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 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?