Is Your Conference Guilty Of Content Bulimia?

concept piece for performance/exhibition at La Gaîté Lyrique, Paris.

Is your conference guilty of creating content bulimia for its stakeholders?

You attendees binge and purge information at great speeds as your presenters race to cover content.

They enter a room and receive a shovel load of content pushed at them at warp speeds. They think they are consuming as much as possible. As soon as they leave the room, they quickly purge it because the brain sets to default and dumps the information because no learning occurred. Research has documented thousands of times in hundreds of contexts that your stakeholders learn little of the information presented via lectures and panels. You’ve just created conference content bulimia!

The Capitalistic Content Consumption Mentality

Many say that content is king and critical to the conference experience. We secure speakers, both industry expert volunteers and professional paid speakers to cover as much content as possible during our meeting.

The problem is with the phrase “cover content.” The emphasis is on the expert sharing information with the audience. We feel that to gain credibility for the conference the speaker is to lecture about as much content as possible and as complex content as possible. We have adopted the consumption mindset that more is better and we should try to attend as many sessions as possible to receive as much as content as possible.

Really? Do we hook up the internet to our brains and then click receive to try to consume as much content from online as possible? Do we spend hour upon hour and day after day reading as much content online as possible to learn it all! Of course not! So why do we think it works at conferences?

It doesn’t. We’ve deceived ourselves. More is not better…it leads to unhealthy thinking, academic Alzheimer and content bulimia.

From Content Covered To Content Used

Unfortunately, passively listening to a lecture that is covering content goes against the biological way our brains naturally learn!

Education professional and Global CLO of Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Nick Van Dam reviewed more than 355 studies on education and knowledge retention. He discovered that the delivery method, information transfer and lectures do not lead to knowledge retention. The activities, exercises and peer discussions that attendees participate in during the session lead to knowledge retention. So stop focusing on the delivery method and focus on the learning design!

Covering content does not lead to knowledge retention, understanding of information or how to apply it. It actually serves as a barrier to learning.

It is only when attendees become participants with the content and use it, even if just in discussions, that the knowledge is retained and understanding happens.

If your focus is helping your stakeholders receive and apply practical, relevant take-aways that solve their problems, then covering content is a barrier to this process. Instead the focus should be on how content is used not covered. Then we focus on using content to establish a solid foundation of knowledge so that we can then move to application and wisdom of that knowledge.

It’s time for conferences to cover less content, cover the right content that helps stakeholders succeed and commit themselves to a larger focus on learning design. Let’s resolve to stop covering content and start using it to accomplish knowledge retention, understanding and application.

What are some practical ways your conference attendees can “use content” during education sessions versus passively listening to content covered? What implications does “using content” have for the traditional didactic presenter?

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