5 Vital Steps for Audience Participation Success

Mike Piddock's blopost about his #IMEX16 Campfire Session
I’ve just returned from IMEX – the events industry’s flagship conference – where I presented a campfire session on behalf of the Meetings Design Institute. We were discussing how to successfully implement audience participation, with a particular focus on corporate events.


​Mike's campfire during #IMEX16

Below are the 5 steps I shared with the audience:

1. Get your first speaker on-board

I believe that the single most important factor in maximising audience participation is the way that it is introduced by the very first speaker they see – either the overall event host/chair, or the first presenter on stage.
They hold a very influential position of power. Their energy and enthusiasm will rub off on the audience. If they promote the importance of interaction, your audience (and other presenters) will follow their lead.
Plus, the way they explain how the participation will work (including an explanation of any technology being used) will be the most effective way to get everyone up to speed. So get them fully briefed on the wi-fi code and any tech being used, and have them endorse it.

2. Explain the benefits

Sometimes it’s not enough to explain what your audience should be doing – you need to explain why they should be participating. You must clearly convey the benefits to them.
Many people in your audience will be shy, introverted, or simply the types that don’t like to play along. But if you can give them a reason why participation will benefit them, you’ll bring more people onside.
You might include things like ‘engage in order to get all the presentation content’, ‘audience participation has been proven to help learning and memory’, ‘engage through your smartphone so you don’t have to speak in front of everyone’, or simply ‘everyone who engages can win a prize’.

Mike's campfire during #IMEX16

3. Use humour for a winning start

This is something I’ve written about before, but it really bears repeating. People want to be made to smile and be made to laugh, and audience interaction is a great opportunity to achieve that. Whether you’re getting a whole room shaking their bodies to loosen up before a full day of presentations, or running a light hearted poll about Brexit, the next big sports match, or some big personality in the company, getting people smiling works.
This positivity soon transfers to the far more serious business of conveying messages, learning, or using event technology to gather important business data. It also means that your audience has had an opportunity to understand how participation is being used (not to mention how the event technology works) right at the start of the session.

4. Use your super-influencers

Alongside the all-important first speaker, another crucial group of people that are often overlooked are the ‘super-influencers’.
We all know who these people are in our companies – individuals that command a huge amount of influence, sometimes because of their position, but just as often because of their charismatic personality or reputation. It might be an ultra-successful saleswoman who is known for closing the biggest deals, or an irrepressible and outgoing member of the HR team who seems to know everyone in the company. Whoever they are, they make a huge impact on all elements of your event.
At the first coffee break in the presentation sessions, they’ll be holding court and setting the tone for the room. If they’re positive – whether about the food, the venue, or the idea of audience participation – you can guarantee their ‘followers’ will be as well. If they’re negative – you’ve got an uphill battle.
So, if you’re running the event for your company, or on behalf of a client, try to understand who these people are in advance. Pre-brief them, or perhaps give them a special role in the sessions, or when the audience interaction is taking place. Ensure they use their power to create positive momentum, and you’re onto a winner.

5. Crunch, learn and repeat

So let’s say you’ve smashed the call out of the park. A great first speaker who got everyone into the tech by explaining all the great benefits to them getting involved, and kicked things off with a highly entertaining and very interactive first session. The momentum was carried by the handful of super-influencers you got involved throughout the day, and everyone is saying it’s the best conference ever – including the long-termer who’s been coming to them for 17 years and normally hates them.
Once you’re done, that’s it right? A well-earned drink? Well yes and no. Celebrate the success, but the next day get cracking on the data. Use all of the participation information – votes cast in polls, questions raised, opinion aired – to do two things.
First, get those stats together to provide unquestionable evidence that the event was a roaring success. Use the data to show how many people were engaged, and qualitative feedback to help drive the agenda for the business.
Secondly, pull together the learnings for the next event. There’s always room for improvement, and after this success story, the bar will be raised and expectations will be even higher next time – so best to start preparing now!


One of the questions I was asked was how to deal with those attendees who simply won’t participate. It’s an interesting one, to which I had two pieces of advice.

First, like a cornered animal, it’s best to give them an escape route, otherwise they’ll come out fighting and could cause a negative response. Perhaps, recognising that they are the sort of person who doesn’t participate, give them a different role more suited to them – perhaps counting up the votes in a game of ‘body voting’ rather than actually participating.

Secondly, I suggested that often the people you think are least likely to want to participate can often be very surprising. Some of our most engaged clients have been those who from appearances you wouldn’t expect to be so keen to get involved – so the key message here is that preconceptions about what guest do and don’t want to do can be misleading.

Blog post written by Mike Piddock, Founder, Glisser
+44 7799 642 896

Contact Person Name: 
Mike Piddock
Call contact person: 
+44 7799 642 896
Email contact person: 

Back to top