When was the last time you introduced some changes in your annual conferences and meetings?
Perhaps you rearranged the schedule, mixed things up or set rooms in different layouts.
So how comfortable was that change for you?
I’ll admit that I’m not comfortable with change unless I’m told why I need to change or I’m part of the change process from the beginning. Many years ago I used to travel four to six days a week facilitating workshops. I’d go on the road and come home to find my house rearranged by my love one. It always felt like I was coming home to a foreign place, especially since I was not involved in the decision of rearranging my home. I didn’t like it. Those changes were hard on me.
Yet when it comes to planning meetings, I’m one that likes to mix things up constantly, keeping the meetings unpredictable, memorable and exciting. Yes, I had to realize that some of my attendees felt like participating in the annual meeting was coming home after a year’s worth of travel. They wanted to find some normalcy and predictability. I realized that it wasn’t the schedule or format that needed to be the same, it was the ability for them to connect with other industry colleagues. They wanted their sense of community, belonging and a welcoming space. As long as I kept that, I could make changes that created a more effective and memorable experience.
So what keeps other meeting professionals from making changes in their conference formats, programming and schedules? Why don’t more event professionals embrace change?
Here are four barriers that influence your ability to change your annual meetings and conferences.
1. Engrained Habits
Often meetings professionals and organizational leadership cling to systems because they are familiar and the way they’ve always done things. Much like a well-worn, frayed pair of house shoes, they are comfortable and predictable.
Any professor or student from the 1800s could step into the traditional lecture based conference session and feel at home. Not much has changed. The didactic lecture and presenter monologue has become an engrained habit. Yet, is it the most effective education process? No.
2. Perceived Generational Learning Styles
For some reason, conference organizers have convinced themselves that older generations have “learning styles*” that prefer passively listening to lectures rather than hands-on interactive learning. Many Baby Boomers have grown up attending conferences that only provided presenter monologues. So they became accustomed to receiving new information, by listening to a lecture. It’s not that lectures are the most effective or optimal use of time, it’s that they are most familiar to an entire generation.
*The words “learning styles” are used often in education and meetings professional circles, yet there is great debate in the education field that learning styles exist. Learning styles theory is a hypothesis about the method of how learning takes place. The word hypothesis should raise your internal radar as the evidence of scientific research regarding “learning styles” is absent. Actually, there is evidence contrary to learning styles and much of it comes from cognitive psychologists and neuroscientists.
Still think there are generational differences in learning? Read Professor Thomas C. Reed’s paper Do Generational Differences Matter In Instructional Design?
3. Emotional Attachments
Some organizational leadership and conference organizers have formed emotional attachments, healthy or unhealthy, with the conference format, program and schedule. These attachments can prevent event professionals from making the best decisions when it comes to planning this year’s meeting. The more hesitant the leaders are about changing or removing something, the stronger the emotional attachment. The longer a specific conference format, program or schedule has been around, the stronger the emotional connection. And the more fearful the conference organizers are about getting rid of a specific aspect of the meeting, the stronger the emotional relationship.
4. In Distrust We Trust
Distrust is the epidemic of today’s society. When we embark on a new endeavor, our friends and family remind us “…to be careful.” They reinforce that we should be suspicious, distrustful and cautious. We are quick to judge anything new as guilty until proven effective and influential. Our anxieties outweigh our logic.
As we age, we have a choice. We can embrace adulthood with a continual thirst to learn and become lifelong learners or we can let a lifetime of contaminated experiences cloud our exploration.
It’s important that conference organizers and event professionals understand what is keeping them from changing their annual meetings. It’s time to objectively assess new innovations and changes you might use for this year’s event. Let your meetings’ goals drive your decision-making.
What are some of the barriers that keep you from changing your meetings and events?