My Presentation Is Fine—It’s The Audience That Doesn’t Get It!

Murphy Lecture 11.08.12

“My presentation is fine. It’s the audience’s fault if they don’t get it?”

“Why do I need to change the way I present? My lecture has worked for years. I get great scores and reviews.”

I’m sure you’ve heard statements like this. Maybe you’ve even said something similar yourself. So, why should speakers change how they present at your conference?

The Lecture—The Presenters’ And Learners’ Desert Mirage

The standard didactic lecture…It’s been used successfully for years. Right?

All that glitters, you know. Or one could say, all that instructs through speech…

It’s the stuff that dreams, careers and legends are made of.

So how much value does the lecture really provide? Especially since it’s the most dominant form of conference education.

Lectures, panels, and speeches prevail even though evidence shows that the traditional stand-and-deliver lecture does little to help an audience learn (Bligh 1971; Freeman, McDonough, Okoroafor and Wenderoth 2014; Smith and Valentine 2012; Teaching College by Norman Eng just to name a few).

We’ve bought into securing, selling and promoting the presenters’ and learners’ desert mirage.

One Conference Improvement Challenge: Lectures Beget Lectures

Here is one of the primary challenges with improving conference education.

The majority of your conference speakers imitate what their teachers and professors did with them. They lecture. They mimic the traditional college professor didactic monologue.

Yet, there are no teaching license requirements for college professors as there are for teachers in kindergarten through grade 12. Most college professors—and conference presenters—spend little to no time understanding effective teaching and learning strategies. These academicians focus instead on cultivating their subject matter expertise.

So we have this ongoing cycle of lectures birthing more lectures.

Unless your conference presenters understand how their audience learns, the majority of your conference education will remain ineffective.

A Second Improvement Challenge: Pedagogy Versus Andragogy

Many successful presenters have crossed the ineffective lecture chasm to create more effective instructional strategies.

These speakers direct learning. They make the decision about what should be learned, how it will be learned and when it will be taught. They use a pedagogic model.

Pedagogy literally means the art and science of teaching children. The focus is on how information is presented and taught.

In the pedagogic model, the subject and the presenter are the starting point for conference education. The audience as learners are secondary. Thus the audience is required to adjust their learning and retention to an established way of information delivery. This results in the learner trying to substitute someone else’s experience and knowledge for their own…with little success.

However, most of the time the audience leaves a lecture feeling satisfied. These attendees believe they have actually learned from that lecture although they will probably forget most it within hours. Rarely do attendees complain about wanting a better model.

Both the presenter and the learner have bought into the lecture even though it’s a desert mirage.

Shifting To Learner-Centered Andragogy Models

John Dewey, Eduard C. Lindeman and Malcolm Knowles, are three professional education researchers that felt pedagogy fell short for effective learning, especially for adults. They promoted learner-focused education. They believed that we learn what we do. And that learning needs to connect to our experience, past knowledge and needs.

Knowles took these concepts deeper. He borrowed and promoted the term andragogy—the art and science of adult learning.

Andragogy defines an alternative to pedagogy. It refers to learner-focused education for people of all ages. Speakers design their presentations to facilitate participant learning. They focus on how the audience will receive and interpret the information instead of how to deliver it. They provide ample opportunities for participants to think, reflect, make sense of, connect, understand and apply that information.

For conference learning opportunities s to succeed in the future, we must unlearn our speaker- and teacher-centric reliance. We have to free ourselves of lecture- and pedagogic-bias as educator Marcia Conn0r would say. We have to adopt evidenced based education models that result in our participants’ learning, retention and on-the-job application

What will it take for conferences to move from speaker- and expert-centric education to learner-centric education? What are some ways you’ve seen effective presenters model good adult learning strategies?

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