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| Written by the M&IW Team

Four Ways to Captivate an Audience

Originally published on November 23, 2019. Updated on October 25, 2023.

Conference hosts often craft a jam-packed program, filling it with moment-by-moment stimulation. As any planner knows, however, piling on the content doesn’t always equate to attendee engagement. So what is a conference planner to do?

First, space out your program. Scheduling back-to-back-to-back presentations may seem like a great way to ensure everything you want is included, but this type of agenda is a drain on attendees. Their attention spans drift as they start wishing for the next break instead of paying attention to your content. By building in plentiful breaks, attendees have a minute to breathe, digest the information, and prepare for the next session.

But the conference schedule is just a surface-level solution. To truly captivate your audience, it comes down not to what is being presented but how. Keep attendees interested and engaged with thoughtful, dynamic, and inspiring presentations, starting with these four best practices.

Recruit a Great Emcee

An emcee is often the last item left to secure once the rest of the budget has been spent, yet this key persona can have the biggest influence on how your audience perceives the stage presence. Celebrity masters of ceremonies may come with a hefty price tag, but a fun and engaging professional emcee provides great value. They are highly skilled at keeping audiences energized and excited no matter the topic. After all, it’s their job!

It is best to involve an emcee earlier rather than later and provide them with key face time with your audience to enhance the return on your investment. Plus, the earlier you secure an emcee, the more you can market their presence, and a recognizable name can lead to a boost in registrations.

Involve Your Speakers

People naturally gravitate to people they know, like, and trust, so let the audience get to know the speakers. This more they can relate to the presenters, the more they’ll pay attention and the more they’re get out of the topic.

One way to do this ahead of time is to ask speakers to write introductory social media posts that you then share pre-conference. You can also ask speakers to include personal information in their bios for the event website and mobile app, not just professional details. During the program, speakers can connect quickly with your audience by infusing humor to grab their attention or share a little-known fact about the emcee or host to build trust.

Design for Conversation 

Not all engagement needs to come directly from the stage. In fact, the more audience members interact with speakers, each other, and the content, the better. Consider mixed seating options to inspire conversation. For example, instead of classroom-style seating with rows of chairs facing the stage, try crescent rounds, also known as half rounds. This setup makes it easier to talk to tablemates without having anyone’s back to the stage. Cocktail tables at the back or sides of your conference space are helpful for attendees who don’t want to sit all day. Plus, they’re the perfect place to meet for a quick chat during breaks.

While these simple changes in space are helpful in inspiring conversation and connection, it’s also important to get speakers involved. Encourage them to build time into their presentations for table discussions and other conversational tactics.

Add End-of-Day Entertainment 

Conferences are usually long, and no matter how captivating and stimulating the content is, people get tired toward the end of the day, making it the perfect time to bring out the professional entertainment. Entertainers bring new energy to the audience, whether it’s a comedian, a musical act, or a keynote speaker whose presentation is more exciting than educational. If you choose an emcee with the right skill set, they can double as your entertainment.

No matter who you choose, you have two options for end-of-day timing: They can perform right before the closing session to engage the audience and reenergize them before the final pieces of educational content. Alternatively, they can take the stage as your closing session to end the event on a high note. If you go this route, tease their performance in earlier sessions to give attendees something to look forward to (and an incentive to stay for the full day).

Speaker Management Made Easy

Finding the right speakers for your conference or event doesn’t have to be stressful or time-consuming. In fact, partnering with M&IW makes it easy! By engaging our speaker management services, we will recruit potential speakers and emcees, negotiate and secure their contracts on your behalf, and track and manage confirmed speakers and their event materials. Contact us to learn more.

Already an M&IW customer? Contact your Customer Success Manager.