You are what you eat. What you see is what you get.
These idioms are familiar to most of us.
Here’s a simple truth: What you think about is what you remember!
The implication for your conferences, events and meetings are substantial.
Our Memory Is Like A Video Recorder? Not!
Many meeting professionals and conference organizers falsely assume that our memory is like a video recorder. It automatically records everything it hears and sees.
Oh, if that were only true. I would always remember where I put my car keys. I would never forget an appointment. I would never have to study for any exam.
I would just rewind my memory and hit play to remember. I would be just like Marilu Henner who has eidetic (photographic) memory.
But alas, that’s just not so for the majority of us.
Assumptions About Our Event Participants
Meeting professionals and education specialists have made assumptions for years about how their conference participants create memories, learn and remember. These assumptions–and all of the planning about content and room logistics–are based on a mix of theories and tradition.
We’ve assumed that the more people sit quietly and passively in chairs, listening to a presenter, the more they will learn and remember.
We’ve assumed that the quieter the attendees are, the more they can hear and thus the better their recall.
We’ve assumed that the more content that is covered, the more the listener learns.
So how effective are these assumptions? Using these assumptions, how much is actually retained and learned?
Fact: Very little, if anything at all.
Memory Is As Thinking Does
Cognitive science has shown that what ends up in the participants’ memory is not simply the material presented. It is the product of what the participants thought about as they encountered the material.
So what is remembered during a sixty- or ninety-minute lecture? What the hearer thinks about!
Unless one has time to think about what the presenter is saying, learning does not occur.
Thinking Trumps All Meeting Factors
Either the conference presenters can have the participants’ attention or the participants can be thinking about the content. The two cannot co-exist simultaneously.
The one factor that trumps all others–the room set, the visuals, the speaker, the AV, the food and beverage–in determining learning is what the participant thinks about during the presentation.
Yet how often do conference organizers discuss, “What will our attendees think about during this experience? What will they think about while the speaker talks? Will our speakers allow our participants to talk to each other and reflect about the content?
Just because the content has meaning, does not guarantee that the meaning will be remembered. And meaning making is a requirement for learning.
If participants think about the meaning of the content, the meaning will reside in memory. If they don’t. It won’t.
For good education ROI, we need more time to think and reflect during the conference experience. And less presenter monologues and panelists dialogue.
What are some tactical ways meeting professionals can create more conference experiences that promote participant thinking and discussion? How can conference organizers adapt cluttered, jam-packed schedules to encourage more thinking and meaning-making?