19/07/2011

By Suzan St Maur, of HowToWriteBetter.net, writer and producer of conferences and business TV

Despite the increasing amount of virtual seminars and training technology available now – or perhaps even because of it – the face-to-face offline variety is still very much alive and kicking. With so many digital toy-toys around to distract participants and isolate them from each other, good writing skills can help create a powerful group dynamic and focused enthusiasm.

The first issue to look at is your interactivity. Asking the audience a few questions isn’t enough; there’s a lot more you can do – especially if you’re able to write appropriate scripts - without necessarily spending more money on the event. For instance, you can introduce a breakout session halfway through. Here, you put your audience into small groups (with a facilitator) and send them off to breakout rooms or other quiet spots, depending on your venue, to work on some sort of exercise. Ensure the exercise is written so it’s relevant primarily to your audience’s needs and objectives and/or the training objectives concerned. Get them back into the plenary session, appoint one person from each group to report the group’s findings, and chair a discussion based on those.

Another way to make the event more interactive is to use a “café theatre style” seating plan. Basically you sit small groups of your audience in a “U” shape around round or oval tables, so all can see the presentation area, but can also talk to and interact with people at their own table. If you use this seating plan you can set exercises as I described above, without moving people away from the plenary area.

Incorporate variety of presentation style

Finally, you can create a bit more variety within your presentation approaches. Try using two speakers for one presentation – splitting the script between them almost as a conversation, with each one linking to the other and back again. For greater credibility, write each speaker’s sections in his or her own, natural speaking style.

You can also use “interview” techniques whereby one of your people interviews another so the information is conveyed in a question and answer style. Write this carefully so that it doesn’t sound contrived. Use a relaxed set up for this – the two people sitting either side of a low coffee table on set, not both standing at lecterns. Another approach is the panel discussion style, chaired by one person who acts as an introductory link to each individual presenter. This is helpful if you want to move on to a Q&A session immediately afterwards, as you’re already set up for it.

Keep the content moving

Above all, the key to avoiding potential boredom is not so much to write in digital whizzy gizmos, videos, music, dancing girls and the like, but more to break up the content into short, digestible chunks. Even a beautifully made video will get boring if it goes on for 45 minutes. People’s attention spans tend to wane after a relatively short time, so you should keep chopping and changing as often as possible – with no segment longer than 25 minutes tops, preferably shorter.

Canadian-born Suzan St Maur has worked as a writer and producer of conferences and business TV for many years. She is also the author of nearly 30 published/contracted nonfiction books, and runs the popular website HowToWriteBetter.net which helps you get better results from your business and social writing via over 100 free articles as well as a range of Suzan’s books. She lives in Bedfordshire, England.