Boring Conference Education Creates Zombie Attendees

They're coming to get you, Barbara . . .

10, 11, 12, 13…

I found myself counting the ceiling tiles. It was the only thing I could do to keep myself awake because I was so bored.

I didn’t want to become one of the conference walking dead infected with the boredom virus. I had to force myself to pay attention. But it wasn’t working.

Creating Zombie Attendees

I looked around the room and saw that dead-zombie look on the majority of faces. We were all infected by the presentation boredom virus. We had been bitten by the boredom bug.

We all stared lifelessly at the speaker. Our eyes glazed over as our brains wandered. Occasionally our heads bobbed up and down, not to show faux agreement, but because we’d fallen asleep with our eyes wide open.

Our faces were devoid of emotions. Our bodies were rigid as we sat still. We inwardly groaned in pain as we sat silently. Frequently, our bodies jerked because we’d been sitting too long in one position listening to monotonous monologues by seemingly severed talking heads.

We were salivating for something exciting and different. We needed something to excite our brains. We were craving lively education experiences.

Once the session ended, we got up as a zombie army and moved in unison to the next education session. Some of us limped as our feet have fallen asleep. We were the walking dead.

What created this zombie army? Boring conference education!

Bad And Boring Education Is Unacceptable

Bad presentations are not acceptable. But boring presentations are.

People don’t deliberately present bad instruction. But they do deliberately present boring instruction.

Why is it acceptable for speakers to offer boring presentations? Why do conference organizers allow for average, mediocre, wet Melba Toast flavored boring presentations?

You’re probably saying, “We don’t allow boring presentations. Everyone knows boring instruction is bad.”

Do they really know that? If that’s true, why is it so prevalent at most conferences? Why are boring speakers the norm at conferences?

Boring Presentations Are Not Effective

Boring presentations are not effective.

Attendees muddle through multiple boring sessions. Their attention wanes. Their minds wander.

Countless conference hours are wasted due to boring, ineffective presentations. Attendees will only put up with so much boring information before they are ready to revolt.

Attendees are ready to escape to something else as quickly as possible. Little information is retained. Little learning occurs.

Most conference education is boring. Boring is bad!

Boring presentations lead to a lack of results. A lack of results leads to less registrations the next year. Fewer registrations lead to less revenue. Less revenue leads to cuts in programs and services.

Boring presentations are bad!

Entertaining Presentations Don’t Always Mean Good

Presentations that are entertaining don’t automatically equal good instruction.

When attendees have a good time in an education session, they rate the session high. They enjoy the laughter and motivation.

But entertaining presentations don’t automatically change attitudes, behaviors and skills. Entertainment does not automatically lead to learning. Entertaining presentations are just more fun.

Providing lively education experiences is a worthy goal. Boring is bad for conferences. Bored attendees don’t learn.

However, learning should be fun!

What can conference organizers do to limit boring presentations? What are some things presenters can do to create lively, engaging presentations?

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  1. Cathy Key says:

    Thank you! This is my number one complaint about conferences. Most presentations are horribly boring. Here are some things that I find work to enliven any presentation: –

    1. Never speak for more than 10 minutes without engaging the audience. People don’t want to hear your stories. They want to know how they can apply what they are learning in practice. Create exercises to stimulate action, thinking and application.

    2. Get clear on your answers to these questions: (i) Who is my audience (skills, background, experience, why are they here); (ii) What is my intended outcome; (iii) What is the message I want to deliver; Your answers to these three questions will provide focus to your delivery.

  2. Jeff,

    needless to say you nailed it once again. Boring is indeed safe. By putting up hordes of bullet points we fill in the void of our insecurity.

    As I was preparing a presentation I was just thinking about how in the past I’ve bene boring. Sometimes it is scarier to be entertaining. What if they don’t get it? I am sure lots of us have experienced these thoughts.

    I like your challenge.

    1. Jeff Hurt says:

      Thanks for reading and adding some great tips. Your questions to answer are perfect for presenters to consider when developing a presentation!

      I can’t imagine you being boring as a presenter. It is easy and safe to do though.

      Thanks for reading, sharing and commenting too! Always appreciated.

  3. Kathleen says:

    Hi Jeff, question for you. We’re an event technology company trying to kill the boredom pandemic in breakout rooms with interactive technology like mobile audience response, social streaming, gamification, etc. that can be used in addition to the standard PPT presentation in order to help better engage an audience that is totally burned out on PPT. The problem I am seeing is that it is very hard to convince planners that they should implement these things in breakouts as a vaccination against the Boredom Virus because they’re concerned about how it will affect the execution of the event. They worry about how/if speakers will be able to use or will be comfortable using the technologies, adoption amongst attendees, etc. What can we as a supplier do to help them move past their hesitations… and then secondly, to help presenters acclimate when planners do implement new technologies in breakouts? -Kathleen,

    1. Jeff Hurt says:

      Thanks for reading and adding to the conversation.

      Interactive technology is one way to increase audience engagement and get rid of attendee boredom. IMO, as a supplier of those tools, you’ll have to be more consultative in your approach with meeting professionals. In many cases, you might have to work with selected speakers to help them understand the why and how of your tools. You’ll be more of a coach to them helping them integrate these tools in their presentations. In most cases, you’ll have to be working with the meeting professional and speakers from the very beginning of their speaker/topic selection process. That’s going to be a long journey for you as a supplier and unfortunately, it won’t scale well. You’ll also want to find clients that are open to new ideas and formats during their conference education.

      You might also use your blog to write posts on how to use the tools you have available. Posts about successful events that have used IA will help meeting professionals get their head around what you offer and how it might benefit their attendees. Or develop some case studies that you can distribute online freely that explains how the IA worked.

      Hope that helps.

  4. Kathleen says:

    That is EXTREMELY helpful. I just set a blog up for us on our domain, but hadn’t thought to share success stories…was only thinking in terms of content sharing. I’ll definitely plan to expand our case studies, too.

    Thanks for your ideas & feedback!!

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