January 30, 2013 by Jeff Hurt
What if you as a conference organzier had the magical ability to literally change your attendees’ brains for the better?
Guess what! You do have that power.
Wow, that’s an awesome responsibility and one that should not be taken lightly.
For more than 400 years, mainstream medicine and science believed that our brains were fixed. They didn’t change or grow unless it was in the long process of decline. Conventional wisdom said that if our brains were injured, or died, they could not be replaced.
Well, the theory of the unchanging brain has been proven to be a myth.
Neuroscientists have discovered that our brains have a fundamental property called neuroplasticity. Neuro means neuron for the nerve cells in our brains and nervous systems. Plastic is for changeable, malleable and modifiable.
Here’s the interesting fact bout neuroplasticity that is directly related to conferences: thinking, learning and acting can turn our genes on or off, thus shaping and changing our brain and our behavior.
Securing education sessions that foster thinking instead of just listening will actually improve your attendees’ brains. Having speakers stop presenting, ask provocative questions and get the audience thinking and discussing is the way to super charge your attendees’ brains.
How we learn, think, perceive and remember can change hundreds of millions and possibly even billions of the connections between the neurons in our brains. When learning occurs in a way that is consistent with the laws that govern how our brains naturally operate, the mental equipment of our brain can be improved so that we learn and perceive with greater precision, speed and retention.
When we learn, we increase what we know. And when we learn, we can change the very structure of our brain and increase its capacity to learn. Unlike the computer, the brain is constantly adapting.
In short, conference organizers have to move away from the traditional lecture where attendees sit passively and listen. Those lectures have to morph into sessions where attendees spend more time thinking and discussing than listening.
We need a conference thinking revolution. We need more conference education sessions where attendees digest, discuss, reflect and internalize core concepts and content. We need to devote more time to attendee thinking than passive listening. In reality, you can’t devote your attention to thinking and listening at the same time. You either give your attention to listening or you give it to thinking.
It’s time to cut the conference lecture in half and spend the other half thinking and discussing.
You as a conference organizer have the ability to be a neuroplastician. You can literally foster education opportunities where your attendees spend more time thinking, imagining and discussing than listening to lectures. When you chose or lead your conference committees to chose sessions where attendees are active in thought, you’ve become the great neuroplastician!
What an awesome responsibility you have. And remember, when you choose more lectures for your attendees than active mental engagement, you are creating a pattern that dead heads win. You actually cause the brain to decrease it learning, retention and memory.
The choice is yours: Conference organizers as neuroplasticians or dead heads!
What are some ways tips you can give to conference speakers to transition from lecture to more audience interactivity? Why do we embrace the lecture as the primary method of transmitting information?
Filed Under: Conference Education
Jeff – a well timed piece as folks get into overdrive for their spring conferences and many start for their fall events.
While many of us want to go this way, I think we are often at a loss because we don’t know how this has worked for others in the past. Can you point us to any case studies or program examples?
Lastly, what is your response to the thought that if you build this into a session that people we get up and walk out?
Thanks for reading and commenting. It is greatly appreciated.
First, the conference education session is for attendees. Those that have seen me present know that I start with an attendee/presenter agreement. In that agreement I state that if the session does not meet their needs, they have my permission, invitation and the freedom to go find one that does meet their needs or do something else that they find of value. Keeping attendees hostage in a session is the wrong way to go regardless of the presentation. Walking out of a session is not a bad thing…so to speak. We need more adults to do it instead of feeling that it is rude. As long as attendees stay in a bad session they send the message that the presentation was about the speaker, not the audience. That’s backwards. (For example, is school about the teachers or the students?)
Second, the evidence and research is clear. There is over 20 years of research that points to the fact that lectures have the lowest form of ROI for learning. When audiences are allowed to discuss critical content, their retention increases and their brains literally change!
Here are some places to start:
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