will make a difference.  

Maybe the next step is buying something other than IBM. In which case…give us a call. 

 

If you’d like to learn more about planning memorable meetings, our PIE (Physical, Intellectual, Emotional) model sets out the steps you need to consider. For PIE videos, and our Memorable Meetings e-book, please click here. 

For more information around focusing on the Event Experience, what it entails, and how we can help you, check out our handy guide. 



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Ice Breaker Ideas

Ice Breaker Ideas

There are few phrases that say “I need to do something at my event, but I don’t know what” than “can you do an ice breaker?”.

If that’s what you are looking for, you need to search the web for “ice breaker exercises”. You aren’t going to get any here. Instead you’ll get a question. 

 

Why do you need one? 

When someone says, “can you start with an ice breaker?” it poses a number of questions.  If you don’t do one, what are you afraid might happen? Are you afraid that people are being artificially brought together, and that they won’t open up or engage with the content, or even speak to each other without something to get them over their paralysing awkwardness? Do you think that this kind of coming together is a fraught, painful, scary place? Or – dare I say it? – you’re not convinced that there is anything engaging in the meeting itself? Or could it be that you’re looking at a blank sheet of paper, and you don’t know where to begin. 

 

So, here’s a thought. Start with “hello”. 

It doesn’t matter if the attendees are strangers, if they know each other a bit, or are people who work with each other every day. They are people who are completely capable of talking to each other and contributing to the topics being presented without first being treated like children and treated to an out-of-context parlour game, to “break the ice”. Instead, look at the environment, and the level of permission you are affording them. If you are hosting the event, how do they see you, and their fellow attendees? Are they turning up to something that reminds them of school? If they start filling up from the back – like they did at school – they don’t need an ice breaker, they need something to break that paradigm. If there only a few people coming, try greeting people as they arrive – start with “hello” – and engage with them as humans. Just a few words will suffice, but it will make people feel less passive, and help them to open up to you. 

If there are a few more people to engage with, that might not be so easy, and you may have to be a bit more creative… 

 

Get people to talk to each other 

That’s what you want to do isn’t it? That, and be interested in what you have brought them together for, so why not combine the two? 

You could go down some hackneyed route of asking people to share three things about themselves that other people wouldn’t know… and you can revel in the awkwardness as people swing between mundane facts about their lives, embarrassing personal skills and lists of famous people they once saw in a bar. Then you launch into your content… 

 

Or pitch them into the topic you want to cover. 

Give them the subject you are going to talk to them about – no details, just the general topic – and get them to turn to each other in small groups of 3, 4 or 5 and come up with a few areas, or questions that they would like to have answered. That way they are talking to each other and beginning to engage with your subject matter. If you’ve done your homework they shouldn’t be dealing you too many wildcards… and if they do, that’s just good information about what people have at the front of their minds, and it’s better to know rather than not know… 

 

Of course, they don’t have to talk… 

We’re not against an exercise to kick the day off… as long as it has relevance for what is going to follow. If you’ve come across something that will make people think, and perhaps make them laugh, or connect them to the topic, go for it. Just don’t treat the first thing you do with them, the first mark on the blank sheet, as a standalone, throwaway moment that will miraculously unite people – and “break the ice” – as an end in itself. 

 

So, back to the first question… 

“Can you do an ice breaker?” Yes, we can, but a better question to ask yourself might be “is there any ice to break, or do you simply not know how to start your meeting or event?” Either way, just think about this. What do you want to say, and what would be the best way to introduce the topic that will make people sit up and take notice, and feel that they have a personal connection to it?  

When people come together to address a common cause, there isn’t ever any ice to break. 

 



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How can I avoid “Death by PowerPoint”?

How can I avoid “Death by PowerPoint”?

It’s fair to say that we hate PowerPoint. Well, perhaps that’s a slight exaggeration. Maybe it’s better to say that we hate bad PowerPoint, and whilst we don’t claim to be experts in the software, we’re very aware of the lax attitude people can have when it comes to creating impactful, concise slide decks. 

Many of you will be familiar with the term “Death by PowerPoint”. You know that feeling of disengaging with what someone is saying, because there’s simply too much going on for you to understand and digest? That’s what we mean. 

DBP (“Death by PowerPoint”) can happen anywhere, and it’s more common than you might think. Team talks, presentations, board room meetings, training, events, conferences- all can be totally derailed by slide after slide of endless, text-heavy content. 

In conferences, meetings and events, a good slide deck can be instrumental in helping to make messages land. A properly-branded and highly-visual PowerPoint, with clear, impactful messages, can make a real, professional difference to a conference or event. Slide decks can also help structure and guide the day, useful in not only any sessions being run, but also signposting the day’s agenda, breakouts, timings, groupings and refreshment breaks. With this in mind, if you’re using a PowerPoint, you’re going to want to get it right. 

So, want to know how to avoid killing your audience with a slide deck? Here’s a few things to remember… 

 

A PowerPoint is not your speaker notes 

First things first, let’s address the golden rule of presenting using PowerPoint: the slide deck is for your audience, not for you. There is nothing more disengaging than watching a presentation by someone who is using the deck as their own personal aide memoire. 

