Zombie Conferences Create Dead Leaders Walking

brighton zombie walk 2011-3

Is your annual meeting nothing more than a zombie conference?

Zombie conferences provide schedules packed full of informative presentations and sessions that try to consume your brain.

Presenters rapidly shovel content at attendees. Their goal is to cram as much information as possible into a person’s mind. They stuff more information into their presentation aiming to cover as much content as possible so that attendees feel like they got your money’s worth.

Here’s the problem. Zombie conferences create dead leaders walking.

The Zombie Information Stuff

Many conferences feel like a tug of war between sessions. They are often like a medieval joust with each presenter trying to out-present the other speakers by trying to ram more information into cavernous regions of our minds. Before we can even digest or process what we just heard, here comes another round of information.

Organizers create conferences full of nothing more than information dumps. Speakers say, “Let me download as much information as possible in this short time.”

But does this attempt to overload our brains with information equal more value?

And what do we as attendees actually remember from two to four days of conference information? What do we really recall from that conference? What can we even remember to apply?

Often we spend $1,000 to $2,000 to attend a conference in hopes of getting at least one good takeaway. Our expectations are low from having attended so many zombie conferences in the past.

New Conference Information Filters

The explosion of information, both online and during conferences, is both a blessing and a curse.

Without the right information filters, we can drown in advertisements, blogs, commercials, information, news, photos, podcasts, posts, spam, tweets, updates, videos and new web pages. Most people use a spam filter to catch polluted information.

We need a new type of conference information filter. We need something like a wearable pedometer that tells us when our brain has reached saturation and it’s time to take a break. We need a buzzer that says, “It’s time to discuss what you just heard. It’s time to process this information and make it applicable to your work or you’re going to forget it.”

Imagine a conference education session where all of the attendee information filters started buzzing at the same time. That might startle a presenter or two!

Information Consumes Our Attention

Hebert Simon was one of the first to articulate the concept of attention economies. Simon said that the growth of information caused the scarcity of attention. He felt that information creates a poverty of attention.

“…in an information-rich world, the wealth of information means a dearth of something else: a scarcity of whatever it is that information consumes. What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it.” ~ Hebert Simon, 1996

Our zombie conferences consume our attendees’ brains and creates a poverty of attention. We create dead leaders walking!

Attention Economy Deficit

The attention economy has an attention deficit: You can only pay attention to so many things.

Your brain is hardwired to only recall three to five things in your working memory every few seconds. The more information that you pay attention to, the more that is lost from working memory, unless it is transferred to long-term memory. And transferring information to long term memory takes time, repetition, practice and a process. Rarely is a conference attendee given that time to learn.

We might as well sell annual meeting shirts that say, “Zombie Conferences: We want to consume your brains…And you’ll never know it happened!”

Our zombie conferences create dead leaders walking. We need to change this behavior and offer more time for attendees to digest, discuss, deconstruct and consider how to apply what they are hearing.

What can conference organizers do to create conferences that give opportunities for attendees to learn new information? What can presenters do to increase learning and decrease information dumps?

Re-purposed from a post originally published on Jan 18, 2011.

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1 comment
  1. Lisa Nelson says:

    Boy, you hit the nail on the head.

    Take it from me, I have seen the zombies :D. I am hired to capture the key points and highlights at conferences and meetings. Let me tell you, it’s not an easy task, at all. I know the attendees are trying to drink from a hydrant with a straw because of the information overload. I will be sharing this post with my clients and others. Thanks for writing this!

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