Myths Your Conference Should Stop Perpetuating


Your conference is spreading the cult of myths, traditions and rituals.

How so? What do you mean? You ask.

Providing conference education is not as intuitive as it seems! Science shows that there is a right way and a wrong way to design, deliver and implement conference education. Unfortunately, most conferences ignore the science. Instead, they sell and promote their unscientific approaches to education.

Source: The Science of Training and Development in Organizations: What Matters in Practice and Annie Murphy Paul.

Intuitive Assumptions About Conference Education That Are Wrong

So much of a conference’s education programming is based on tradition and the way it’s always been done. Releasing a call for speaker proposals, aggregating the responses, asking volunteers to score the proposals and then scheduling the top results is how most people plan a conference’s education.

Yet the scientific research shows this is the wrong way to design a conference’s education. This common misconception to planning education programming leads many attendees astray. And poor conference education results in low repeat attendance, declining attendance, increase in first-timers that don’t return and disgruntled attendees’ employers.

Too often the science of education and training is ignored by conference organizers, leaders and committee volunteers. They are relying on their intuition as the guide on how to design, deliver and implement conference education. There is more than 30 years of empirical scientific data that demonstrates how to provide proper education.

Common Conference Education Myths Corrected By Science

Here are some of the common conference education misconceptions and the correct scientific way to provide learning opportunities.

Myth: The lecture and video are the best way to deliver information.

Fact: While these media remain the strategy of choice for most conferences, the science says peer-discussion, feedback and practice are the best components of education. This means conferences must stop promoting monologues and panel dialogues and the primary education method.

Myth: What happens during the conference education session matters the most.

Fact: What happens after the conference education session in the attendee’s office matters the most. And what happens before and after the session matters more than what happens during training. Employers should help attendees chose sessions that directly connect to their job performance. Speakers should help connect the relevancy of the session to real world work. And conferences should follow up with job aides and learning prompts after the conference so that people will implement what they learned.

Myth: Conference education should be focused on covering content and getting attendees to remember everything they hear for their jobs. (Or for their certification requirements.)

Fact: Speakers need to help attendees distinguish from “need to know” content and “need to access content.” The session should actually teach people where and how to find information instead of trying to get them to memorize it all.

Myth: Adding technology to conference education is a surefire way to improve attendee learning.

Fact: Technology must be implemented in an intentional, thoughtful way based on the science, not based on the next best shiny tool. Too often, polls and audience response systems are used incorrectly during education that distract from the actually learning instead of supporting it.

Myth: The better the participants perform or listen during an education session, the better they’ll perform on the job.

Fact: Drilling information or rote memorization of content may lead to rapid recall during the session. However science shows that it leads to poor retention and transfer on the job than other deep learning methods like pair-shared discussions.

What will it take for conferences to start applying the science of learning? Why do so many meeting professionals say that education is not their job when they are often responsible for the overall conference experience?

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  1. Skyline says:

    Great post, better conference education can really make for a great event so its important people start to understand this.

  2. Jordan says:

    These are great tips about conferences. I for one had no idea video and lecture aren’t as effective as peer-discussion. Thanks for sharing!

  3. More GREAT content, Jeff! I love your comment that what happens in the attendee’s office is what matters most (not what happens at the conference). This is an extension of what we champion here at Engagement Unlimited – that what happens in the audience is more important that what happens on stage.

    Moving the focus from the audience to the office is even stronger as it ties directly into why are they learning in the first place. Thanks for pushing this conversation along!

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