Is Your Conference Fostering Conscious Cognitive Misers?

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Are you creating intellectually lazy conference participants?

Your conference programming may harbor bias toward minimizing cognitive efforts. In other words, your conference sessions and speakers may actual curtail participants’ thinking.

Your conference could be creating happy fools. These happy fools blindly respond to their own problems by erroneously using your conference takeaways as accurate solutions. They avoid thinking, reflecting, and adapting those takeaways. Then when your conference takeaways don’t work, they blame your event.

Our Narrow View Of A Conference

Most of us have grown up with a very narrow view of conferences.

We think that conference education sessions are about sitting, listening, and receiving information from a speaker. An expert tells us what to do, how to do it, when to do it and sometimes why to do it.

All we have to do as a participant is be there and listen. Open our minds and absorb the information like a sponge.

Even further, we think that our hallway conference conversations and networking experiences are to be about sharing information and telling others what’s on our mind.

Conferences tend to be about delivery of information and bringing like-minded individuals together.

Unfortunately, rarely do attendees, or their bosses, see conferences as partners in their work performance!

And conferences should be transformational. They should be partners in their paid participants’ business outcomes.

Telling And Ownership Don’t Mix

Nearly 95% of our workplace verbal exchanges are telling conversations says Conversational Intelligence author Judith Glasner.

I suspect 70%-90% of most conference education sessions are one-way lectures telling audiences what to do.

When we are told what to do, we don’t have to think!

And when we don’t have to think, we don’t engage!

And when we don’t engage we don’t own!

And when conferences don’t create education sessions where participants own their thinking, decisions and ideas, they don’t drive the attendees’ behaviors that lead to improved on-the-job performance.

Telling-Selling-Yelling Conference Education Syndrome

Glasner calls this the Tell-Sell-Yell Syndrome.

And conferences are full of the Tell-Sell-Yell Syndrome!

Speakers tell them once. Then they try to sell the audience on the reason they are right. Then they become evangelical or passionate as they yell at the audience.

The chief symptom of this Tell-Sell-Yell malady in conference settings is when speakers think that telling others what to do and how to do it is the essence of a good presentation. They think they are leading their audience to success.

Too many conferences have adopted the telling and selling syndrome. It’s as if telling, selling (trying to persuade) or yelling at an audience causes the audience to shift their mental paradigms. It’s as if telling an audience what to do causes them to think in new ways.

Designing For Engaged Brains

Instead we need to design conference experiences where people are able to grapple with an issue, gain some perspective from others, observe their own and others’ thinking, and come up with new insights.

People change their behavior and thinking not because they are told to be different. They change their behaviors and thinking when the conditions are present that require and empower them to figure out what to do and to act on a plan.

We have to move away from Tell-Sell-Yell and into more transformational experiences where experts guide and participants co-create their own ideas, solutions and strategies.

What are some practical steps conference organizers can take to foster more inquiry and discovery and less telling? How can we encourage attendees’ to engage in thinking and reflection instead of just passive absorption?

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1 comment
  1. I know .. it’s practice practice practice to get those who attend to move from passive to active learners. Just off a call w/ a committee in our industry about learning and it’s all still being designed so passively, so non-inclusively of many different voices. I’m doing a ‘thinking’ and exploration session next month and I will be comfortable facilitating the process .. I wonder how those participating will go along with a different way of participating and spending an afternoon thinking .. using their brains, engaging.

    It’s easier for me to design it and deliver it (the facilitator phrase of “tell me more” works wonders for people to begin thinking and not just saying 1 thing and having it be the end all statement) .. it is less easy for people to break old habits even younger folks who are still being taught, in many cases, in ways that require memorization. Why don’t people want to think? <– that can or cannot be rhetorical.

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