Conventional wisdom regarding traditional conference education is well-intentioned and misguided.
Our accepted beliefs about what does and doesn’t work in conference sessions are universal. We’ve always done it this way and no one has complained so it must be working.
Today, cognitive neuroscience has created a new standard of proof. Most of what we thought was good education is directly opposed to how the brain operates. Most conference education actually obstructs learning.
Using Brain Science To Improve Conferences
Cognitive neuroscientists study how the brain receives, interprets, retains and uses information from the senses.
In the past two decades, this growing field of science has led to new insights about how our brain learns. Some research has confirmed what educators have known. What’s new is how speakers are applying the research to their presentations.
You as a conference organizer actually work for the human brain. Your real customer is your registrants’ brain. You need to know as much as possible about the human brain to understand how your conference affects it. It’s time to get to know your real customer!
Seven Misguided Myths
Here are seven misguided myths about conference education.
1. Listening to lectures increases learning.
Do you want your attendees to hear the presentation or learn it?
While your speakers may be interesting, motivating and entertaining, research shows the audience will forget most of what they hear. Listening does not equal learning. Hearing more information does not translate into remembering more. Pushing more content faster only results in the audience forgetting more, faster.
2. The speaker should do all the talking.
Most presenters assume that launching into their presentation and lecturing is the most essential thing to do. Unfortunately, it is the direct opposite of what they should do so that the audience learns.
When attendees talk to each other about the content, they actually increase their learning. The speaker needs to cut their content and devote more time to participants talking to one another about the main points.
3. It’s how we learned in school.
One of the most common accepted practices is that speakers speak and audiences listen. That’s how we all learned in school. Our attendees expect lectures. Our speakers expect to lecture. It’s been done that way since we were children.
There’s tons of research and proof that we learn best when we are actively involved. We actually learned in school by studying and doing, not listening to lectures. It’s time to teach speakers new ways of helping audiences learn.
4. My speakers are the subject matter experts.
This belief demands two other convictions:
a. That the speaker knows everything there is to know about the subject.
b. That the audience knows very little about the subject.
Both ideas are false. Often the audience knows as much or more than speaker. We need to find ways to let the participants share their experiences with each other.
5. Presentations are supposed to be boring.
Learning should be fun! The more your attendees enjoy the presentation, the more their brains release endorphins (the brain’s pleasure chemicals) which reinforces learning. In fact, the more you enjoy planning the conference and the more the speaker enjoys presenting, the more everyone gets a pleasure rush.
6. My attendees are just like me.
You are not your conference attendees. Your conference participants have different learning needs. What works for you as a learner may not work for others. You need to step out of your comfort zone and plan for new ways of learning. When you do present a new format, give the audience the brain science behind the process so that they understand the why behind the change of the how and what.
7. As a conference organizer, it’s not my job to focus on how education is delivered.
Just scheduling a speaker is not enough. Holding a conference call with the speakers and asking them how they will engage the audience is not enough. You need to understand how adults learn and what today’s brain science reveals about learning. Regardless of your title, if you are involved in planning a conference, understanding brain science will help you do your job better.
What are some other education myths that have invaded our conferences? Why do so many attendees accept and approve of lectures when they don’t lead to learning?