Great Questions Define Great Conference Experiences

Question mark

It is much more effective to provide opportunities for conference participants to solve their own problems, then telling them how to solve it. (Paraphrase Dr. A. Gidget Hopf, President & CEO of The Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired—Goodwill Industries.)

Conference organizers automatically assume that if someone is attending their event, they expect the conference to help them solve their problems. They believe that the conference should provide the answers.

Telling attendees the answer is not the key to conference success. Nor is sharing an expert’s successful steps the source of real attendee ROI. There is another way!

My Attendees Demand Quick Answers, Shortcuts And Tips

We live in a rapid changing, instant-demanding, speedy-results-now–world.

We have vast amounts of information at our finger tips. We expect real-time, immediate resolutions to our pressing challenges. We want hints or tips immediately

And we complain if a presenter makes us work for them. Or think on our own.

“I came to hear from the expert, not talk to my peer,” is the lazy brain’s response to authentic learning. (If you really believe you learn from just listening to an expert and doing nothing else, then just buy audio books and listen to them through your ear buds.)

We are a society of you-must-help-me-solve-my-problems-immediately people.

The Consequences Of Responding To The Give-Me-The-Answers-Now-Audiences

When our attendees clamor and demand fast answers—and often any answer—we must resist the impulse to provide recipe steps.

Ultimately, when conference organizers respond to attendee pressures of providing great ideas or fast solutions—we risk sacrificing the very thing we need for conferences to be successful. We risk forfeiting deep, transformational learning—attitude, behavior and skill change—in the name of faux, surface learning. We put attendee temporary satisfaction over effectiveness.

Then our conferences suffer from a lack of loyalty because little change occurs from attending the event. So attendees don’t return.

The Better Conference Experience Using Questions

Instead, we need to lead attendees to ask pivotal questions so those very attendees can generate both short- and long-term results from their own learning.

“…When someone engages me in a question, it wakes me up. I’m in a different place…” Chad Holliday, CEO and chairman of the board of DuPont.

Conference education sessions that lead with questions can do much more than just draw out information. Questions can encourage conference attendees to become participants and collaborators in solution finding. Questions can spur innovation, out of the box thinking and empower others say the authors of Leading With Questions.

To paraphrase Harvard professor, author and expert John Kotter, the key differences in forward-thinking progressive conferences and traditional conferences is that forwarding-thinking conferences focus on helping participants ask the right questions about their futures, their profession and their work. Traditional conferences focus on finding solutions to yesterday’s problems.

Successful leaders know that they cannot get the right answer without asking the right questions. Successful conference organizers foster asking the right questions because then they can get at the right practices for their participants.

Conference Cultures That Promote Curiosity And Questions

Conferences that lead participants from good to great don’t just secure successful experts that have all the answers and then motivate everyone to follow their messianic vision, to use Jim Collins language. It means having participants struggle with provocative questions that will lead the collective to the best possible insights.

Then event professionals can build conference cultures for which questions are welcomed, assumptions challenged and new ways to solve problems are explored.

“Asking lots of questions opens new doors to new ideas, which ultimately contributes to your competitive edge,” says Michael Dell.

Conferences that ask tough questions through their education offerings will be more dynamic, agile, collaborative and creative. They will foster attendee curiosity which is the foundation for leadership development!

For more info on using questions:

How can meeting professionals use questions to provide better participant conference experiences? What problems have conference organizers created because they didn’t use questions to develop participant experiences?

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