Harnessing the power of crowds
- Category: Technology
- Created on Friday, 29 June 2012 09:00
Connecting with audiences can be vital to make conferences a success, with event organisers often looking for new and exciting ways to bring events to life and maximise engagement. However, until now many have been ignoring the most powerful tool available that is sitting right in front of them – the event audience.
Rather than acting as passive participants in events, audiences can actively take part and even offer a hidden form of intelligence that can be unlocked to reveal surprising and exciting results. We see this kind of intelligence in nature when colonies of bees or flocks of birds seem to be coordinated with invisible precision. With latest audience participation technology, conference organisers can tap into the ‘swarm effect’ of crowds and unlock their hidden potential - and the results can be astonishing.
The trick with audience interaction is to keep it simple. With easy-to-use interactivity systems, large groups can now engage en masse in a way that is not only fun, but allows speakers to deliver key messages that stick in people’s minds. The Cinematrix system equips every audience member with a hand-held ‘wand’ that has two sides; red or green. Individuals hold up their colour choice, which is detected by computers and allows the audience to control what appears on screen. This system is highly adaptable and can be used to play games with audiences varying in size from 50 to many thousands of individuals to achieve a diverse range of outcomes including motivation, team-building and positive thinking.
An example of one such game is a modern under-water themed version of the retro video game Pong, in which the room is split into two teams. Each team has to work together to control an on-screen paddle that moves up or down. This simple game demonstrates the natural ‘swarm’ behaviour of crowds. With no instructions on how many individuals should show red and how many should show green at any one time, each team is able to move their paddle into the right place to protect their goal.
The success of Cinematrix is down to its simplicity, demonstrated by the fact that people can be handed a wand as they enter an event space with no instruction on what it is for. Individuals quickly discover that by holding up each side they can control an on-screen colour corresponding to their seat. This initial discovery taps into people’s innate curiosity and always sets the ball rolling for a successful event.
This and other group games have proven to create the kind of excitement you would normally expect to see at a sports stadium or rock concert. As well as being fun and energising, the games offer further benefits when it comes to meeting a conference’s objectives. Such games can be used to demonstrate the power of teamwork and competition, and show that a diverse group can work together to overcome obstacles, leaving audience members feeling positive towards their shared objectives. We have found that the Cinematrix system can be used as a teaching tool, allowing companies to successfully communicate important corporate messages such as a change of structure, a new strategic direction or simply to create enthusiasm among employees. Ultimately, it is a flexible platform that can be tailored to tackle almost any objectives at an event. By incorporating elements of fun into conferences, speakers can deliver serious points that are more likely to stick in people’s minds, from simple messages to more complex ideas involving technical information.
As well as playing games, the interactive system can be used to get direct feedback from crowds that can be translated into an instant on-screen result. This kind of anonymous feedback can give company leaders an insight into what is known as ‘the wisdom of crowds’, where the collective responses of large groups can often lead to better and more accurate decisions than could have been made by an individual. The fact that you can see clear on-screen results is a useful tool for organisational leaders to quickly and accurately gauge opinion. It also allows helps speakers to make large audiences feel more involved and valued.
Garrick Jones at the London School of Economics Department of Management has used Cinematrix multiple times to help him get his message across. One event where he used the technology was the 2011 Jeddah World Economic Forum in Saudi Arabia, a conference with over 3,500 attendees made up of leaders of government and business from the Middle East.
“We used Cinematrix at the Jeddah World Economic Forum to demonstrate how large groups of people representing a broad range of interests can work together. Drawing on my research into crowd behaviour, we wanted to teach this varied group from around the world about principles of swarming behaviour to give them a better awareness of crowd dynamics that can be applied to real life situations such as economics.”
As well as teaching audiences about crowd behaviour at the Jeddah World Economic Forum, the patented Cinematrix technology, first developed by the same brains behind digital animation group, Pixar, has been used in a variety of different ways at organisations including the Tokyo Science Museum, IBM, the Dutch police and the O2 arena in London.
Conferences all too often fall into the same format of back-to-back presentations that can sometimes do more to test audiences’ attention spans than ensure key messages are successfully communicated. However, by converting passive listeners into active participants, speakers can help ensure that a conference delivers its key objectives, be it about teamwork, management structures, trust or a change in strategy. Event organisers who want to introduce a fresh and innovative way to deliver messages, energise crowds and send delegates home feeling excited and positive, should consider interactivity as the next step in conferencing.