Invest in Your Speakers to Grow Your Value Proposition

The bread and butter of conferences is concurrent education sessions. Keynote speakers and main-room experiences are pivotal for bringing the community together and sharing key messaging, but attendees expect—and deserve—transformational learning (change in ideas, attitudes and behaviors)  from curated, relevant and problem-centric educational sessions.

Why do we often leave this most critical and valuable aspect of the conference experience in the hands of speakers who are not prepared to deliver an engaging learning experience?

Embrace 21st Century Learning Principles

Investing in speaker training for your subject matter experts, staffs and association members on 21st-century learning principles is no longer a nice-to-have. Slotting SMEs who deliver talking-head, one-way information-sharing sessions has no value for today’s attendee. They can get that all day long for free on the internet.

To elevate the educational value of your meeting, work with your speakers to move them from information-givers to sense-makers. Attendees need to wrestle with the content shared so they can make sense of it and discuss how they will apply it when they return to work. Providing speaker training on adult learning principles that leverages the intellectual equity in the room is essential for making your meeting content valuable.

Proof is in the Pudding

Over the past year, National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) has invested in speaker training and coaching for many of their staff, subject matter experts (SME’s) who deliver presentations at their regional and annual conferences. The training focused on evidenced-based education practices and how to apply those to become facilitators of learning.

They started with one-hour webinars and once those proved successful, they moved to offering half-day live workshops and one-on-one coaching. When their recent conference session evaluation results came in, they knew their investment paid off. The staff who attended the workshops and did follow-up coaching with the instructor had the highest session evaluations across the board.

When an organization offers training to their SME’s to help them deliver a memorable learning experience, the speakers perceive it as an investment in their professional development. Everyone wants to deliver a session that is memorable and—more importantly— valued.

Speaker Continuous Improvement Plan

As you kick-off 2020, here are several strategies to implement a continuous speaker improvement plan that will elevate your conference education and develop your SME’s into great facilitators of learning.

  1. Change up session/presenter evaluations. Take a hard look at your current session evaluation. If your questions are too focused on the presenter and not enough on the participant’s learning value, it’s time for an overhaul. Set a goal for presenters to achieve at least a 30% evaluation return rate. After the conference, send each presenter a detailed evaluation report with scores as well as metrics that show how they stack up when compared to others. To improve response rates for individual sessions, coach presenters to bake in three to five minutes at the end of the session to allow attendees the time to provide their feedback. This is particularly important in the age of mobile apps. 
  2. Promote Learner Experience Design (LXD). Train your speakers on how to leverage the room set-up to support the learning experience. Where possible, set rooms to encourage more small-group conversations with rounds, chair groupings and belly bars to encourage peer sharing. Keep light levels in education sessions up and have speakers stand on the floor where possible; lecterns and head tables serve as barriers between the presenters and participants.
  3. Rebrand title from Speakers to Facilitators of Learning. The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) stopped using the title Speaker and refer to their SME’s as Learning Facilitators, which has had a profound effect on the way they now approach all their session formats.

Over the past ten years, the knowledge gap between the speaker and audience has shrunk significantly. The speakers are not always the smartest people in the room. Education that leverages the collective wisdom through peer learning, collaborative models and participatory techniques will elevate the overall value proposition of your conference.

How have you introduced evidence-based education practices to your speaker faculty? What ways can you train your speakers to leverage the intellectual capital in the room?

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  1. Ann B Johnson says:

    Hallelujah, you’re speaking my language! But still I encounter many event participants who want the one-way information dump. “I came to hear the expert, not listen to random attendees talk and talk.” Or even, “I will get up and leave when they veer into group participation.” So I think the HOW is extremely important. You’ve given us some good tips to start with, thanks!

  2. Sarah Michel says:

    Thanks Anne for reading and sharing your feedback! You’re right, the “how” is very important!

  3. Love the name change from “speaker” to “facilitator” – The very name implies more of a two-way interaction!

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