If our world had changed in profound ways, what effect, if any, should those changes have on the mission and direction of the typical annual meeting?
How long can an organization’s annual meeting continue to replicate what it has done for the past 20 to 50 years?
Is the old conference model sustainable in the 21st Century when so much of our world and our attendees’ have changed?
Change Is The Constant
Today, the drumbeat of our world is change. We are witnessing a hyper-speed rate of change. And it will only continue to increase.
Our economy continues to change. The perceived value of conference attendance has changed. Our population demographics have substantively changed. Our employer expectations continue to evolve and increase. Our culture’s expectations of conference experiences have changed.
All of these factors have a significant impact on what our conference speakers share and the way they present.
Conferences Reflect An Outdated Institutional Model Of Teaching
For more than a century, conferences have followed the long-established belief in the authority of the expert presenter. The expert has followed pedagogy (how to teach) based on lecture with a temporary emphasis on asking attendees to memorize important information they hear.
The conference sessions were designed for and about the expert presenter. They were designed to impart the expert’s knowledge to ignorant attendees following an established chain of command.
Conferences were representative of other large institutions like schools that value efficiency, clear protocols and stability. They just reflected our beliefs in how education was to be shared.
The speaker’s job was to teach. The attendees’ job was to learn. It was all about maintaining control.
Yet, the world has changed in profound ways. And our conferences have not begun to reflect those changes yet.
Shifting From Speaker-Centric to Learner-Centric
Today, education has shifted from the teacher teaching to a focus on how the student learns. In public schools, teachers are expected to create instruction that aligns with how the student leans best.
This same shift is occurring in conferences. Education sessions are for and about attendees. They are the paying customer. They are not for and about the expert presenter. It is all about the attendee’s learning.
Enacting the kind of change needed to foster more adaptive learning environments will require a fundamental disruption of the status quo. Adaptive learning environments incorporate flexible, learner-centric formats with a focus on the attendee doing the learning and the presenter acting as facilitator. The goal is for the paying customer to learn and walk away with relevant information that can be applied immediately.
This type of change is an inherently difficult process. Conference organizers will need to revisit the mission and goals of the conference in more substantive ways. Often it requires a fundamental change in the way content and speakers are selected for the conference. The old governing models no longer work and instead content is chosen to meet the immediate needs and challenges of paying customers.
From The Information Age To The Conceptual Age
He says that work in the past century followed instructions, procedures and logical analysis. That has changed today as employees have to be improvisational. Today our work relies on pattern recognition, tacit knowledge and the wisdom born of experience.
Our conferences need to shift to providing less information. They need to provide experiences for the attendee to learn, develop new thoughts and new ideas, and even develop new lines of business. We have to provide experiences that help them employ creative and innovative thinking. We have to share the control and realize that often the attendees are the experts.
Planning a conference that adapts to these changes creates a very different conference experience than the traditional expert-presenter lecture!
How long can an organization’s annual meeting continue to replicate what it has done for the past 20 to 50 years? Is the old conference model with a focus on the authority of the expert-presenter sustainable in the 21st Century when so much of our world and our attendees’ have changed?