Conference Curiosity Didn’t Kill The Proverbial Cat. It Awakened The Attendee

Imagine a conference where every attendee was learning, a world where what the attendee wondered was more interesting than what the expert presenter knew, and curiosity counted for more than certain knowledge. (With nods to a quote from The Cluetrain Manifesto.)

I don’t know about you. I certainly want to attend a conference where what the attendee wonders is considered at least as important as what the expert presenter knows. What a profound affect if we rewarded and applauded curiosity about the industry instead of regurgitation of information from the past. How amazing it would be if we prized inquisitiveness about doing industry tasks differently than the way it’s always been done.

Learning As A Path
Learning originally meant finding the right path, the right answers, the right solutions.

So, what do paths do?

They provide a well-worn way to get from one place to another. They connect. People follow those paths because they’ve worked in the past.

From the mountains to the delta, a river follows a path. Yet, it does not just flow on a traditional path. It changes the surface of the earth. It cuts rocks, moves boulders, and deposits sediments, constantly attempting to carve away all of the mountains in its path. The goal of the river is to create a wide, flat valley where it can flow smoothly towards the ocean. It creates new paths.

What if like a river that changes its course over the years, our learning paths also change their course and connections? What if the path is dynamic and not static? What if finding a new path and new connections, is sometimes the better way? In today’s networked digital age, change is the constant. Today’s path maybe tomorrow’s antiquated thinking.

Core Conference Beliefs Of Most Associations
A core association and organizational conference belief is that people are manageable. Just provide the best path to the the right content at the conference. It implies that in order to get people to learn, all you have to do plan the appropriate content, get them into the conference room, make them listen and then tell people what they need to know. Because people are manageable, they’ll learn it. Right?

Uh, the real world doesn’t work that way. First, to get people’s attention, you just can’t lecture them to concentration. That’s death by PowerPoint bullets. You can’t just command attendees to sit down, be quiet, face forward and listen. The brain is not hard-wired that way. Adults’ attention span is about 10 minutes. (John Medina’s Brain Rules). That’s it, 10 minutes and the brain goes to something else.

If you want to get people to pay attention, allow them to participate! Get them involved. Their perspectives matter. Their views are important. Their discussions with each other leads to knowledge, learning and emotional bonding. Invite them to arouse their inner child and awaken their curious cat. Let them create new paths. And by all means, connect with their emotions.

Why You Need To Provide Informal & Formal  Learning Experiences

When I was one-year old, I would eat just about anything my parents gave me. When I was hungry, I wanted food. Any cuisine they gave me was sufficient. I trusted my parents to give me food.

When I was five-years old, things changed. I became more selective. I wanted corn and French fries, not green beans. And by all means, my green beans could not touch any of my other food or it was all contaminated. I would sit for hours cutting up my green beans into little pieces trying to make them disappear.

As a one year old, I was analogous to a formal learner and often to an industry novice. They accept what is given to them as far as content. As a five year old, I was analogous to an informal learner and an industry veteran. I wanted to control what I would learn. In the ideal world, every attendee progresses from a passive, formal learner to an active, informal learner.

Think of this in terms of monetizing your conference. Formal learning may satisfy the needs of a first time attendee or novice. Informal learning retains attendees, delivers greater ROI and results in repeat attendance…the secret sauce for a growing annual meeting. Taking this further, CEIR’s research on Millennials reported that Gen Y wants to learn with industry veterans, talk with them, meet them and have discussions together. If you’re not retaining experienced professionals at your conferences, check to see if you’re providing them with informal learning experiences centered on specific topics of relevance.

So how do we encourage attendee curiosity at conference and events? What will draw them to our formal and informal learning experiences? How do we intentionally provide both controlled (formal) and self-directed (informal) learning experiences in the conference environment? How are you building loyalty and repeat attendance?

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  1. Scott Gould says:

    I’m sure there’s a model here – between formal and informal – my mind is thinking!

    1. Jeff Hurt says:

      I think the model you use for your Like Minds events and conferences is a good example of blending the formal and informal learning. Keep thinking and sharing. We’re all learning together.

  2. Jeff-
    You are on fire lately with your posts about informal learning. I know I’m an “active learner” and also that I won’t actually implement anything learned unless I do it right at the time of learning. That said, my answer is
    More Workshops, Less Presentations. I know you’ve talked about this before, but it’s so true. Let’s do some role playing at conferences, so down-and-dirty planning during a session, some intense debate to find solutions to problems. And let’s take that learning out of the conference and continue learning on a wiki or social network. You can even measure the learning with a post-conference survey. I’m sure this has all been done and formalized somewhere- maybe you even know where.

    Not everything can be an active workshop, but can’t we integrate active learning into every conference session?

    You’ve really got me thinking now – I think you’ve just inspired me to write my own blog post about this, too!

    1. Jeff Hurt says:

      Thanks for adding to the discussion. The data is pretty clear that when we are actively involved, our learning and retention increases dramatically. I’m digging your point about continuing the conference learning on a wiki or social newtork. Then you can really gauge the measure of retention and success while extending the conference connections.

  3. […] If you’re thinking of organizing a conference, Jeff Hurt of Velvet Chainsaw Consulting offers some spot-on observations and tips about engaging participant curiosity and wonder. […]

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