For too many years, our conference education and experiences have been one-way, from the speaker’s mouth to the listener’s ear.
Attendees are like pawns in the speaker’s (faux) control.
This passive, inactive experience has led to the myth that experts have knowledge that they can give to attendees through their presentations and then attendees have it. (How often have you walked away from a presentation and now have the speaker’s expertise complete with an understanding of how to apply it?)
It’s just not how our brains process and retain important information. If it were true, then our world would be a very different place because of all the sermons that occur every Saturday and Sunday. We would be a changed society.
Peer Discussions Should Rule!
Dialogue is critical to enhance and augment individual and team learning. It forces new ways of viewing one’s assumptions and creates a way for adults to deal with the complexity of change, disagreement and disruptive innovation.
Peer to peer discussion about specific conference content is one method to align the conference experience with how our brains learn. This two-way colleague communication allows participants to process information, ask questions, receive feedback and test ideas.
But what percentage of conference education sessions actually use peer discussions? (No, we are not talking about question and answer with the speaker here!)
Our conferences should be like hives buzzing with chatter between participants. Education sessions should not be silent venues with only monologues or panel dialogues. They should be alive with energy.
Conference Peer Discussion Manifesto
Conferences that embrace participant learning over information transfer foster peer dialogue that adopts the following actions:
- Regards one another as professional colleagues.
- Supports “Subject Matter Experienced” (SME) over subject matter experts.
This is a belief that every participant walks into a conference session with some type of experience or previous knowledge of the content being presented and should have the chance to share their thoughts.
- Shelves bulk learning in the name of intention.
- Practices techniques of adult dialogue that suspend emotional hijacks and prevents defensiveness, smoothing over and competitiveness.
- Embraces conflict and tension as a resource rather than a negative.
- Adopts a spirit of inquiry.
- Slows down inquiry by implementing time for personal reflection and contemplate exercises.
- Acknowledges that the only one who can control learning is the learner, not the speaker who controls the information flow.
- Embraces feedback from peers through discussion as a crucial part of learning.
- Sees failure as part of the learning process.
- Suspends assumptions and certainties.
- Practices “unlearning” as a necessary part of learning.
- Observes the observer and discussed how to improve observation, listening and communication skills.
- Embraces peerology.
What keeps conference organizers from implementing more peer discussions in conference education sessions? What concerns do you have about putting into practice the conference peer discussion manifesto?