It’s past time for conference organizers to learn about learning! Our conference success depends upon it.
We’ve got to stop saying that it is someone else’s job to manage the content, programming and the attendee experience of the conference. That all we do is work on the logistics of the conference.
If we want to increase our value as conference organizers, we have to understand the two primary attendee outcomes: networking and education (with a focus on improving on-the-job performance). This means we need to think about a different model for planning and implementing conference education.
Unlearning Old Patterns For Planning Conference Education
We’ve got to unlearn our old patterns of planning and implementing conference education.
And we need to relearn how to provide a more socially engaged conference education opportunity for our attendees, to paraphrase professor Cathy Davidson.
We must move our conference education into a more connected, peer-sharing, brain-friendly, neuroeducation engaged experience. If not, conference attendance will decline as registrants look for more relevant 21st century education experiences.
Hat Tips to Cathy Davidson for her insights, thoughts and research about education today which is the catalyst for this post.
Your Conference Education Should Help Attendees
Whether your customer is a trade or business professional, a client user or a professional society member, your conference education should offer relevant help and assistance. It should help them adjust to an ever-changing world. It needs to do more than just inform them! It must transform them!
Your conference education offerings must provide insights and support so your attendees can survive, thrive and navigate the world they live and work in today.
So does your conference education improve your attendees’ job performance?
Does it prepare them for the rapidly changing world of today?
Does your conference education provide learning opportunities for the future? Or is your conference education a relic of the past that provides learning from yesteryear?
Your Current Conference Education Prepares Attendees For The Past
Currently, your conference education actually prepares your attendees for mindsets of farming, the industrial revolution’s assembly lines, grades, multiple choice exams and the silos of work says Cathy Davis.
That’s not the world of work today.
Your conference education is stuck in an antiquated past where everything was departmentalized and categorized.
Lectures, panels, videos and demonstrations remain the strategies of choice for conference education. This is a major problem because we now know from the neuroscience and evidenced based education research that learning is social. It occurs through thinking, reflection, application and feedback. And it occurs with others, not alone. (You can’t get feedback if you’re trying to learn by yourself!)
Science has proven that traditional, lectures and panels are inefficient, ineffective and unengaging for real learning to occur. Telling someone what to do through a lecture monologue or panel dialogue doesn’t lead to change.
Time To Unlearn And Relearn Conference Education Models
It’s time for conferences to focus on improving the attendee’s education experience.
That means focusing on the learning design—what the attendee will do during conference education besides sit and listen.
It’s time for conferences to apply the research about the biology of learning to their conference education.
It’s time to stop passing the buck for conference programming and step up the plate demanding a better conference education attendee experience!
Where should a conference organizer start if s/he wants to move their conference education into a 21st Century model for learning? What are some of the 21st Century models of conference education that we should offer?
Marga Groot Zwaaftink says
I would say: start studying Meeting Design! Read Books like “Into the heart of Meetings’ of Mike van der Vijver and Eric de Groot. Talk with your clients and delegates, ask, learn.
Roger Haskett says
Jeff I love these blogs.
Get people more involved in their own learning process.
Encourage attendees to practice “out loud” conference behaviour where they turn to neighbours and comment on what they think about what they are hearing/doing.
Stop creating room set-ups that focus on the speaker at the expense of the attendees, discourage movement and discourage transmission of ideas between the attendees. Instead create rooms that focus on the attendees and allow their learning to take priority over transmission of content.
Bring fun and play into the learning process.
There are so many ways to start focussing on transformation and stop focussing on passive information transmission.
It just starts with an attitude shift.
Ps. Thanks for the suggestion Marga! I’ve got my order in for “Into the Heart of Meetings”
Roger Haskett says
Ps. I was semi-quoting Dave Lutz about transformation vs. information transmission in Improved On-The-Job Performance Trumps Fantastic Conference Evaluations
Dave – I really enjoyed your newsletter intro article today – but there is no way to comment or link to it!
Jody Urquhart says
i agree. If conferences are more education..ROI based, they could avoid attrition. I love seeing events with follow up tools and Social media activity after the event.
Brian Washburn says
Great article Jeff – this really resonated with me: “We’ve got to stop saying that it is someone else’s job to manage the content, programming and the attendee experience of the conference. That all we do is work on the logistics of the conference.”
I agree with Roger, part of the transformation of conference education may begin simply with room set-up. I’ve been in several conferences where people have actually been told NOT to move chairs around because the hotel/conference facility people get very upset with the re-arranging of chairs.
Another piece comes with the speaker proposal process. Currently, most proposals only require a title, maybe a few objectives, and a few notes on how you plan to engage your audience. This type of proposal doesn’t allow conference organizers to actually see what kind of learning experience a speaker has in mind (and no, allowing time at the end for Q&A… or even encouraging questions throughout the session do NOT constitute a “highly interactive session”).
It might be nice if conference organizers provided coaching for presenters, especially new presenters.
Finally, the eLearning Guild actually seems to be a pretty good model for pre-conference hype (through Tweet chats), in-conference social learning (through conference apps) and post-conference conversations (again mostly through Tweet chats and their blog).