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Ep10. Evolving the General Session: Creating High-Touch, Immersive Experiences

Multi-screen content, micro formats and the changing attention spans of attendees are all pushing marketers to refine their general session experiences. Gone are the days of packing attendees into static ballrooms. Today’s general sessions are high-touch, high-tech and moving faster than ever. This episode of EM All Access is all about the evolution of the general session—how the format is changing and what’s next.

Video Transcript

Hey there event marketers, Jessica Heasley here, welcome to another episode of EM all access. Where we connect you with some of the industry's most innovative events and the marketers behind them.

Today’s episode focuses on the changing general session. Gone are the days of packing attendees into static ballrooms. Today's general sessions are, a high-tech, high touch, and moving faster than ever. I spoke with Vice President, Jeff Youngs, about the evolution of the general session, how the format is changing and what's next. Let's listen in…

How has the typical general session changed?

Because of the way people are engaging nowadays, they have a screen in front of them at all times, and they take things in quick bites, we need to re-adjust how we look at general sessions. In order to grab the attention of somebody and really hold it, we use whatever means necessary. So technology has changed quite a bit actually, in the last 10 years. What you can get for general session—screens can be configured in any number of ways or LED panels that you can use instead of screens—these are just different visual techniques, just to hold people's attention. But there a lot of others, including the handheld device because that's now a way that people can interact with what's going on, on stage and be a part of the program themselves.

Are there some ways between content and thinking about how it's delivered, that smart marketers are changing their general sessions to fit into a different kind of format?

Yeah, actually that's happening a lot. There’s a thing called Speed Rounds where members of team can deliver a presentation, 5 minutes at a time - bomp, bomp, bomp, and go through the entire topic. But you get a different person delivering each different aspect of the topic, and it's a way to keep the message moving, keep things flowing.

What are some of the catalysts driving this change? We all know TED Talks are very popular, is that one of the things making the attendee expectation different?

Absolutely, TED Talks are 20 minutes and they're engaging, have simple visuals and are recognized as being great talks for the simple reason that they are well-constructed and well-crafted. Clients are beginning to see that that's a good thing, and they take their time to develop and draft a talk in that way. You can stage it that way with a half round and a nice pool of light. It’s a great technique because it's something people are familiar with so it's comfortable and it delivers big topics in a concise way. It's nice.

What role is social media playing in general sessions now?

You can do a lot of different things with it, but the main thing that people are doing is using it to crowdsource content. What kind of information can the audience be providing to add color to what's going on stage? Obviously, that needs to be carefully curated and detailed out in a way that it's safe for the presenters. It's also a way for people in general sessions to be communicating out to the larger world. If it's something that's public-facing, to just talk about how exciting they are, being there... It's an amplification method.

How big is the role of live streaming going to become for general sessions?

It's already big because it's more affordable, I think it's going to be bigger and bigger. That's both ways. So you can live stream your event out to the internet or to specific locations if you want to have a corporate meeting, but your people are located all over the world, you can live stream it to various locations around the world. Or even everybody's desk if you want to. That's one way, but the other thing that is happening is, people don't have to be at the meeting to speak at it. You can livestream the speaker from another location, so many general sessions are being done simultaneously in multiple cities and then broadcasting back and forth between one another… So that they are stitching together to hold general session over three continents.

What are some other twists on general sessions that you've or that you've produced over the years?

Another thing with handheld devices is audience response. That used to be an onerous thing. You had to run cables everywhere and everybody got a little device and you could do audience response. But now you can do it with an app, on a mobile phone and get not only a response but you can get very layered and rich responses by demographic of the audience and by location in the audience, or by departments. Things like that, so you can get a really, deeper understanding of what's going on in their minds, if you apply it appropriately. So that's one thing that's changing things a lot. Another is general sessions happening and all kinds of unique places. They don't have to be in a ballroom or a convention center, they can be in a warehouse or an airplane hangar or, and, those are other ways of engaging people in new ways. Because it's unexpected, people don't think of that.

As always, audience interaction is key. As are relevant messages, insightful speakers and exciting stages. I'd like to thank Jeff, for joining me, and you for watching.

Learn more about the hottest event trends and explore our library of All Access conversations here.

About the Author

Jeff Youngs

Jeff Youngs is Vice President of Production and Operations for GES’ Corporate Events team. Youngs brings more than 30 years’ experience producing live corporate events including general sessions, sales meetings, product launches, and training seminars. A storyteller at heart, Jeff blends his extensive leadership in effective production process with his focus on delivering strong brand messages in an interactive and engaging environment.

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