The studies have been done, the verdict is in, and we’ve got to stop talking at conference attendees and instead engage them in conversations. That in summary was the message delivered at a very thought-provoking training session I recently attended.
The presenter made three exceptional statements that are most worth considering:
- Telling isn’t learning. Learning requires work.
- Focus on the audience’s needs, not the speaker’s wants.
- The more content you push at an audience, the less they learn.
Consider the typical format. The speaker talks, no questions are allowed until the end. Conversation among attendees is discouraged. Sound like fifth grade with Sister Mary John? This is not participant-centered learning and that’s what people today want.
We can take a next generation approach with a few, relatively simply changes:
- Have a preconference meeting with all speakers to talk about the new way you’re going to conduct presentations.
- Set the mood. Play music at the beginning. Have the presenter walk through the audience and introduce himself or herself, and to ask what they expect from the session.
- Ask the audience questions two or three times during a session, then let them discuss the answer with those sitting around them. After a few minutes, ask who heard something they want to share with the group. (Large room? Make them use the mic.)
- Allow questions throughout the presentation. If that means fewer slides, so be it.
Engaging conference attendees is much more important than a speaker getting through too many slides. How can we engage our conference attendees more often, to focus our attention on them, to encourage questions and observations from them? They want to have a conversation. Are we ready to listen?