Back in the 90s, I produced radio talk shows. That experience rewarded me with valuable insight that translates well to the conference arena. One discovery was the "behind the ear" (BTE) listening device.
We've all seen BTEs used in TV news broadcasts. There's late-breaking news and suddenly, the anchor makes a smooth segue to a reporter in the field. How did he know to make this change?
Teleprompter cue? Maybe. More likely, a savvy producer whispered in his ear through the BTE device.
In my radio days, we recorded interviews on a wide range of subjects. Sometimes, these chats would drift off-topic. Rather than disturb the energy and enthusiasm, I would whisper a cue to help the host to get the conversation back on track.
Applying BTEs to the Conference Environment
Have you ever watched a speaker struggle to find their words or get rattled by an unexpected development? As a meeting organizer, you're watching a session start to unravel, but you're powerless to do anything to help. If the speaker wore a BTE, you'd have a few rescue options.
With BTEs, you can:
Whisper Cues to a Panel Discussion Moderator
If the discussion veers off topic, just as in the example above, you can whisper suggestions to the moderator to get things back on track. PS: You need to whisper and keep your cues very brief. Otherwise, you'll have a dazed and confused moderator.
Make Smoother Segues to Audience Response Results
There are so many great audience polling options out there, but there's always that awkward minute or two when the speaker waits for polling results to appear onscreen. I've watch otherwise great presenters melt with anxiety as they watch the needle stuck on zero.
A BETTER WAY: Introduce the polling question and keep that screen visible. In the meantime, your speaker can talk about something that relates to this exercise. Once sufficient results have been gathered, someone whispers "slide ready" to the speaker. NOW, he or she says, "Let's look at what YOU said about..." Results are now displayed and the transition is much smoother.
Highlight "Best of" Comments from Live & Virtual Audiences
Live Twitter feeds are okay, but they're distracting, unfiltered, and there's a tendency for "lowest common denominator" output. I'd rather pose an open-ended question to the audience and have them text back responses. While ALL responses can be shared with participants later, a savvy event producer would grab 2-3 outstanding comments, drop them into a slide, and give the speaker a BTE cue when the slide is ready.
Overcome Technology Snags
I watched a session where the audience polling wasn't working properly. The speaker did his best to resolve these problems, but there was too much discussion going on between the speaker and the AV team in the back of the room. An otherwise happy audience started to fidget and get impatient with this dilemma. Reality #1: Tech Snags Happen. Reality #2: With a smooth speaker (wearing a BTE), audiences see less of the problem resolution. If a snag happens, the presenter moves on, while the event team works feverishly (out of audience view) to fix the problem. Once everything is good to go, someone quietly cues the speaker that they're ready to revisit that poll.
Summon the Courage to Try New Things
With a BTE safety net, event producers can be bolder in pushing the limits and testing out new ideas. If something goes wrong, with BTEs, you're in a better position to execute a Plan B.
Looking for more tips? Check out these Cvent blog posts: Selling Conference Innovation to Your Low-Tech Boss, Innovation Lessons for Event Planners from Tim Hortons and Innovation Lessons for Event Planners from Steve Jobs.
(photo by D.Clow via Flickr)