Is your conference primarily focused on speakers?
Is it so focused on speakers that it’s become a conference of speakers speaking to other speakers because no one else attends the education sessions?
Maybe you’re saying, “No, my conference is focused on attendees!”
How To Tell If Your Conference Focus Is Speakers Or Attendees
Here’s how to tell if your conference is focused on speakers or attendees.
Speaker-centric conferences assume that the attendee is dependent upon an expert presenter for current information and education.
Learner-centric conferences assume that the attendee knows where and how to find current information.
Speaker-centric conferences assume that the presenter has the responsibility for what and how the content should be taught.
Learner-centric conferences assume that the attendee has the responsibility for what and how the content should be learned. The speaker is responsible for nurturing that capacity for learning.
3. Need To Know
Speaker-centric conferences assume that the presenter knows what the attendee needs to learn.
Learner-centric conferences assume that the attendee needs to know the reason why the content is important to them and what’s in it for them to learn it.
Speaker-centric conferences assume that the attendee’s experience is of less value than that of the subject matter expert, researchers and the course content. Therefore the presenter has the responsibility to see that the resource of these experts, including their expertise, is transmitted to the attendee.
Learner-centric conferences assume that the attendee’s experience is a rich resource for learning, which should be leveraged along with the resources of the experts.
Speaker-centric conferences assume that attendees come to the event with a subject-focused orientation to content. They see the conference as an experience to accumulate as much content as possible. Therefore conference content should be organized according to a spiraling curriculum or units of content.
Learner-centric conferences assume that attendees are naturally oriented to solving their problems. The education experiences are organized around the attendees’ problems. Content helps them solve their challenges.
Speaker-centric conferences assume that attendees need to know what the speaker presents “just-in-case” or that the content may apply six to twelve months from now.
Learner-centric conferences assume that the attendees are most interested in learning content that has immediate relevance to their work or personal lives.
7. Rewards And Motivation
Speaker-centric conferences assume that attendees are motivated to learn in response to external rewards such as certification, credentialing, awards and fear of failure.
Learner-centric conferences assume that attendees are motivated by internal incentives such as the urge to grow, the need for self-esteem, the desire to achieve, the need to know something specific, curiosity and the ability to solve work problems.
Many association conferences assume that they must allow any and all members that request to speak at their annual meeting. They see the conference as an opportunity for members to serve as speakers thus they become speaker-centric conferences in the name of membership.
Learner-centric conferences carefully choose speakers based on the attendees’ needs. The focus is on the paying attendee as the member and that the conference is typically a revenue generating program for the association. Members are not automatically allowed to speak unless they can demonstrate that they are helping learners solve problems and they focus on learners instead of their expertise.
Shifting The Focus From Speakers To Attendees
The majority of conferences use a speaker-centric model to plan their education experiences. Without realizing it, they have elevated the speaker as the primary focus. They are entirely dependent upon speakers as experts for education.
Shifting to a focus on attendees as learners drastically changes the planning process. Here are some steps to help with the shift.
1. Conference organizers need to understand the differences between speaker-centric and learning-centric conferences.
2. Conference organizers should plan experiences where attendees work collaboratively with each other so that the best learning occurs.
3. Selecting conference content should be based on attendee’s needs and problems, not content that the speakers say is important or because they are members or sponsors. If it doesn’t solve an attendee’s problem, it is meaningless to them.
Hat tips to Malcolm Knowles, the father of andragogy, for his research and insights into how adults learn.
What eventually happens to conferences when they become a conference of speakers speaking to other speakers? What are some other ways you can tell if your conference is speaker-centric or learner-centric?
Tahira Endean (@TahiraCreates) says
Great article – thanks Jeff.