Mental Effort

I’ve been in this industry longer than I like to admit, during which time I’ve had the privilege to work side by side with some of the most progressive professionals in the conference business. To my mind, there are two things that separate the good from the great: 1) those who are uber-connected and trusted (not on social media, but rather one-to-one relationships) and 2) those who are committed to life-long learning.

The life-long learners aren’t necessarily the ones who attend a lot of conferences, because heavy conference-goers often prioritize the networking and hallway chats over the programmed-learning experiences. Even at our industry events — where we should be walking in our attendees’ shoes — learning experiences are often consumed by less than 50 percent of the credentialed attendees. Kind of sad, huh?

Active Learning

In Make it Stick: The Science of Successful Learning, authors Peter C. Brown, Henry L. Roediger III, and Mark A. McDaniel point out that we are delusional about how we think we learn. Many of us believe reading articles like this one or passively attending a session and downloading the PowerPoint slides and tip sheet will lead to learning. That’s not the case.

Real learning takes effort, and many of us don’t want to do the hard work it requires. In order to get something out of a learning experience, we first need to have a curious mindset and the adaptability to learn, unlearn, and relearn. Secondly, we need to understand that if we don’t wrestle with the content and connect it to our past experiences, learning and sense-making doesn’t happen. No learning means no application, no ability to solve problems, and no on-the-job improvements.

Consequences of the Information Age

A couple months ago, I saw a TV news clip about how our society is losing its ability to problem solve and innovate. If we need to fix something around the house, we look for a video on YouTube. If we don’t immediately know the answer, we Google it or ask Siri. If we want a new idea for our conference, we copy it from another without thinking it through.

Having all of the answers at our fingertips can stifle our brain’s growth or its neuroplasticity. Our brains are much like our body’s muscles: Low activity makes us out of shape. Yes, we should take full advantage of the resources out there, but also make more of an effort to try to solve problems on our own first. As life-long learners, we should be curious about what’s going on in business, society, and science outside of our industry and have the strategic thinking and problem-solving acumen to apply it.

Own Your Learning

Take ownership of your learning at industry events like PCMA Convening Leaders. Select sessions with content that appears to be more abstract or strategic over tips and tricks. Show up curious and ready to give your brain a workout. Instead of taking a seat in the back, sit next to someone you don’t know near the front. Don’t multitask. Your brain is only capable of doing one thing at a time. Try to connect the content and concepts to your past experiences. You know that you’ve learned something when you’re able to translate it into your own words. If the session isn’t resonating with you in the first 15 minutes, leave and find a better one.

What are some of the ways that you learn best? What experiences do you invest in for your own learning?

Adapted from Dave’s Forward Thinking column in PCMA’s Convene. Reprinted with permission of Convene, the magazine of the Professional Convention Management Association. ©2017.

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