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Tue 16 Dec 2008 04:00 AM

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Engineer’s experts

Nowshir Engineer, founder and director of EMDI, the Institute of Media and Communication talks to general manager of presentation experts, Satellite, John Quinn, about keeping delegates engaged at conferences.

Nowshir Engineer, founder and director of EMDI, the Institute of Media and Communication talks to general manager of presentation experts, Satellite, John Quinn, about keeping delegates engaged at conferences.

The first time I used technology in an event was with a voting system whereby the audience could rate the speaker.

I thought 'wow', I can actually be involved in this conference and it won't be another boring presentation and It also exposed me to the possibilities of integrating technology into a conference or meeting.

Exactly. It's a common misconception that presenters or the organisers are the most important people.

The delegates are paying for the conference so from my point of view it's the audience that should be considered first.

Conferences at the moment are simplex, a one-way street of communicating where someone will read their entire script and you have death by PowerPoint, so that's why we create on-screen graphics and interactive events that actually involve the whole audience.

People are influenced by what's on the screen or what their boss is going to say, but when you have the anonymity of using a keypad you get a group response and suddenly the audience is part of the event.

The fundamental point is organisers and meeting developers have to become brave and get smarter.

What worked last time isn't going to work the next time so you have to try something new and different.

At every event I see bored people doing a ‘blackberry hunch' - they are not at the conference, they are sending emails.

It's about actually trying to engage people and getting into the DNA of the conference.

People need to not be afraid of technology, people are still afraid of gadgets. The days of technology going wrong are long gone.

Are you worried that the current economic problems will lead to people dropping those elements that are seen as the extras of an event?

We find the decision to cut 10% of the conference is made in a closed room.

They never look at the starter on the lunch menu - they look at the technology.

We are combating this by getting in much earlier and embedding the use of the technology in the conference.

It's the audience who care and audiences who are starting to demand this technology and more interaction - all too often a speaker says we don't have any interactive questions, then they ask for a show of hands.

Is it more a case of educating the people giving presentations rather than the audience?

Definitely. We are over here talking about GPS and RFID technology and people are still getting their head around the voting technology. So we have to take baby steps.

The audience wants this and if you have the balls to use it - and anyone who has used it is generally a convert - you have to make it work financially. I understand that, but you are talking about a product that's AED 100 (US $27) a day per delegate.

But does the technology benefit the profitability of an event or does it just ensure the delegate comes back to the next conference?

There's no question it engages the delegate, but from a profitability point of view there are scrolling displays of banners so people can advertise or sponsor on the tools.

So as a planner I could rent a SPOTME TOOL from you, but I could get the costs deferred by selling space on the displays?

It should generate a profit. You can sell the space. The problem I find is the meeting organisers have an opportunity to sell to people in the room, but they don't exploit its potential.

Content is everything - these are just tools it's a case of what you write on them that's important.

From a sponsor's point of view we can also tell them how many people saw their banner advertisements.

But I'm on the warpath for presenters as they have had it too good for too long.

There's no art in it anymore - any idiot can stand up and read a script from a slide.

What I urge them to do is do an event in Saudi Arabia, because they don't care, so if you are talking a lot of codswallop they will stand up and walk out. They are some of the best audiences.

Someone like Ron Kaufman presents in Saudi Arabia and they love him because he gets people interacting, so I ask why are people so afraid of doing this? But doesn't everyone try to create better presentations?

But they don't achieve it. They jump into PowerPoint and start writing a script. An image should be presented over four dimensions. Layer things, use time, don't put everything on in one go. It's an act and it's not magic, all the great presenters learned it.

There needs to be a qualification for presenters. The reason they are afraid of audience interaction is if the audience says they don't like them.

But I say ‘so what?' You shouldn't be stood up there in the first place.

Who has the cojones to put on a conference and not be afraid of really listening to the audience?

People will start to differentiate themselves and they are already saying things like ‘we are the first interactive oncology conference'.

If you interact, the event becomes a two way flow and the value doubles.

Is this lack of interactivity specific to the Middle East region?

This is a worldwide problem whereby 30 million PowerPoint presentations are given every day.

Luckily people are realising they have to listen to their audiences and take negative reactions on board.

We are in a crunch time and we have to find out the way to go.

There's a guy working on neuro frequency pick up with a big aerial in the ceiling that gauges the audience's mood and I am thrilled there are people who hold that mirror up to us.

You speak about technology, but do you feel there is a line where the face to face Interaction needs to come in?

A lot of the advancements in conference and meeting technology has been driven by the inability to travel.

People realise its not healthy or a wonderful experience to put on a suit and travel.

The world's moved on, people don't want to travel, but people still want to meet and interact face to face.

The future is presenterless conferences and I know I can make delegates democratically move a PowerPoint presentation forward.

I would love to do the first one and I challenge any organiser to contact me and I will create one.

Let the audience decide democratically - we are not selling key pads, we are trying to get people emotionally involved.

Let's switch PowerPoint off and do a conference in the dark, let's find another way do something different - think outside the box.

If the organisers are not seeing they can increase their bottom line by adding and extending the experience to the people then they are not going to do it.

My fear is if we don't improve then we won't see the business, because the local market won't succeed.

If we don't come up and start offering some international quality productions, I'm not saying there are none, but more of them, then we will suffer. At the end of the day it is simple - interact with your audience.

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