Here’s a question to think about as a conference organizer or speaker.
Do you want your attendees to hear the content or learn it?
Goal: Hear The Information
If your goal is for your attendees to hear the information, then continue planning like you always have. The lecture is the quickest, easiest and most efficient way of delivering information.
Your focus is on covering content. The aim is for the speaker to do all the talking and the audience to do all the listening. The main objective is to present as much information as possible. You judge the success of your conference based on how much content has been covered.
Goal: Learn The Information
If your goal is for the audience to learn critical content, then the way the information is delivered must change! The fundamental flaw with “Speakers talk. Audiences listen” is that is has nothing to do with how humans learn.
Listening to presentations does not equal learning. Content covered does not mean content leaned. The more content you cover and the faster you cover it, the more and faster your attendees forget it.
If you goal is for you conference attendees to remember and use the information, then lecturing won’t get you there! That’s right, just listening to presentations does not mean that the audience remembers or learns it.
Active involvement and engagement during each presentation will help your attendees learn content. To increase the learning, you need to give the attendees time to discuss, question, consider, reflect, decide, act on, share and learn from each other.
Simple And Complicated
Yes, it’s that simple. And it’s that complicated.
It’s simple because it makes sense. It seems obvious.
It’s complicated because it means that you have to fundamentally change your usual planning behaviors. You have to change how you’ve always done it. You have to change your beliefs about what does and doesn’t work at a conference for learning to occur.
You’ll have to change the belief that “Presenters talk. Audiences listen.”
You’ll have to help your superiors and team understand the change. You’ll also have to help your attendees understand and navigate the change.
Why The Old Model Of Lecture?
It is ultimately about the efficiency and economics of information-delivery.
The old model of speakers lecturing to attendees serves three non-learning functions:
1. Lecturing makes information easy to deliver.
The presenter talks; the attendees listen.
2. Lecturing makes information transfer easy to evaluate.
Organization leadership asks, “Did the speaker cover this issue?” If the answer is yes, the leadership assumes everyone now knows that topic.
3. Lecturing is affordable.
Lecturing requires less time to cover a topic than it takes for attendees to learn it. Less time means more money spent on other things. It also takes fewer resources to deliver a lecture than design active learner engagement. Similarly, it takes less space to deliver a lecture than it does for active attendee engagement.
Unfortunately, the lecture does not work if learning is the goal! It’s time to stop giving lip service to learning and design conference experiences that foster learning instead.
Special thanks to author and trainer Sharon Bowman who helped frame this discussion!
What steps should conference planners take to make the transition from lectures to a mix of lectures and attendee engagement? Where do you turn to find resources about conference learning and designing attendee engagement activities?