Breakouts, concurrent sessions, forums, general sessions, Ignite, lectures, Open Space, panels, Pecha Kucha, peer to peer, plenary sessions, round tables, seminars, workshops. Conference education.
No matter what we call them, they all have one thing in common: sharing of information with the goal of education and learning.
What Is The Goal Of Conference Education?
So why do conferences offer education sessions?
- To drive revenue and attract customers.
- To fulfill the organization’s mission, vision and strategic plans.
- To help people advance their professions and improve their lives.
- To provide certification maintenance.
- To keep the status quo because they have always done it.
- Because it would not be an annual meeting or conference without education sessions.
For a majority of conference organizers, it is a mix of the above.
Persuasion Is The Ultimate Goal
Ultimately, conference organizers offer education sessions to persuade people to change.
What’s the desired outcome of a conference education session? To move an audience from being uninformed to informed. From being uneducated to educated. To help attendees learn relevant new information. To move from awareness to action.
Usually, the audience is supposed to do something with the information that is presented. That alone makes the presentation persuasive.
Generally conference education is offered to persuade attendees to change their minds and behavior. Rallying conference attendees to move together in a common direction is part of advancing an industry.
Presentations Are Conferences’ Currency
Presentations are the currency of conferences today. Done properly, presentations can move an audience forward to make a concentrated effort to change their actions. In the hands of a skilled presenter, an education session can be an effective tool to transform an audience. Those sessions are like gold.
Yet bad presentations are the norm of most conferences. They are like currency that has lost its value.
Most are dreadful attempts at communicating the kitchen sink without any clear direction or calls to action. Most are on life support, hanging on by a thread of a few accomplished speakers that can move an audience to tears and laughter, invite them to become willing participants to change their minds and give them the keys to better future.
Conferences Need An Education Stimulus Package
If presentations are the currency of conferences today, why is so little time spent on improving them? Why don’t more organizations coach their presenters on providing meaningful, interactive education experiences?
If education sessions help drive conference revenue and attract customers, why do conference organizers schedule them like appointments? Very little thought is given to their effectiveness. Little time is spent helping speakers be better catalysts for meaningful change. Very little attention is devoted to breathing new life into those near death speakers and presentations.
If the education session has a pulse, conference organizers schedule it. Never mind the quality of life in that presentation.
It takes energy, time and a focused effort to breathe new life into conference education. Creating a conference full of effective and interesting presentations requires a more thorough and thoughtful process than taking speaker proposals and scheduling those approved by committees.
Why are so many conference education sessions boring and near death? What do you expect from conference education?
Tony Stubblebine says
Right on. This is why I’m so convinced event organizers have been sold a bill of goods when it comes to event customizations and “unique experiences.” A unique experience is a conference that nailed the fundamentals.
Lara McCulloch says
Hey Jeff, great discussion, as usual.
I’d add that a number of conference organizers view education as a tool to convince attendees to attend a conference in order to secure sponsors and tradeshow exhibitors. After all, without those numbers, who is going to invest?
There has seemed to be minimal QC on speakers, content and educational format. But in days past there was minimal competition because of the high cost of entry into the conference market and the risk involved. Today, there is more educational competition than ever before and I see the tide shifting. Conversations like this one help tremendously.
Jeff Hurt says
I love what you said, “A unique experience is a conference that nailed the fundamentals.” Great line.
Thanks for reading and great addition: Conference organizers view education as a tool to convince attendees to attend so they can secure sponsors and tradeshow exhibitors. It’s sort of like match-making for a fee and chargng both parties. 😉
Keith Johnston says
I have to say that I agree with Lara, all to often it seems (and more so now given the economy) conference planners are using education and content to drive sponsorship revenue.
I will take it a step further and say that many conference planners have had to sell out to the sales department by allowing sponsors to give sessions and speak during programs.
What planners need to do is take a step back and move education and content to the front burner and understand that by bringing in the brightest and the best, they are setting themselves up for success because people will return year after year if they are getting the tools that they need to be successful in their niche.
John Nawn says
Why are sessions so boring? There’s plenty of blame to go around from conference organizers/planners who aren’t skilled in creating proper learning environments to speakers who aren’t skilled in instructional design to review committees who aren’t skilled in evaluating quality education to consumers who tolerate the status quo. Collectively, these stakeholders either don’t care enough about education sessions or don’t realize what’s possible. There’s little that can be done to address the former. The later requires the application of new skills that aren’t prevalent in the industry but, fortunately, can be learned and applied. I’d like to see more industry events address what it takes to create superior education. There’s much at stake.
Jeff Hurt says
I so agree and am getting increasingly frustrated with the bias that is happening in conference education. More and more sponsors are paying the organization to speak. Revenue is driving the host conference organization’s decisions, not their customers. I think conference participants should start demanding associaiton boards to stop allowing paying sponsors to present their biased content at the expense of the conference experience.
Thanks for reading and commenting.
Yes, yes, yes. I like your statements, “I’d like to see more industry events address what it takes to create superior education. There’s much at stake.” Great comments. Thanks for adding them.