unplugged: ʌnˈplʌɡd/ adjective
1.trademark (of pop or rock music) performed or recorded with acoustic rather than electrically amplified instruments.
2. (of an electrical device) disconnected.
A recent study by the research group Flurry found that people with smartphones now spend an average of 2 hours and 57 minutes each day on mobile devices, some of that potentially fuelled by the multitude of messages, emails, tweets and other content event organisers are pushing out to them on a minute by minute basis.
We don’t leave them alone while they are at the event either. If it isn’t asking them to contribute to a live Twitter feed we’ll be sending them reminders and directionals to ensure they know about every little aspect of the event whatever they are doing at the time.
A recent study by a U.K. psychologist, Sandi Mann, shows that all of this technological intrusion could in fact be reducing the benefits we spend so long creating for the audience, not least because we are preventing them from absorbing and thinking laterally about what’s on offer. In her study, Mann asked subjects to do something really boring and then try a creative task. What she discovered was that the more boring a task, the more creative their ideas were. Only by allowing our minds to wander, daydream and start thinking a little bit beyond the conscious, is our ability to do autobiographical planning, or goal setting, working at its optimum level.
So should we be looking to ‘unplug’ our audiences from their devices once we have got them through the door?
The continuing popularity of consumer events like Eroica Britannia, Taste of London and a plethora of music festivals in all parts of the UK shows that those which thrive are those which give their audiences a real participatory experience. The challenge for B2B events is much harder. Having got into the rut of believing the only way to get people to the event is to justify their time out of the office with more and more content, and that you have to remind them of what’s on offer every single minute of the show’s opening hours, it’s going to be a hard habit to break.
But if we want our audiences to fully engage with speakers, exhibitors and other delegates, and develop great ideas while they are our guests then perhaps we need to stop our constant, and frankly rather needy, electronic chatter.