As an officer in the Training Department of the Ministry of Plantation Industries and Commodities (MPIC), Chong Ka Foo and his team regularly organise events for staff and stakeholders of the ministry. This may include executive talks, seminars, monthly assemblies, and even birthday celebrations. Despite efforts, these events were faced with a low turnout rate. Even when participants showed up, it was observed that they were not fully engaged in the events.
Empathy conducted on typical recipients of these emails revealed that not only do emails easily get overlooked due to other competing interests in terms of time and resources, but also that the mode of invitation felt impersonal. It did not feel like their presence made any difference. On the attendees of these events, it was found that the traditional classroom style seating arrangement almost guarantees that the audience will be separated from the focal point, inhibiting interaction between participants and speaker.
Ka Foo and team took to ideating ways to improve the experience of the attendees.
They first started with using visuals to appeal to the staff, and crafted an event poster to create awareness of the event. This move was immediately backed by personally speaking to identified stakeholders in the ministry to invite them to the event.
To create better engagement between participant and speaker, they changed seating arrangements to a U-shaped one. As Ka Foo said, “the choice of venue is fixed, so we would modify the interior to create an impact.” The U-shaped configuration of chairs ensured that the audience surrounds the speaker rather than being situated behind rows of people. To create greater engagement of attendees, Ka Foo and team placed Post-It notes and Sharpies on the seats for participants to interact with.
The effect of some of these simple changes were instantly apparent. The personal touch introduced to invitations increased awareness and brought a deeper sense of belonging. Even though invitations took a longer time, attendees found themselves actually wanting to be there instead of being coerced by their bosses.
Speakers were able to walk towards participants and reach out to them, delivering a much more personal experience. The new arrangement also served to keep participants on their toes, as it was almost like the speaker was addressing them personally. With the Post-it notes and Sharpie markers in hand, participants actually got to taking down notes rather than being distracted by their phones.
Turnout to the event increased threefold. From a mere 50-60 participants, the event saw an attendance of 150 participants and was deemed a success.