How to Give Your Audience a Say Planning in Your Event Content


The Firefly Music Festival recently made headlines by announcing that the 2017 event will be the first fan-curated music festival. Attendees will have a say in just about every aspect of the event, including the choice of musicians who appear, layout of the festival, merchandising and the food served. The fan curation will occur via a survey of attendees months in advance of the June event. Firefly is not the only event that curates its content. Businesses can and do curate aspects of their events, too. Here are three ways to curate one important element of an event: the content.

Giving Attendees a Say in the Speaker Line-up

One of the more ambitious ways to curate content is to give attendees a voice in the speakers that appear. Each year, the South by Southwest Interactive Festival curates a large portion of its agenda through its popular PanelPicker tool. Typically, speakers nominate themselves by writing proposals for their discussions, and then attendees vote on each proposal. The winning panels appear at the event.

Curating an agenda is a complicated process, and pulling off the process requires an event planner to be mindful of a number of issues, among them:

  • The downside of curating large portions of your agenda is that you need to plan far in advance, which means your choice of topics runs the risk of becoming dated by the time your event occurs. The SxSW Interactive Festival works around this issue by setting aside agenda slots for last-minute speaker choices made by the festival organizers.
  • Opening up speakers to a competitive voting format means that the speakers need to be flexible. They need to block out the event dates on their calendars while they await the outcome of the audience curation process, knowing full well that the audience might not choose them to speak. Audience curation might not work as well with high-profile keynote speakers whose schedules are less flexible and who charge a fee.

But, as the SxSW Interactive event demonstrates, curating an agenda is an exciting way to make your content more relevant to your attendees.

Curation in (Near) Real-Time

Another way to curate content is to give an audience at an event a say in the topic discussed by a panel or speaker. In this instance, you’ve already chosen your speaker or panel, but during the event you give your audience a chance to vote on the topic discussed onstage.

At One Smooth Stone, we’ve employed this approach to make panel discussions more relevant to an audience’s interest. One of our client events featured a panel of experts discussing consumer-shopping trends. Before the panel took the stage, we used a polling tool to allow the audience to vote on some specific questions they wanted the panel to address. We gave the audience a choice of five topics, and the panel moderator chose the two highest vote getters to guide the panel conversation.

This approach has worked two reasons:

  • We limited the voting to five topics instead of giving the audience the opportunity to vote on whatever topic they cared to hear. Doing so ensured that the top choices were the best match for the panelists’ areas of expertise, and no one was surprised with content that was off topic.
  • We identified ahead of time the five topics the audience would curate, and we discussed those topics with the panelists. Doing so gave the panelists time to prepare.

Ironically, this kind of near-real-time process requires advance planning. You don’t want to wing it onstage if you intend for your panel or speaker to be prepared to deliver an informed and useful presentation or conversation.

Curating Content Live

Curating content live means giving your audience a say in the content even as it unfolds. For instance, we’ve used audience polling to vote on how well a speaker or panel has addressed the audience’s questions during the Q&A segment of a presentation or discussion. If the audience downvotes a speaker’s answer to a question, then the speaker needs to clarify his or her response accordingly. We’ve also polled the audience during a panel discussion to get their own opinions about topics as they are discussed live. The speaker or panel then incorporates the ad-hoc audience survey findings into their onstage content.

Curating content live requires very quick thinking and flexibility on the part of the event team and the speakers. A less experienced speaker might struggle to rephrase information if the audience downvotes their content. But experienced speakers who know how to think on their feet, and who possess deep knowledge of their topic, are a perfect fit for live audience participation.

Giving an audience a say in your content sounds great in theory. In practice, pulling off audience curation requires advance planning and collaboration with experienced presenters who possess flexibility.

How do you give your audience a say in your event?

Image source: Emma Dau (

We Love Live®. For a complimentary 30-minute consultation on how to build your brand and inspire an audience through events and communications, please contact Brian Duffy by calling 630.427.4235 or by emailing


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