These Conference Presentation Myths Cramp The Attendee Experience


Most conference organizers see attendees as consumers of the conference’s information.

Little thought is given to seeing attendees as active participants in their own learning and experience.

8 Myths That Restrict The Attendee Experience

Here are eight conference presentation myths that you should avoid.

Myth 1: The lecture or panel best serves all conference attendees.

Reality: The lecture and panel are homogenized conference presentations that cause our brains to check out.

The lecture and panel discussion have the lowest form of ROI for learning as possible. Instead embrace learner centric presentation techniques that focus on what the participant will do during that session besides listening to an expert.

Myth 2: Expertise and speaker skills are of primary importance.

Reality: Conference attendee learning is of primary importance.

Too often the conference committee is focused on finding an expert to serve as a speaker. Conference organizers should make a subtle and important shift of focusing on how attendees learn instead of on the presenters’ expertise. Then secure speakers that provide a variety of presentation strategies including active attendee participation.

Myth 3: The focus of the conference presentation should be on covering content.

Reality: The focus of the conference presentation should be how attendees uncover and apply critical content that solves their problems.

In the call for speaker proposals, ask potential presenters to identify the type of learning strategies they plan to use. Then secure speakers that help audiences uncover and apply the content through a variety of instructional techniques.

Myth 4: Active attendee participation is not successful for STEM/technical fields (science, technology, engineering, medical).

Reality: Active participation in any presentation has been proven to increase attendees’ learning and retention, regardless of the subject matter or industry.

Research by Drs. Barb Licklider and Howard Shapiro at Iowa State University showed that active participation in engineering education increased learning, retention and cognitive thinking at a higher level.

Myth 5: Baby Boomers and other generations learn best with lectures and passive listening.

Reality: Research shows that adults learn best when they are actively involved regardless of their generation.

Generational differences that are evident in culture and the workplace do not translate to adult learning. Instead of worrying about whether Boomers, GenXers or Millennials will learn more from lectures or active participation, conference organizers should focus on designing the best learning environments possible. Then secure presenters that use audience exercises.

Myth 6: Presenters are unlikely to make major changes to their presentations.

Reality: Educating industry presenters on why and how to improve as well as giving preference to speakers that use a variety of presentation strategies influence all future presenters.

Myth 7: There isn’t enough time for active participation.

Reality: The more content that speaker tries to cover, the more the attendee forgets.

Many presenters try to cover too much material. Focusing on two to three core learning objectives helps presenters remove unnecessary information. Then put attention to the learning design for the attendee.

Myth 8: Attendees don’t want to engage in participation.

Reality: To increase audience participation, presenters have to explain why they should participate and how learning really occurs.

When attendees understand the benefits of active participation, they are more likely to participate. Creating an emotionally safe environment that excludes sensitive threatening situations will increase interaction and trust.

Repurposed from the post Eight Conference Presentation Myths That Hamstring Attendees’ Learning originally published April 13, 2010.

How are you busting your conference myths using the realities of today’s learner? What are some other myths you would add to this list?

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  1. To the degree that you’d argue that what an attendee sees is, in fact, part of the experience (as I would!), I’d squeeze in Myth #9: Having presenters all use the conference PowerPoint template helps strengthen the conference brand.

    Reality: PowerPoint templates (usually) encourage lousy presentation design practices.

    Reality: Your brand is the overall experience attendees have. And they already know they’re at your conference…they don’t need to see your logo on every slide.

    Reality: The brain starts tuning out ‘sameness,’ so it’s probably a wasted effort anyway.

  2. […] Eight conference presentation myths that cramp the attendees' experience!  […]

  3. William says:

    Smashing Jeff. I really hope every planner, speaker and attendee reads this and shares the list. I wanted to emphasise point 6. Event senior execs and university lecturers welcome advice an guidance on content delivery. The key is explaining that the conference environment that you are creating is unique and that your advice is tailored to their involvement. Don’t be scared I say no to dodgy slides and structures. Most speakers welcome structure advice.

    I totally agree with the list. We have to implement the changes if we don’t we will all be there thinking #whostolemyaudience?

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