Conferences can be better, a whole lot better

Presentation

The conference business is booming yet every participant has some major gripe about the way conferences are run. We all think we know better. It goes with the territory.

In the beginning of the year, I looked into the future of conferences. Would they go the way of record stores and newspapers?

I concluded that:

Flipping conference presentations can vastly improve learning outcomes.

Community First! Events should focus on nurturing the L&D community of practice before content.

Many Next Practices for conferences (I’ve listed 30) are not difficult to implement.

Asked what brings them to events, nearly everyone replies “face to face.” People attend events to be with other people, to rub shoulders with colleagues from other organizations and with industry spokespeople and gurus. The cliché is that you learn more in the hallways than in the classrooms. As in the workplace, informal learning at conferences has more impact than formal learning.

The Flipped Conference session differs from the Flipped Classroom in that content delivery takes place at the conference, not before. However, presentation time is greatly condensed and is delivered in a 10-minute Ignite session up front. As with the Flipped Classroom, the bulk of face-to-face time is spent on discussion and contextualizing the lessons

flip

The traditional building block of formal learning at conferences is a session. A typical breakout session is 45 minutes to an hour long. The session leader chooses the topic and presents a point of view (there’s a reason they call it PowerPoint) for the bulk of the session. This is an overdose of content. Most people’s attention wanders after ten or fifteen minutes. The bulk of the message falls on deaf ears.

After ten to fifteen minutes, we tune out the message. Between minute 15 and minute 50, I might as well be asleep. That’s 35 wasted minutes.

Flipping the session allocates a majority of the time to participatory events.

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Next Practices for L&D Conferences

Here is a dog’s breakfast of suggestions for improving the effectiveness of conferences.

Before the Event

Provide a generic ROI proposal for attending to send to the boss, saving people the time of working out the value to be extracted from the event.

See who’s coming and set up appointments in advance.

Participants should have expectations and set explicit objectives for the event.

During the event

Encourage social networking. Announce a Twitter hashtag and encourage people to Tweet. It’s a great way to tap into the pulse of an event and to find what’s going on.

During sessions, use Twitter to gather questions and make comments. Tweeting among participants spark reflection about what’s gong on. Perhaps make the Twitter feed visible on a separate screen in presentation rooms.

After the conference

Visit the backchannel to attend a conference virtually, get to know people before the event, or catch what you did not have time to visit.

Get rid of happy sheets. One’s reaction immediately after an event says nothing about their long-term gain.

Conference goal: co-learning. Taking the message back home. Make this mandatory. Conference ends with plan for distributing ideas back to home organization and team.

So?

Business is good. Attendance at the events I examined (eLearning Guild, Masie, Training, ATD, Learning & Technology, Educa) is rising.

John Seely Brown says every business model will be disrupted. Nonetheless, my gut tells me that L&D Conferences are here to stay for at least the next five years and perhaps infinitum.

The 20-page research report is here.