April 17, 2012 by Jeff Hurt
Hardwired into every one is the desire to communicate!
We crave and need communication with each other.
Listening to conference lectures is one-sided. It doesn’t provide the same fulfillment as two-way dialogue with our peers.
As long as our attendees participate in speaker monologues and panel dialogues, they lack the ability to grow social bonds with other participants. They aren’t able to help each other. They feel undervalued and left-out.
As they are enabled to talk more with each other, the value of the conference increases.
From the beginning of human existence, communication is an effective survival mechanism.
Our ancestors shared information about food sources, dangerous animals and plants, weather patterns and more. Our parents and grandparents helped us understand what is appropriate behavior is in specific situations. They communicated with us on how to act and respond.
We communicated with our friends in order to make sense of our world. We talked with each other so we didn’t feel isolated. We talked in order to belong.
Ultimately, people talk because sharing information makes life easier.
So it is with conferences! For most people, the motivation for attending a conference is education and networking.
For many conference attendees, the most valuable part of a conference is when they communicate with like-minded individuals that face similar problems. When peers share experiences and solutions with each other, they build community. Community building and peer sharing are often the highlights for attendees.
Most people freely share their experiences with others in order to help others. It’s an altruistic act with no strings attached. The sharers want to be perceived as helpful.
Years of social psychology research demonstrate that people talk to build and grow social bonds. Talking with someone sends out strong social signals. It sends the message that we consider them important enough of our time.
Conversations are critical to understanding one another. Without that communication, we fill in the gaps with speculation.
Rutgers University researchers showed that people update their online status to produce a feeling of connectedness although their colleagues are geographically distant. Status updates contain social gestures. Readers respond by liking or commenting.
According to Rutgers researchers, people respond not because they actually like the content but because they want to send a social signal that they want to build a relationship. The conversation that follows a status update is actually more important than the update itself.
Conferences need to find ways to support more face to face peer to peer conversations and less speaker monologues. More than the act of providing lectures and panels, the sessions needs to support peer conversations!
Helping attendees connect with others that have faced similar circumstances is critical. Just as important is helping them find others that have successfully navigated difficult, yet familiar, situations.
Often the expertise in the conference audience is more than the speaker’s experience. Organizers should create more structured peer roundtables where attendees can help each other with common problems.
What are some practical ways conference organizers can include more conference peer conversations? Do you think organic or facilitated conversations would be more valuable to attendees and why?
Filed Under: Conference Education
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As always Jeff, you hit the nail on the head. As conference organizers we SHOULD do this. Speaking for myself I’ve been trying it out for a year with at least two sessions built around this concept and it’s been successful. However, I struggle with helping the facilitators accomplish this goal. They see the value and understand that we need to change but how can we as organizers show them how to break out of the mold? I almost feel like I have to give them a menu of options (pair squared, assisted note taking, fish bowls, case studies, round table discussions, interactive problem solving) and then show them how their session can use one of the available options. Any advice you or the group can give on how to get the facilitators on board with changing from their usual 3-15 minute presentations and 30 minutes for Q&A to something new and creative?
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Given the format change is a departure from what most presenters (and attendees ftm) are used to, do you have a meeting in advance with them? Yes, you likely have to give that menu of options to them and be prepared to train them in advance via conference call to make sure all will run smoothly and they can get their questions answered. Help them feel comfortable carrying out the session as you have devised it to ensure success.
Thanks Christine for continuing the conversation. Appreciate it.
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