Top Ten Most Significant Challenges With Conference Education

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Along with pending education trends that will influence conference education, there are significant challenges that will also have a tremendous impact.

Conference organizers will face these challenges in the coming five years as traditional education methods continue to encounter disruptive innovation.

Top Ten Challenges

Here are the top ten most significant challenges in terms of their impact on logistics, planning, speakers, conference education, learning and delivery of information.

1. Lack of industry speaker coaching and learning opportunities.

Few conference hosts offer speaker coaching and professional development for their industry speakers acknowledging how knowledge retention, understanding and learning really occur.

Despite the widespread agreement among education professionals and institutions about evidence based education and brain based learning, coaching and education opportunities for speakers to improve their presentations are rare. The evidence shows that the traditional lecture is a barrier to learning. As more conference attendees become dissatisfied with the traditional conference education format, more are going to turn to alternatives for learning opportunities.

2. An understanding of as well as requiring speakers to use evidence based education techniques when they present.

Most conference organizers know very little about education and learning. Rarely do they require speakers to use evidence based education techniques for knowledge retention, understanding and learning. Smart, savvy conference organizers request this information in the call for speaker proposals.

3. Conference education focuses on content decided by committees instead of attendees needs.

Conference education focuses on content developed by committees who feel they are the experts and know what attendees should know. Rarely do conference organizers focus conference education content on solving attendees’ most pressing needs.

4. The emphasis is on covering content and information delivery.

Conference organizers put a premium on covering as much content as possible and the delivery of information instead of learning, knowledge retention and working with the content.

5. A concentration on the next new shiny thing in technology.

Too many conference organizers are looking for the next new shiny technology object instead of a focus on meeting attendees’ needs.

6. New education models and formats are bringing unprecedented competition to conference education.

Organizations are looking for new ways to provide high quality service for learning opportunities. As new platforms and formats emerge, many race to embrace and implement them. Attendees now have a wide variety of options beside the traditional conference education.

7. Conferences are not setup to promote innovation in learning and education sessions.

Innovation comes from the freedom to connect new ideas in new ways. Most conferences only allow presenters to connect ideas in prescribed ways which often serve as a barrier to learning. Conferences reward speakers that have new research instead of innovation and improvements in education.

8. Appropriate metrics for conference education sessions are rare.

Traditionally, conferences use smile sheets and emotional factors to evaluate if their conference education is of value. Similarly, conference speakers are rarely held accountable for their presentations. Until standards and appropriate metrics are put into place, continuous improvement in conference education will not occur.

9. Conference host organization infrastructures are under resourced when it comes to conference education.

Most conference hosting organizations lack a good infrastructure with a focus on programming and education. They allow are under-resourced and lack professional educator involvement.

10. Conferences lack adequate data for decision making.

Most conferences keep poor data about their conference stakeholders’ involvement. Therefore, they are not able to mine that data for good decision making for their conferences.

What are some other challenges the conference education sessions face? Which of these ten challenges do you see occurring in your conferences?

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  1. thom singer says:


    I spoke at a conference where they did host a 30 minute training for speakers. Only two of 15 showed up on the call.

  2. Jo says:

    I agree that the lecture format of conferences is quite outdated and we’ve all heard the evidence over the years on different types of content dissemination. What struck me about the above article was how much of this was blamed on conference organizers!

    We’re the ones reading the industry articles and ensuring were kept up to date with industry trends to improve our business and help our clients but unfortunately it’s down to a lack of understanding from many client organizations and an unwillingness to change format or accept new ideas.

    Many speakers that are selected for conferences are not chosen based on their grasp of the conference language or ability to present clearly or ability to engage the audience but chosen because they are the best in their field. Unfortunately, trying to tell the client that just because they’ve spent half their life in University to became best in their field does not mean they are a good presenter or can even get their message across clearly. Trying to tell someone, that has been learning the same way for decades, that the lecture format is outdated……

    But we, the conference organizers,will continue to try and convince them to change format (backed up with all our stats and facts), to encourage speaker selection based on additional criteria (showing them last years evaluations on how bad speakers were) and to educate the speakers as much as possible when we can. (lets hope more than 2 read the information!)

    1. Jeff Hurt says:

      Well, at least 15 showed up on the call. If conference hosts don’t mandate that their speakers attend training, then they won’t. It’s a simple change in the speaker contract as a deliverable.

      Thanks for reading and commenting too.

      You are absolutely right that I put all the burden on the conference organizer. My bad. There are cases whether the conference organizer’s hands are tied. As you suggested, sometimes the meeting planner can encourage the conference hosts to focus on speaker coaching and learning but if their client doesn’t agree, they are stuck. And there are cases where the meeting professional has authority and responsibility for the programming, speakers and content.

      For me personally, I would not accept a client that didn’t understand how important education and learning was to their meeting. If they just wanted me to handle their logistics, I would tell them I was not the right meeting professional for them because I wanted to be more a strategic partner that ensured their stakeholder’s needs were met. While it’s harsh, I want to be more effective for their meeting than just handling registration, logistics and f/b.

      Thanks for reading and furthering the conversation Jo and for clarifying that not every meeting professional has the luxury to be more strategic.

  3. Rosa Garriga says:

    Just to follow up on Thom and Jeff comments: I’ve been coaching speakers at a few conferences and after a few trials and errors, I’m happy to say we’re definitely making a lot of progress. It’s true, it’s very hard to get speakers on board, but I find that setting up clear expectations in advance (before the contract), holding them accountable (eg. asking for 3 learning outcomes and indicate they will be included in the evaluation survey) and being a bit pushy, but also kind and nice (you have to be very diligent to say to someone, who’s been a speaker for years, ‘your presentation is bad!’) and even using humor, works. We actually ask speakers to send us their slides 2-3 weeks in advance (so there is plenty of time to make adjustments) to review them and offer to design the slides for them to make them more visually attractive. Also, we limit most of the sessions to 20 minutes, unless it is justified to allocate more time. Good luck to all event managers and Jeff, keep these articles coming!

  4. […] Here are ten challenges that all conferences will face with their education offerings.  […]

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