How to Tell If Your Audience Is Engaged

February 21, 2015

Sean Holladay

Sean Holladay is the Co-Founder of Crowd Mics an award winning app that turns your phone into a wireless microphone.  He is the CCO or Chief Connection Officer as he is able to connect with and converse with just about anyone on LinkedIn.

Two event organizers walk into a room and scan the audience. Upon leaving the room, the first event organizer says, “No one is engaged. They are all texting and reading emails or having side conversations.” The other event organizer says, “You’re wrong. Those people were taking notes, and sharing sound bites on social media. The others were debating what the speaker was saying.”

The problem with perception is that everyone creates their own. Which of these organizers is right? Which of these perceptions is reality? Unless you start looking over your attendees’ shoulders, it’s going to be hard to know what they are in fact doing on their electronic devices. Luckily there are other ways to determine if your attendees are engaged.

Three observation techniques, when combined, will tell you for certain if your attendees are engaged. The first is interpreting non-verbal cues correctly, the second is to pay attention to verbal cues, and the third is analyzing session evaluations.

Let’s first look at non-verbal cues. Take a look around the room. Are people slouching in their chairs, yawning and fidgeting? Are they slow to respond when the speaker prompts them to take an action? Those are signs your audience may, in fact, be bored.

If the audience is leaning forward in their chairs or sitting with a relaxed posture, nodding their heads, or smiling, they are most likely engaged and paying attention to the speaker. However, positive non-verbal communication is not the only indication your attendees are engaged. They might be frowning and or shaking their heads. They may purse their lips and cross their arms. While not in agreement with the speaker, these attendees are actively engaged.

Non-verbal cues are also important. Are your attendees groaning or laughing in the right moments? Are they applauding? Is it a polite, soft applause or is it done with enthusiasm? Are they raising their hands and asking questions? If your audience is doing these things and doing them with vigor, they are engaged.

However, a room that is silent does not necessarily mean they are bored. Check the non-verbal cues to understand if the speaker has completely lost the audience’s interest, or if she has them hanging on her every word.

Your final way to gauge your attendees’ engagement is by coming right out and asking them. While asking questions about the setup of the room and the quality of the speaker is good feedback for the event organizer, it doesn’t tell you much about the level of engagement. To understand engagement you need to focus your questions on the content of the session.

Three great questions to ask are:

What was your top takeaway from this session, or a simple open-ended what did you learn from this session?

As a result of this session what will you do differently or what do you feel you will do better?

As a result of this session what are three actions you will take when you get back to your office?

If your audience was engaged, they will have answers to these questions and be willing to share them. Even if they disagreed completely with the speaker, they would most likely have something to share. An attendee that was not engaged will either skip the evaluation, or they will give very vague answers.

When you combine all three of these observation techniques, you’re perception of your attendees’ engagement levels will be much closer in keeping with the reality of the situation.

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Partner Voices
Less than six months ago, Lisa Messina joined the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) as the first-ever chief sales officer after leading the sales team at Caesars Entertainment. A 12-year Las Vegas resident, Messina is a graduate of Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration and serves on MPI International’s board of directors. TSNN had a chance to catch up with this dynamic leader and talk to her about her vision for the new role, current shifts in the trade show industry, creating more diversity and equity within the organization, and advice to future female leaders. Lisa Messina, Chief Sales Officer, LVCVA With Las Vegas becoming The Greatest Arena on EarthTM, what are some of the things you’re most excited about in your role? Our team was at The Big Game’s handoff ceremony earlier this month, and I couldn’t help but think, “We’re going to crush it next year!”  These high-profile events and venues not only drive excitement, but also provide unmatched opportunities for event planners. Allegiant Stadium hosts events from 10 to 65,000 people and offers on-field experiences. Formula 1 Grand Prix will take place in Las Vegas in November, after the year-one F1 race, the four-story paddock building will be available for buyouts and will also offer daily ride-along experiences that will be available for groups. And, of course, the MSG Sphere officially announced that it will open in September, ahead of schedule, with a U2 residency. It’s going to be the most technologically advanced venue as far as lighting, sound, feel, and even scent, and it will be available for buyouts and next-level sponsorships inside and outside. There’s no ceiling to what you can do when you’re doing events in Las Vegas.  Allegiant Stadium As the trade show and convention business returns to the pre-pandemic levels, what shifts are you noticing and how do you think they will impact the industry going forward? Our trade show organizers are very focused on driving customer experience. Most of our organizers are reporting stronger exhibitor numbers and increased numbers of new exhibitors, with trade shows proving to be almost or above 2019 levels. Now our organizers are really doubling down on driving attendance and focusing on the data to provide that individualized, customized experience to help attendees meet their goals and get the best value. Some companies continue to be cautiously optimistic with their organizational spend when it comes to sending attendees, but I think it will continue to improve. As the U.S. Travel Association makes more progress on the U.S. visa situation, we also expect a growing influx of international attendees. What are some innovative ways the LVCVA helps trade show and convention organizers deliver the most value for their events? We focus on customer experience in the same way that trade show organizers are thinking about it. We got rave reviews with the West Hall Expansion of the Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC), so over the next two years, we will be renovating the North and the Central halls, which will include not just the same look and feel, but also the digital experiences that can be leveraged for branding and sponsorship opportunities.  Vegas Loop, the underground transportation system designed by The Boring Company, is also a way we have enhanced the customer experience. Vegas Loop at the LVCC has transported more than 900,000 convention attendees across the campus since its 2021 launch. Last summer, Resorts World and The Boring Company opened the first resort stop at the Resorts World Las Vegas , with plans to expand throughout the resort corridor, including downtown Las Vegas, Allegiant Stadium and Harry Reid International Airport. The LVCVA also purchased the Las Vegas Monorail in 2020, the 3.9-mile-long elevated transportation system that connects eight resorts directly to the convention center campus. This is the only rail system in the world that integrates fares directly into show badges and registration. For trade show organizers, these transportation options mean saving time, money and effort when it comes to moving groups from the hotels to LVCC and around the city. Also, the more we can focus on building the infrastructure around the convention center, the more it supports the customer experience and ultimately supports our trade show organizers. Scheduled to debut in Q4, Fontainebleau Las Vegas will offer 3,700 hotel rooms and 550,000 square feet of meeting and convention space next to LVCC.  What are some of the plans for advancing DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) within your organization? We’re currently partnering with instead of working with a leading consulting firm, to lay the foundation and create a solid DEI plan and be the leader when it comes to DEI initiatives. The heart of that journey with the consulting firm is also talking to our customers about their strategic approaches to DEI and driving innovation in this space.  What are your favorite ways to recharge? My husband and I have an RV and we’re outdoorsy people. So, while we have over 150,000 world-class hotel rooms and renowned restaurants right outside our doorstep, one of my favorite things to do is get out to Red Rock Canyon, the Valley of Fire, and Lake Mead. Five of the top national parks are within a three-hour drive from Las Vegas, so there’s a lot you can do. We love balancing the energy of Las Vegas with nature, and we’re noticing that a lot of attendees add activities off the Strip when they come here.  Valley of Fire What advice would you give to women following leadership paths in destination marketing? I think it’s about being laser-focused on what you want to accomplish; building a team around you that lifts you and helps you achieve your goals; and being humble and realizing that you do it as a group. No one gets this done alone. Thankfully, there are a lot of women in leadership in this organization, in our customers’ organizations, and in this city that we can be really proud of. We’re a formidable force that is making things happen.   This interview has been edited and condensed. This article is exclusively sponsored by the Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority. For more information, visit HERE.