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Want Better Engagement? Hijack Attendees' Mobile Devices

People are hopelessly attached to their devices—but planners can use that to make in-person sessions more relevant and engaging. Here's how.

Even with the sophistication of session design these days—from various seating options to frequently-changing content segments and delivery styles—there's one factor that must be reckoned with in any session: the meeting room's "second screen" that rests in attendees' hands, ready to steal their attention at any moment.

But rather than try to fight attendees' temptation to tap, scroll, and browse emails, websites, and social media on their devices, planners can instead make the devices an integral part of a session. This not only plays into attendees' preferences, but it also allows presenters to gather data from attendees and then guide the session down a path that most interests them. The result of this is increased attendee engagement both during and after a session.

Second-screen technologies can deliver conference slides, polling, and other interactive elements. In a webinar titled "From Distraction to Action: How Mobile Devices Can Increase Engagement," veteran digital product manager Sander Verlaan from Freeman laid out several strategies for leveraging the second screen in a session to maximize engagement and retention.

First, use pre-event questions and mobile-friendly chat forums so session presenters gain insight into the audience beforehand. This ensures that presenters can create compelling content, questions, polls, and delivery formats for the in-person session.

Share session slides on the second screen even though they appear on the main screen. That way, attendees can take notes on slides, push them to others not in the session, and post them to their social media channels.

Provide additional information on the second screen that augments slides shown on the main screen. This not only deepens the learning during the session, but it also provides more takeaway content.

Use questions and polling as transitions between session segments. Session-design best practices say that changing the topic or the format every 10 minutes is ideal for maintaining attention. Using polls and questions in transitions will keep attendees engaged while informing the presenter on which direction the upcoming session segments should go. However, don't push more than three questions during a transition, or attendees will lose interest.

Create a social-media wall or Twitter feed for the session, and present it on a second main screen or on attendees' mobile devices. This acts as a source of additional useful content that benefits other attendees, and also helps presenters guide the session's direction.

Train speakers and presenters on the second-screen apps and tools you prefer to use. Some of them will be more hesitant than others to use such tools. But make the case that it improves engagement and is simple to use.

Provide attendees with a "know before you go" email that details which second-screen apps and tools will be used. This allows attendees to become familiar with those tools ahead of time, boosting participation and engagement during the session.

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