The 8-Second Attention Span Challenge

Hey there! (Clanging sound.) Boo! (Splash noise.) Do we have your attention? The average American attention span is down to a measly eight seconds—one second less than a goldfish. Planners face a serious challenge to keep audiences engaged as attendees become increasingly immersed in a digital world and less focused on the here and now. To stand out, you have to create engaging experiences. Here are some ideas to surprise, delight and appeal to the five senses.

Rad Rooms Themed meetings never get old. One event ended the night with an ’80s dinner party and encouraged guests to dress up in their best outfits, from leg warmers to scrunchies. When they arrived, the room was decked out with round spandex screens showing clips from ’80s TV shows and movies, as well as table centerpieces of martini glasses filled with colorful, light-up ice cubes that were impossible to ignore.

Beachy Keen If you’ve ever bought popcorn at a movie after its aroma sparked a craving, you know smell can have a big impact. Visit South Walton (Florida) brought this idea to meetings by pumping the smell of coconut from their booth on a trade show floor (pictured above) to remind attendees of the beach. Guests who followed their noses found an experience booth designed to transport people to the area’s sandy shores, which also included heaters and sounds of waves to set the scene of a real beach experience.

Listening Can Be Fun Small talk is the worst, but an unusual icebreaker can help. Mallory O’Neil, training and leadership development assistant for Vector Marketing Corporation, suggests asking groups to answer provocative questions such as, “If you had to tattoo one word on your body, what would it be and why?” It really got her group thinking and kick-started the process of getting to know each other.

Flavor Tripping Tabasco sauce that tastes like doughnut glaze sounds preposterous, but it’s possible thanks to a West African berry that adds an intense, sweet flavor to acidic foods. Association for Psychological Science played around with the miracle fruit at its annual convention, and attendees were shocked when the sour tang of lemons was replaced with what tasted like candy. Trick your attendees’ tongues at your next event by having them eat miracle fruit for unexpected flavors. It’s guaranteed to be a memorable experience.

Baby, It’s Cold Inside At one event produced by Maritz Travel that marked the merger of two companies, the event crew kept doors to the room locked prior to the opening session. Anticipation built. When guests were let in, they were greeted with a blast of freezing cold air that set the scene for a mountain-themed gathering, with executives dressed as rock climbers to encourage the mentality of embracing a new adventure.

Photo credit: Exposures, Ltd.