Blogs by InnovatorsBox®


Originally published in: Forbes

It’s only been a few hours since the event started, yet hundreds of business leaders are buzzing with conversations. The energy in the room is different — warm, human, genuine. You wouldn’t have known that most were strangers not so long ago.

It’s this moment I like to create when I speak or facilitate. And it’s a moment I crave when I’m a participant. But how can facilitators create these kinds of moments?

Over the past 20 years, I’ve attended and created hundreds of programs and trainings, because I love learning. I’ve learned that the best networking happens in hallways, and I’ve learned how to work with different personalities when building a startup over a weekend. I’ve also learned that the way we execute professional learning and networking events is not keeping up with consumers’ changing demands. Think about the last event you attended. Did you find yourself asking:

  • Did the host actually understand me or my needs?
  • Yes, I’m inspired, but what do I do from here?
  • Why do I still feel like an outsider? What would have made me feel more included?
  • How can I get away from another conversation consisting of superficial small talk?
  • What will I remember from this event? Will I want to come back?

If these are the questions I think as a participant, these are things I know my participants may think when I host or speak.

If you are a facilitator, what can you do differently to transform the experience of your participants?

Here are several strategies I’ve found helpful:

Understand Why Your Participants Want Change

Do you understand why your audiences want more interactive sessions instead of lectures? It’s because the way we experience everything has radically changed. The internet democratized the way we access information. Technology changed the way we collaborate globally. App notification buzzing reduced our attention spans. Participants are accustomed to personalization, attention to detail, convenience and interactiveness. But how have you changed to meet this demand? Innovation often fails because we’re repeating the same thing.

I’d say that’s the same problem we have when it comes to speaking and hosting events. When was the last time you tried something different? Took customer feedback and incorporated change? Gone out of your way to learn more about what your audience is going through to add an element of surprise or personalization?

Authors Chip and Dan Heath say “defining moments stick with us, usually forever,” in their research The Power of Moments. Yet only a few of us work to create such moments. When we capitalize on this insight, we’ll be able to create a more transformative experience that remains long after the event ends.

More Co-Creating, Less Putting Them in Your Box

One of the reasons why I love StartingBloc, American Express Leadership Academy, Asia Foundation (a client of mine) and Ashoka is because these programs understand that participants want to co-create. StartingBloc, for example, starts the session saying “never assume we know everything” and helps their speakers avoid lecturing in order to co-create dialogue. AmExLeads Alumni Summit is led by fellows and shapes the program based on what fellows want — instead of what corporations think they should want.

We all have a voice and a desire to shape what we experience. Yet most programs are set by the host, and participants are expected to follow and listen. Colleagues tell me they no longer attend events for the content but to network in the hallway. What if more events permitted substantial connecting time?

Co-creating does not mean going to an extreme with no agenda or unconference. It means you are listening to your audience in real time in order to pivot and address their concerns. It’s taking the liberty to know when certain topics need to be discussed more in-depth or when to focus on a different angle. In a way, this is a natural approach, considering how we live our daily lives. No week, or even day, goes exactly the way I planned, but with flexibility and agility, we come to enjoy the ride. What if you created the same moments at your next events?

Customized Learning Means I Want To Choose What I Learn

Continued education is part of professional development. But how many organizations have the right tools to meet their diverse employees’ needs? There has been a wave of organizations investing in online learning and in-house training programs. It’s a great start but not satisfying when your employees want a more personalized experience. Consider giving them a professional learning budget with paid learning days.

Leverage Technology To Extend Learning 

I’m encouraged that more events are asking me to include actionable steps participants can use immediately. I’d take that even further and think about how we support participants long after the event. Most feel inspired after a great speech, but how many actually follow through?

Change is hard because we fall back to our routine. And my topic creative mindset, like many other topics, is not built overnight. Instead of viewing your follow-up messages and calls-to-action as marketing or sales opportunities, focus on giving people more value, insights and recommendations.

Thanks to social media and our access to technology, it has become so much easier to stay in touch with people during and after your event. I give my audiences access to several free resources, including digital worksheets, so they are equipped with tools that will support ongoing implementation. When more of us focus on how we extend and empower our audience’s learning experience beyond the session, we can transform the complete series of learning moments.

As professionals bringing people together, we have to be bolder, more empathetic and more courageous in how we shape learning and networking moments for our audiences. They don’t need to be in tears to connect, but you should move them out of auto-pilot thinking.

How can your program remind them that they are innovative and challenge them to change their perspective? With intention, we can create moments of inspiration and empowerment for each person our message reaches. This is invaluable as your participants step back into workplaces full of complexity and uncertainty.

About the Author

Monica H. Kang

Monica H. Kang

Monica H. Kang, Founder, and CEO of InnovatorsBox® and Author of Rethink Creativity is transforming today’s workforce through the power of creativity. She helps companies rethink culture, leadership, and team development by making creativity practical and relatable regardless of industry or job title. She has worked with clients worldwide including Fortune 500 companies, higher education, government, and nonprofits. Monica’s work has been recognized by The White House, Ashoka Changemakers, National Minority Supplier Development Council (NMSDC), and Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC). Prior to InnovatorsBox®, Monica was a nuclear nonproliferation policy expert. She holds an M.A. from SAIS Johns Hopkins University in Strategic Studies and International Economics and a B.A. from Boston University.

Leave a Comment

Sign up for our Newsletter

Click edit button to change this text. Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit