Participant Engagement vs. Instant Results

Today's post is inspired by yesterday's #eventprofs chat about WEC 2011 and an RFP that landed in my inbox this week.

Apparently, WEC 2011 was a success. Conference planners built 2 and 2-1/2 hour interactive breakouts into the agenda. This is a step in the right direction. During yesterday's chat, Adrian Segar indicated his 2-1/2 hour breakout flew by. Some participants expressed concerns that shorter breakout sessions were so cramped with content that they did not allow enough time for questions, participant interaction and engagement with speakers.

This relates to the following email and it's typical of the requests event planners and facilitators often receive:

"....we will not be able to spare the time lines suggested on your site....we need stimulation for a few hours"

I expressed concerns about the unrealistic time-frame and some suggestions. The prospective client responded:

"The group will consist of The Chairman, MD, Director of various divisions and CEOs of various locations. My apprehension is suggesting anything....intellectually sub par for the group."

A two-hour interactive session with intellectual depth for 120 people? That's a tall order that only Samantha from the old TV series Bewitched could deliver.

Here is an outline of what's realistic for a minimum bare bones interactive session.This time-frame is only possible if the facilitator has had an opportunity to set up the meeting venue in advance. Scheduling the start of one session at the same time the previous breakout is ending is common but totally unrealistic.

  • Context Setting (15 - 30 minutes)
  • Instructions, Clarifying Questions (15 - 30 Minutes)
  • Simulation or Facilitated Exercises(45 Minutes - 1 Hour)
  • Debriefing Preparation (15 - 30 Minutes)
  • Debriefing (30 Minutes)
  • Q & A (15 - 30 Minutes)
  • Wrap-up (15 - 30 Minutes)


  • Interactive Conference Breakout - 2 1/2 hours
  • Corporate - 3 1/2 hours

For corporate meetings, an additional 2 1/2 hours at minimum should be added for business application exercises.

For conferences and business meetings, instant coffee is possible. Instant results are not. Conference and meeting planners would do well to keep this in mind.

Were YOU at WEC? Please share your comments!

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