Leveraging the power of choice within corporate events


By Ben Moorsom

Chicken, beef, or fish? Spa or golf? These are the types of choices you’ll most often find when it comes to corporate meetings and events. People are asked to choose amongst more trivial things, but rarely given any choice when it comes to the content or structure of the information they’re receiving and how they’re receiving it.

While many association meetings and conferences do a great job integrating ‘choice’—the same hasn’t been translated to the corporate event and meeting structure. Perhaps it’s because we’ve always just assumed everyone needs access to the same information or because integrating choice opens up a can of worms we’re not ready to deal with. Whatever the reason, I believe it’s no longer sustainable. A shift in the way we deliver content is going to be necessary in order to connect with participants and hold their attention long enough that they actually absorb the information we’re trying to provide them with.

By integrating some element of choice—personalizing and customizing elements of the event to suit the particular needs and interest of participants—there is a great opportunity for increased engagement and retention. And it’s this engagement that leads to a better meeting ROI.

It starts with intrinsic motivation

Studies show that the greatest motivation and personal satisfaction comes from things we choose for ourselves. This is called “intrinsic motivation,” the desire to do something for its own sake. As psychologist and author Heidi Grant Halvorson writes in a Forbes article from 2011 entitled How To Give Employees A Sense of Autonomy (When You Are Really Calling The Shots):

“When people are intrinsically motivated, they enjoy what they are doing more, and find it more interesting. They feel more creative, and process information more deeply. They persist more in the face of difficulty. They perform better. Intrinsic motivation is awesome in its power to get and keep us going.”

This intrinsic motivation can translate very nicely to the event/meeting setting: Helping you better achieve what you hope to achieve by bringing people together. Everyone wants choice. Everyone wants to feel as though they have some say in what they’re learning and how they’re learning it. They don’t want to sit through sessions that seem unimportant or irrelevant to them. By asking them to do so, we’re failing to make a deeper connection with them—which is necessary if we hope to drive them toward a particular action or outcome.

Building choice into an event demonstrates to your people that it’s not just about the corporate agenda, it’s also that you recognize that they’re all individuals, with unique needs and desires, and that you respect and value them for this.

How does it work?

The idea is to curate an event that meets the needs of your participants. In order to do so, you’ll want to look at your attendees not as one cohesive group, but rather as individuals, who have individual needs and are looking to get different things out of the content you’re presenting. It’s no longer effective to simply reproduce the same event year after year, swapping out the old names and dates and replacing them with new ones. This is what we’ve come to refer to as the “Frankenevent”—a pieced together version of something you’ve done many times before, and which may not be effective in achieving your meeting and learning objectives.

Rather, you’ll want to begin by getting a sense of where the company is at and what types of information each employee requires access to. It would also be helpful to understand how particular employees (or teams) prefer to get their information. Remember, everyone learns differently. Keep your people in mind when you build out your event structure and format.

Before we talk about what this choice will look like, however, we need to heed some warnings around integrating choice into your corporate event. Understanding the desired objectives of your event, what information needs to be disseminated, and the amount of time allocated to the event in total will impact how much choice you can introduce and where. Too much choice can lead to stress and anxiety.

You’ll also want to take the time to really understand your audience and their propensity to choose. According to Sheena Iyengar, author of The Art of Choosing, North Americans are more attached to the idea of personal choice than people in many other parts of the world. It begins with how we’re raised and the culture in which we live. Knowing your audience will help you customize an event that’s appropriate.

Getting creative with choice

You can give participants the opportunity to create their own experiences, guide the flow of presentations, or at least give them the sense that they’re doing just that in any of the following ways (we’ve tried these and they work):

Learning Arcade – In this approach, participants have the opportunity to choose what they want to learn about and make their way around to a number of micro sessions on a variety of topics. Participants choose what’s most relevant to them.

Knowledge Bite Bars – Turn mealtime into great learning and networking opportunities by having knowledge specialists at each table or area. Having a specialist or speakers from the morning breakout sessions integrated into lunch can provide further opportunity for dialogue and engagement on diverse topics.

MindMenu™ Presentations – This choose-your-own-adventure style presentation approach puts the flow of content into the hands of the audience. The presenters invite the audience to vote from a menu of topic options (via their mobile devices) to select which topics they’d like to know more about. This approach not only increases audience engagement it also provides insight into the audience’s interests while still disseminating the content required.

Being engaged in this way means the participants feel like they are in control of what they are doing and the outcomes they need to achieve—that’s intrinsic motivation at work.

We can even go one step further and begin to break down large meetings—where everyone is required to attend in person—into smaller more focused meetings throughout the year that focus on the specific needs of specific groups of employees. Consider a custom learning style format, where employees are required to fill their “curriculum” for the year with sessions and programs that best suit their needs. These customizable curricula put the power in the hands of the employee to decide what they need to learn and in what format they want to learn it, within the company’s format.

Integrated self-guided or facilitated online learning that incorporates an app into the mix can maintain ongoing engagement while identifying preferred topics of interest for future meetings.

There will always be some information everyone needs to access, and that’s where your large group sessions are still necessary, but for everything else, we’re beginning to realize that there’s great power in integrating choice whenever possible.

Increasing the role of the participant

While there are many arguments for integrating choice into your next corporate event, too much choice can become problematic. There are times when putting the power into the hands of the participant can add stress and uncertainty. To avoid this, you’ll want to prepare your participants to make educated and informed decisions before they get on-site, ensuring they are maximizing the opportunity to choose their path. This doesn’t mean revealing that they will have choices on-site, it means getting them thinking about their role, their challenges, and the opportunities that they believe exist and can exist. Too much choice can overwhelm a person if they aren’t prepared. By posing strategic questions within your pre-communication touchpoints you can begin the dialogue, pre-work, and ideation process. It’s about finding and creating the balance between giving too much choice and the right amount of choice.

Evaluating the outcome

Providing participants with the power to choose their own learning roadmap also means they should be required to provide insight into the experience and evaluate the outcome. You’ll want participants to reflect back on the journey to understand the value of what they just experienced. This insight and evaluation will also assist corporate planners with details on which options can be strengthened or eliminated to make future events more impactful. It’s important that these insights be communicated post-event and used to co-create future events, if you want to achieve higher engagement.

People are more likely to be invested if they are involved in the process of choosing what they do. Finding the right balance of choice helps satisfy people’s varied tastes and interests without adding stress. The opportunities are exciting and endless—so don’t be afraid to really think outside the box on this one.

About the author

Ben Moorsom is President and Chief Creative Officer at Debut Group, an agency that specializes in corporate business communication and events across North America. Since 1997, Debut has pioneered new ways of delivering content and has mastered the art of creating greater perceived production value for their clients.  For more information on how Ben and his dynamic team of communication and production veterans deliver better results by producing bold creative that is strategically grounded, emotionally engaging, and flawlessly delivered to meet any clients budget visit Debut at www.debutgroup.com.

Venue & Supplier Profiles