Creating Zombie Conferences That Consume Attendee Brains

Image by u2canreed.

Most conference marketing should say: Come to our Zombie Conference! We want to consume your brain!

At least that statement would be more authentic to many conference experiences.

Many conference schedules are packed full of education sessions and informative presentations. Organizers rapidly shovel and push information at attendees.

It often feels like a medieval joust with each presenter trying to ram more information into the cavernous regions of our mind. Before we can even digest or process what we just heard, here comes another round of new information.

Conference organizers create experiences full of information dumps in an attempt to increase the value of their conference. But does more information equal more value?

And what do we remember from two to four days of conference information? What do we really recall from the conference? What did we really learn? What do we put into action?

New Conference Information Filters

The explosion of information, both online and during conferences, is both a blessing and a curse.

Without the right information filters, we can drown in advertisements, blogs, commercials, information, news, photos, podcasts, posts, spam, tweets, updates, videos and new web pages. Most people use a spam filter to catch polluted information.

We need a new type of conference information filter. We need something like a wearable pedometer that tells us when our brain has reached saturation and it’s time to take a break. We need a buzzer that says, “It’s time to discuss what you just heard. It’s time to process this information and make it applicable to your work.”

Imagine a conference education session where all of the attendee information filters started buzzing at the same time. That might startle a presenter or two!

The Law Of Information: Information Consumes Our Attention

Hebert Simon was one of the first to articulate the concept of attention economies. Simon said that the growth of information caused the scarcity of attention. He felt that information creates a poverty of attention.

“…in an information-rich world, the wealth of information means a dearth of something else: a scarcity of whatever it is that information consumes. What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it.” ~ Hebert Simon, 1996

Information consumes our attention.

Attention Economy Deficit

The attention economy has an attention deficit: You can only pay attention to so many things.

Your brain is hardwired to only recall three to five things in your working memory every few seconds. The more information that you pay attention to, the more that is lost from working memory, unless transferred to long-term memory. And transferring information to long term memory takes time, repetition, practice and a process. Rarely is a conference attendee given that time to learn.

We might as well sell annual meeting shirts that say, “Zombie Conferences: We want to consume your brains…And you’ll never know it happened!”

What can conference organizers do to recreate meeting schedules that give opportunities for attendees to learn new information? What can presenters do to increase learning and decrease information dumps?

Comments

  1. says

    Thanks for constantly reminding us how important it is to allow people the time to process the information that we are giving them at conferences. After an hour and a half session filled with information, I’m grateful if I learn one thing that sticks well enough for me to really make use of it. I’m keeping all of this in mind as I create my own presentations. I also like the “Zombie” visual. I’ve certainly seen a few and felt like one myself after a few hours of information overload.

    • Jeff Hurt says

      Thanks Jenise for reading and commenting.

      For the best learning and retention, presenters should present about 10-15 minutes of content and then stop. They should then allow the audience to make meaning of that content, connect it to past experiences and discuss it. When I present, I follow that model as well. It’s based on good scientific research from today’s neuroscientist on how the brain learns.

  2. Nancy Largay says

    Jeff, one of my favorite lines is “sometimes less is more”.

    We are all guilty of over programming, over booking and scheduling and don’t forget creating competition between our beloved tradeshows and conference.

    Take a step back. Pick up the phone and talk to you audience (delegates, sponsors, exhibitors) to see what is important to them. Plan based on your community needs vs what you think your community needs.

    • Jeff Hurt says

      @Nancy
      I like that line too, “Less is more.” Thanks for reminding us about that. And, thanks for reading and commenting.

      @Sue
      Maybe we should start a conference t-shirt line! Wouldn’t that be fun and funny to see if everyone wore one at an annual event. ;)

      Like Nancy commented, “Less is more,” is the way to go with presentations. It so hard to remember that when planning a presentation too.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

  3. says

    Hey, where can I buy the zombie conference t-shirt? This may be your best metaphor yet. I like the “continue the conversation” space after the general sessions at PCMA this year. Of course, it competed with other sessions so I don’t know how much traction it got, but that’s exactly what we need to make learning sink in (especially with general sessions that don’t necessarily connect directly to the conference’s topic areas–it can be incredibly useful to take the time to make those connections).

    Presenters need to do what you’re doing and change it up every 10 minutes or so. And for goodness sake, peel it down to 3-5 main ideas you want to get across, then find lots of interesting ways to connect those ideas to the people in the room. That ought to help.

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