Getting on the front foot
Andrew Klein, professional MC and presentation skills speaker and director of SPIKE Presentations, presents his front line observations on conferences in a regular feature in BEN.
WE ARE all school-kids at heart. Yes, we are a little older, some of us a little greyer (or balder) and we might have real jobs, family commitments and maybe rent or a mortgage to pay. But when it comes to entering a conference room, most people instantly become school-children again.
By which I mean we sit up the back of the room, leaving the front rows empty. We do this for the same reasons as when we were at school. It is easier to hide and be inconspicuous. We can slip in and out of the conference room easily. We can check our mobiles without anyone noticing. The presenter prone to interactive activities or question asking or…… yikes…. bringing an audience member up on stage, simply isn’t going to pick on the naughty kids up the back. Bottom line, it allows us to a bit of breathing space, away from the limelight (or at least the stage lights).
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not criticizing you. If I weren’t the guy up on stage speaking or MC’ing the conference, I’d be up the back with you, sending a few surreptitious emails. So I get it.
But here’s the thing. As a speaker, it sucks when no one is sitting up the front, or just as bad, when there’s only 200 people in a room set for 300, meaning the delegates are sitting in small clumps of 1’s and 2’s, with copious empty seats and rows.
This makes it hard for the speaker to engage the room, to get people to laugh or confer with each other and well, the atmosphere in the room just isn’t the same as a room where everyone is close to the front, packed in tight, with people on either side of them, creating energy, engagement, conversation and ‘buzz’.
Simple solution. Apart from setting up roped barriers like at a concert, conference organisers or conference committee members or staff should stand at the back of the room like security guards (smiling though, we don’t want to this to become too hardline) and gently and in good humour request and usher people towards the front. Offer fun incentives for people to fill the front rows (chocolates on their seats?) or offer your arm to escort them to the front. Some delegates will smile politely and refuse to move forwards, but I am always surprised at how compliant delegates are if they are asked (which more often than not, they aren’t).
So for the sake of a better conference, let’s get on the front foot and head to the front.