Why Speakers And Attendees Resist Participant-Centered Education

351/365 - two reasons

Once you as the conference organizer are convinced that you want to move your education to more learner centric approaches, with a focus on the attendee as participant and learner, you may discover that your speakers do not respond with the same zeal.

In reality, speakers and attendees may resist the new approach both passively and openly in front of others.

Change can be frightening and it’s easier to keep things the way they’ve always been done. Change requires work and it’s often stepping out of our comfort zone. Unfortunately, the traditional way to provide education sessions is more speaker centric with little ROI for the learner. If we want to focus on the conference participant and their learning, we must change how we provide education.

Be Forewarned! Speaker And Leader Resistance Is Guaranteed

I can promise you that there will be speakers, staff, attendees and even leaders that will resist and oppose any moves to learner centered conference approaches. It is a common response.

Here’s the good news. Negative initial responses can be answered. Usually hostility diminishes as speakers become more confident with new approaches. Participants see the difference and often offer resounding endorsements.

Here’s the great news. Regardless of the resistance, participant-centered education works and your audience will see the positive results.

Why Do People Resist The Change To Brain Friendly Education?

The research, literature and personal experience illustrate that participant-centered education works when done correctly. The challenge is that most of us have grown up in education institutions where teachers told us everything we needed to know since first grade. Some speakers, staff, leaders and even attendees don’t appreciate having this support removed, even though that support did not result in immediate learning.

1. Participant-centered or brain friendly approaches mean more work.

Speakers have to design their presentation with the end in mind thinking about what they want their audience to learn and remember. It’s not about covering lots of content. It’s about covering the right content that one must know to do a job successfully. This is a new presentation planning process that requires work.

At the same time, attendees are now responsible for their learning. That can’t rely on the speaker just handing them notes and think they learned something. They now have to think about it and make some decisions about whether to apply it or not.

In both cases, this resistance is an objection to the hard work and time associated with thinking and learning. It’s a good resistance because it’s proof that these approaches effectively engage the mind of the participant!

2. Speakers and attendees resist because they are afraid.

Yes, it’s hard to change the traditional conference scenario that was reinforced in our educational institutions. Speakers played the predictable role of teacher as attendees defaulted to students. But these roles apply less to leaner-centric conference education. Speakers are the guide on the side not the sage on the stage.

This is about a lack of confidence. For the speaker, it’s about a lack of confidence in the learning process and their need to control. Unfortunately, their control of the information flow did not control the learning. They are afraid that delivering less information and letting participants get involved in exercises or discussions will fail. What they forget is that telling (lecture or the information dump) isn’t learning.

Both speakers and attendees should have more confidence in the learning process. That confidence increases the more they design for and leverage that process.

3. Participants are suddenly responsible for their learning.

The responsibility and ownership for learning shifts to the conference participant. Some don’t like that. They miss having things decided for them. They expect the speaker to tell them in black and white what to do. Now the speaker may offer the evidence but whether or not it’s applied and how it’s applied is up the participant.

4. Participant-centered education ultimately involves a loss of past certainty to new beliefs.

All learning involves growth. That growth means transitioning from what one thought was definite to something uncertain. Speakers and attendees feel a loss that has sustained them for years when they move to new beliefs. They may mentally understand they need to make the transition and the emotional feeling of loss may result in resistance.

What are some other reasons speakers, staff, leaders and attendees resist participant-centered education? What are some tips you have about helping make the transition to participant-centered education?

Need more information about participant-centered education, consider the following books:

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  1. Margit Weisgal says:

    Bless you, Jeff, for bringing this to everyone’s attention. Participants have valuable knowledge and experience but too often are used to being spectators at and of their learning. To switch roles, to participate much as you would in a graduate seminar, requires consent and, yes, even pleasure, to contribute beyond nodding at something they hear. It also asks of them to take responsibility for their learning. Attendees are in classes to learn for themselves, not their neighbors. But, through contribution, the learning is shared as is the teaching. This type of educational process is long overdue and very welcome.

  2. Nice post Jeff but I think it also needs to be said that not all content can be delivered or received in a participative / collaborative way. Some content, by its very nature, needs to be delivered “top down”. I guess your point is that this approach has dominated our entire pedagogical experience so we tend to perpetrate it ourselves much like most of us end up as parents doing and saying precisely what our own parents did and said with us! We definitely need to change the approach or, at least, vary it significantly. The advent of Social Media has huge implications here. As kids in school if we were bored we doodled on our jotters. Now with tablets increasingly accepted in learning environments we can use Social Media to tell the world just how bored we are!!! So bring on the participation!

    1. Jeff Hurt says:


      Thanks for reading and adding your insights. I’m reading a book by a college professor right now and she says her students are demanding to participate in class or it’s a waste of their money. She no longer lectures to them and they also don’t want her to teach topics already covered in their textbook. Wow, those are our future conference participants and they will want a different experience.


      Thank you for adding your opinions and thoughts to the conversation.

      Here’s a question for you, what type of content needs to be delivered “top down?”

      I can’t think of any content that must be delivered like that. You also mentioned a pedagogical experience and this is where I think conferences have gone wrong. We have tried to apply pedagogy to adults…pedagogy is how to teach children. I believe we need to use andragogy, how adults learn, when we design conference education.

      I like to ask presenters if they want their audiences to hear the content or learn it. If they want to hear it, keep lecturing because the scientific evidence says that the lecture is the equivalent of distributing a report. That doesn’t mean the audience reads the report, applies it or recalls it. IMO, sometimes the content is better suited to be distributed via emails, webinars or articles instead of presented at conferences.

  3. Whether you want to improve meeting efficiencies or bring an entirely way to engage an audience, speakers must forge a collaborative ideation and educate organizations how to engage from top to bottom and bottom to top.

    Audiences have grown tired of ‘death by powerpoint’ and ‘lectures.’
    If you, as speaker want to breed new ideas, educate your audience, there are lots of easy to use tools that generate positive solutions.

    My first suggestion is that you work with the meeting planner and client to create the tools for the execution engine for new ideas, proposals, and initiatives. I work with your organization so they can find champions within their organizations that will adopt these concepts, in advance, by offering interactive teaching of the innovation process and the adoption of these tools.

    Further, many of the challenges—finding the right talent, encouraging collaboration and risk taking, organizing the process from beginning to end—are remarkably consistent. Indeed, surveys over the past few years suggest that the core barriers to successful interaction haven’t changed. As the song says…”Let me entertain you. Let me make you smile.’

    And to that we should add, help me to achieve goals, overcome challenges, and solve my problems.Choosing the right speaker and having the proper expertise to effectively educate and engage the audience will be a defining factor in a company’s ability to survive in today’s increasingly complex, competitive meeting landscape.

    Knowledge we get from books. Wisdom we get from experience.
    And we pay for experience. We expect knowledge for free thanks to the internet.

  4. Renee says:

    Thanks for this – like any cultural change it takes time and pursuasion, even to change behaviours in a way that logically everyone can see as relevant and right.

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