April 30, 2013 by Jeff Hurt
We live in world where overconsumption is the norm.
We over consume things to keep up with the Jones and Smiths. We over consume food at all you can eat smorgasbord buffets and 24 hour drive thrus. We over consume information from a variety of sources.
Today, we have factory farms that churn out junk food. We have factory farms that churn out junk gadgets and stuff. We have content farms that churn out junk information. We have conference committee content farms and call for speaker presentations that churn our junk presentations. The junk just keeps on coming.
Information overconsumption is a serious challenge for many in the United States. In a democratic society where freedom of speech is touted, we can never regulate information like we regulate air, food and water. Yet information is just as critical to our survival as the other three things we consume.
If unhealthy eating habits create poor health, doesn’t it make sense that unhealthy information habits create poor knowledge and wisdom? For many of us who sit in front of computers all day, we are likely to spend up to 11 hours per day consuming data, statistics and information. That’s a lot of information.
Transition to the average annual conference and you’ll see attendees who spend eight to 12 hours consuming information. We try to cram as much information as possible into our schedules. That’s why our conferences need a healthier information diet.
So much of our conference content comes from committee-processed content farms. A member of the conference committee knows of someone who knows someone who can speak about a specific topic. It’s not about who has the best content or the right content to meet the paying attendees’ needs. It’s about who the conference committee knows.
Too often our conference content is nothing more than junk information. Conference organizers request and accept speaker proposals for the conference content and programming. It’s usually the only way we know how to secure content and speakers. And this call for speaker presentations is normally nothing more than a way to farm content and speakers fast.
We’ve got to do it differently. We need to secure content and speakers that meet our paying attendees’ pain points. And we need to make sure that the content and experience they provide is grounded in science.
An information diet is not about consuming less. It’s about consuming right. And for conference organizers it’s about offering the right content coupled with the right learning experience so that our attendees can have a healthy mental mind.
We’ve got to help our conference attendees consume and internalize deliberately. We’ve got to challenge them to take in the right information more than over consumption.
We’ve got to help our attendees with strategic allocation of attention. Strategic allocation of attention is not willpower. It is the ability to control our behavior and reduce the amount of incoming distractions. We have to help our attendees detach and distract themselves from all other things because the experience coming their way is worth their focus and attention. We have to help them isolate themselves and practice being in the zone because the content and experience at hand is transformational.
It starts with conference organizers providing a healthy information, content, education diet at the conference! It starts with providing more than content delivery. It starts with providing a learning opportunity and experience. Until then, we are still just churning out junk conference content.
Want more information about healthy information diets? Read Clay A. Johnson’s The Information Diet: A Case For Conscious Consumption.
How can we help our conference attendees adopt strategic allocation of attention? What are some practical ways we can create healthy conference content and experience diets?
Filed Under: Event Planning
Dear Jeff, Congratulations for your texts on meetings best practice and the “info diet”. Can you contact me for future cooperation? I can use some of your paragraphs in my publications. Slawomir (Polish Conference and Congress Association)
You have permission to repost and repurpose our blog content as long as you give proper attribution.
Jeff- I like the analogy of junk food to the information we get at many events. It is easy to turn to packaged goods for a meal, but it is not always the best option for our health. Same is true with much of what we see at conferences. Thanks for this one, as it made me think.
[…] Jeff Hurt urges us to put our conferences on an information diet. […]
You know, it’s interesting. In the event we both took part in yesterday, one of the attendees made a case for getting people’s attention off their devices during presentations and more focused on learning. That was challenged by one of the other panelists. But, given your statements here I wonder if she (and you) aren’t on to something. We’ve encouraged people to tweet and do other things to add to “the conversation” during our event and I think that has made the content more democratic in many ways, but it may also be just another distraction that gets in the way of transformative content and learning. We might be better served to have a convergence of content and social strategies where there is a social team that engages remote attendees and drives online conversation while taking “notes” for physical attendees. Then, we essentially ask our physical attendees to turn off their devices and focus on learning and we find spaces and time later, after the session(s) for people to catch up with the notes and add into the online conversations with deidcated time for “being social”.
So, to your point – detach from distractions; deliver the right, healthy content, let people absorb it and add to it in free time where there is nothing else they are having to compete with and it becomes not only adding to the participation level, but gives them more reflection time.
As always, thanks for making us think Jeff.
Let me put a spin on what you’ve said. We encourage people to tweet and add to the conversation in order “to help them improve their learning” in addition to share it. There is a lot of research that shows people who tweet during a workshop or education session increase their learning and retention as compared to those that don’t. So telling them to get their eyes off of their devices is the wrong thing to say. If someone takes notes with pen and paper do we tell them to stop? No.
I personally believe any time we tell people to stop something during an education session we will cause an emotional hijack and lose them for the rest of the session. We’ve got to get out of the mindset that we can control someone’s engagement or learning. We cannot.
M intention with this post was about all of the junk content that some speakers and panelists share at conferences that are worthless pieces of information. When we deliver content that helps people solve problems, then their engagement increases because it is personally relevant to them.
[…] It’s important to make sure that the speaker you work with is the right one for your conference. This is different than the speaker being someone your friend knows. Target your speaker to your topic to get optimal results. Otherwise, you might end up feeding your audience content junk food. […]
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