ADRIAN SEGAR has designed and facilitated
meetings for 37 years. He writes regularly about
event design, has authored two classic meeting
design books, and is an industry advocate for
participation-rich, participant-led meetings. Learn about his next
book, Event Crowdsourcing Secrets, at conferencesthatwork.com.
T he most important reason people go to conferences is to usefully connect with others around relevant content. But our conference programs still focus on lectures, where a
few experts broadcast their knowledge to passive listeners. During
lectures, there’s no connection between audience members and
no connection around lecture content. Here are five reasons why.
Lectures are a terrible way to learn. We’ve known for more
than 100 years that lectures are a terrible way to learn. Lectures
are a seductive meeting format because they provide an efficient
way of sharing information. However, lectures are perhaps the
least effective way of learning anything.
Why? Over time, we rapidly forget most everything we’ve been told.
But when we engage with content, we remember more of it, remember
it more accurately, and remember it longer. Every measure of learning
increases drastically when attendees actively participate in sessions.
Professionals learn predominantly socially, not in the
classroom. Until about 20 years ago, professionals learned
most of what they needed to know to do their jobs in the
classroom. Today, only about 10 percent of what we need to know
involves formal classroom teaching. The other 90 percent is
informal—a combination of self-directed learning, experiential
learning on the job, or learning at conferences with our peers.
Unfortunately, we persist in making the bulk of “education” at
meetings consiste of formal presentations by a few experts.
BY ADRIAN SEGAR
Five Reasons to
Today, everyone has
expertise and experience to
share. Everyone who has worked
in a profession for a while is an expert resource in some
capacity. Instead of limiting content from a few “experts,”
peer conferences uncover and tap the thousands of years of
experience in the room. As author David Weinberger puts it:
“The smartest person in the room is the room.”
Most sessions don’t address attendee wants and
needs. Conferences need to provide just-in-time learning,
and you can’t predict most of those topics in advance. My
research has found that 50 to 90 percent of all prescheduled
conference sessions are not what attendees actually want
and need. In contrast, just about all peer conference sessions,
chosen and run by participants during the event, are rated
highly because they provide what participants want.
At traditional conferences, connection is relegated to
the breaks, meals, and socials. We so often hear “The
best part of that conference was the hallway conversations.”
It doesn’t have to be that way! Peer conferences provide
sessions where participants connect around relevant, timely
content. How can you adapt what you do to be a catalyst for
conference change? ■