In a world of constant uncertainty and disruption, attention spans are shrinking as the pace of change continues to accelerate. Time is becoming harder to come by and we are all being asked to absorb more information faster than ever. Throw in a constant influx of digital disruption, and it’s enough to leave anyone’s head spinning, and that’s before you consider that we are all increasingly being asked to get up to speed on new technologies and business trends in record time.
As a futurist and keynote speaker who’s worked with over 1,000 brands and hundreds of meeting planners to help make complex concepts more understandable and approachable, I’m often asked to help educate audiences in a minimum amount of time. It has become increasingly clear to me that the same learning principles that we presenters use on-stage can be applied to help fast-track other forms of learning. This will allow us to improve the way we teach, train, and communicate with working professionals about emerging business topics and technologies of all types.
In effect, using a new training and education method I call Pop Future (free to download at my website) you can make future trends, innovations, and business concepts simpler for audiences of all backgrounds and skill levels to comprehend. Meeting and event formats are one of the first and most obvious places to turn for reinvention. I have therefore suggested ten ways to mix specific content and programming formats to help better connect with and engage audiences, in turn facilitating more rapid learning and retention. Weave any of the following activities, programs, and exercises into your next get-together. Don’t be surprised when audiences appear more awake, more attentive, and more apt to walk away equipped with the tools they need to better adapt to change and disruption.
Scenario Planning Sessions Role-playing exercises that challenge participants to puzzle their way through real-world scenarios. For example: adapting to new supply chain disruptions or dealing with a hack or data breach in real time.
Quick-Hit Innovation Programs Give meeting participants a problem to solve grounded in the real-world challenges your business faces and a set of tools or resources to do so. Then allow them up to 90 minutes to rise to the challenge. Groups of attendees should be broken into tables for the exercise and assigned a facilitator who can ask smart questions and keep the conversation flowing. Facilitators can also be swapped every 20 to 30 minutes to keep things more interesting. Want to spice things up? You can also pop in every so often and announce a new challenge. For example, a new Covid variant has delayed your return to the office, and rising geopolitical volatility just put the squeeze on your supply chain that participants must adapt to.
Ask the Expert Segments Also known as fireside chats, these are essential, informal conversations in which a moderator or the audience puts pressing queries to a well-known authority or industry thought leader. The format allows for more free-form and off-the-cuff answers to attendee queries.
Call-and-Response Programs Think keynotes and panels where audiences are polled, surveyed, and asked to respond (verbally or online) to questions. Presenters adapt their commentary and the flow of discussion accordingly on the fly.
Quick-Hit Discussions In short, five-to-ten-minute bursts, roundtables of professionals from different backgrounds, departments, and experience levels are asked to team up to answer a series of pointed questions. For example: Which trends will most impact your industry and company going forward? What are we doing to stay ahead of them? Where can we turn if we need further insight and inspiration? Etcetera.
Entrepreneurial Contests Imagine Shark Tank-style shows of good sportsmanship that invite teams to design and pitch new product or service ideas and concepts. Peers then vote for the winners that should become real-world prototypes. Alternatively, you might design custom trivia games on trending topics or hands-on learning challenges for meeting attendees to enjoy.
Video Training Packages These compress discussions of featured topics into short, engaging clips of three to five minutes (maximum) in length. Present them through the lens of wit, insight, or clever anecdotes that help make subjects seem more approachable and relatable to the day-to-day challenges that audiences face.
Speed Networking Programs Invite a group of five or more mentors to serve as expert consultants, whilst groups of meeting participants cycle through five-to-ten-minute meetings where they can ask questions and get business advice or tips.
Crowdsourced Commentary Pretaped segments in which three to six attendees, industry professionals, or association members respond to a question, for example: What’s the next big trend in meetings and conferences? On the day of the event, you put the same question to the audience and then play the video to see how well their answers align.
Problem-Solving Challenges Present table groups with a scenario and associated challenges and opportunities, then name the executive team of a fictional company facing them. Ask each table to develop solutions, then present their ideas to the larger group. For example: “Congratulations, you’re now in charge of multibillion-dollar telecommunications firm Connected Wireless. Just one problem: You’re in the middle of a 5G high-speed technology transition and can’t find enough talented installers. On top of that, your customers are struggling to make sense of what this new technology will mean for their business.”
Peer Review Panels Don’t underestimate the power of gamification (game-based learning) to help boost audience participation and involvement. Case in point: One simple way to make events more engaging is to ask groups of attendees to present ideas, design new concepts, and/or solve real-world problems as part of an entrepreneurial competition that comes with small prizes and awards attached. But rather than stop there, you could also invite colleagues from throughout the organisation; industry thought leaders; people from other fields, such as the world of startups or academia; to critique and vote for winners and give participants feedback.
Randomised Expert Talks Who says what you see on the meeting agenda must be what you get, especially if you can add an extra surprise guest or play pass-the-microphone from time to time? A great way to quickly source multiple perspectives on a topic is to start a discussion or presentation on a subject hosted by one commentator. Then draw names randomly, whether from preselected individuals or any of your audience members, every five-to-ten minutes and invite those picked to come up and pick up the conversation thread where it left off.
Variable Subjects Another fun way to randomise discussions while maximising impact is to structure a talk around a specific, broad topic, for example, the future of work, diversity and inclusion, etcetera. You set a timer for ten or 15 minutes. Each time the buzzer goes off, the speaker must vary the subject of their presentation while still sticking to the broader theme. For example: in the case of the future of work, the conversation might flow from how to adapt to variable working schedules; to how to redesign your workplace to accommodate hybrid operations; before going on to how to connect with customers when most interactions now happen virtually.
Micro-Tracks and Mini-Conferences Consider carving out time during a conference or event to run a concurrent track of one to three hours in length filled with bite-sized learning sessions of 15 to 20 minutes that are hyper-focused on a trending topic. For example: cybersecurity, blockchain, or the future of finance. You can even build in badges, certificates, or awards to reward audience members for attendance and allow them to hop between these mini-conference tracks to personalise learning paths and specialise.
Turning the Tables Challenges Divide meeting participants into teams and ask them: If you were a competitor, what would you do to outperform, outmanoeuvre, and outcompete our business? Then switch things around and ask contributors: What can we do to keep rivals from applying these strategies to our detriment? Putting yourselves in a rival’s shoes can be a powerful way to see your organisation’s strengths and weaknesses.
Scott Steinberg, President and CEO of Bizdev: The International Association for Business Development and Strategic Partnerships. Hailed as the World’s Leading Business Strategist, award-winning professional speaker Scott Steinberg is among today’s best-known trends experts and futurists, and the best-selling author of “Think Like a Futurist; Make Change Work for You: 10 Ways to Future-Proof Yourself, Fearlessly Innovate, and Succeed Despite Uncertainty,” and “Fast >> Forward: How to Turbo-Charge Business, Sales, and Career Growth.” Find him through FuturistsSpeakers.com.