Your audience don’t have to see everything you’re going to say, or exactly how you’re going to say it. That bit is up to you. Structure the PowerPoint around what you have to say and then let it guide you in the presentation, using whatever is on the slides behind to reinforce your message, not repeat it. Keep words on each slide to a minimum (Seth Godin recommends only 6!), and use any words you use to summarise key points. 

Make sure the things you’re going to say go on cue cards or index cards, not on the slide deck. Not having to glance at the screen behind you for every second word will give more freedom of expression and more clarity in how you present, as well as making the presentation easier to digest. 

 

Make your content clear  

Ensure you have a clear overall objective for the meeting or session before you even start to construct your accompanying PowerPoint. What are you trying to say? Once you know this, you can tailor the content to the time you have available, and start to edit down the unnecessary items for a streamlined and clear message.  

 Ask yourself: “does it need to be said?” If the answer to that is “no”, then the only way forward is by removing it from the presentation. Don’t keep in unnecessary content or context; stick to what your audience need to hear. The edit process might be tough. Sometimes, you’re going to have to cull topics, ideas and points that you might not want to. But ultimately, it’s the only way forward. 

 From this, if you’re using a PowerPoint, you can start to build a slide deck which says no more than it has to, brings to life your key points and clearly sets out what you want people to know and remember. 

 And if you need a “So what?” moment, a series of key points and takeaways, take a short summary slide at the end. Never give out handouts or slide notes before the presentation, and if you want to leave the audience with something physical, design a clear one-pager that sums your presentation up.

 

Bullet points are not your friend 

Bullet points can sometimes seem like the easiest way to summarise key points whilst reducing the word count of a slide. But remember: your audience can read faster than you can speak. If you’ve got a bullet-pointed list that all appears at the same time, the likelihood is that your audience will have read the lot before you’ve even talked through the first one.

If you absolutely have to use a bulleted list, make use of PowerPoint animations, so each point arrives on-screen as you want to talk through it. This gives you more freedom to expand on the points you’re making, and avoids people reading ahead before just switching off. Even better, use clean, hi-res graphics to illustrate the points you’re making, and use your bullet points in your speaker notes instead. 

 

Make it visual 

Want to create an engaging PowerPoint? Your best bet is to make it as visual as possible. You know what they say about pictures: “a picture tells a story”; “a picture tells a thousand words”, etc. Well, in this case it’s definitely true. If you’re looking to reduce the “Death by PowerPoint” factor, edit out your words, and replace them with images. 

Visually appealing PowerPoints are not only far more interesting to look at, they’re also excellent signposting for the person presenting to know what to talk to. And more importantly for your audience, pictures can convey messages and tell a story in a single glance; far quicker than words ever can. Pictures spark emotion, and it’s emotion you need in any presentation to keep your audience on board and your content memorable.  

And, at the very least, good images provide an engaging background. Even if you don’t mention what’s behind you; even if it’s a standalone image; even if the slide is just a picture…it’s better than a slide of just words. 

Of course, there are a few guidelines when it comes to the pictures you choose. No unprofessional-looking or low-quality images; no stock images; nothing cheesy; no cartoons. And it goes without saying, but nothing offensive. Absolutely, the shock factor is fine if appropriate and in moderation, because a hard-hitting picture really can tell a story, but nothing gratuitous.  

Always make the pictures relevant to the subject, use them to illustrate points where you can, and even better, use them as the points you’re make where possible. 

 

Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse 

Bearing our previous points in mind, sometimes you can have the best PowerPoint in the world, but it’s presented by someone who neither knows their content well, nor really understands the best way to present to it. The answer to this? Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. 

 Smaller meetings might not have the same imperative for polished and professional performance, but if the presentation’s part of a large conference or event, you’ll need to rehearse beforehand. And by rehearsing, we mean a full run-through with the cue cards and the slide deck, to make sure everything is running smoothly. Get everything in order; practise every transition, animation and pause; make sure the content lines up and the message is clear. 

 Even better, invite a few trusted team members along to the rehearsal to hear the presentation. Let them review, help and suggest ways to improve if they think the presentation needs a bit more oomph to avoid “DBP”. Take on board their feedback and then run it through again with the changes you’ve made. 

  

And, finally…It’s not 2005 anymore. 

…So, don’t make your PowerPoint look like a fossil. If you’re the one in charge of creating the deck, please stay away from Word Art, sound effects or cheesy animations. It will cheapen your message almost instantaneously. 

 

By bearing the above in mind, you should hopefully avoid the pitfalls associated with bad PowerPoint, keeping your audience engaged and staying far away from the dreaded DBP. 

For more conference hints and tips, our Memorable Meetings series sets out more watch-out elements to consider when planning a conference, meeting or event (there’s much more to consider than your slide decks!) 

For visual ways of conveying messaging effectively and translating business messages into artistic creations, take a look at our Visual Creation, Artwork and Illustration page. 

If you want to create a conference which is impactful, memorable and engaging then have a chat with our creative team. Drop us a line on danielle@purplemonster.co.uk or call the Monster Office on +44(0) 1926 311347



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