Thursday, March 8, 2012

If Lectures Are Ineffective, 6 Suggestions to Modify Association Conference/Educational Programming? (Part 2)

Summary from Yesterday’s Post
  • In last Wednesday’s The Final Word Column, USA Today’s Craig Wilson posed thoughts on the death of lecture format for teaching/learning. “As for this lecture thing, it appears students today want to be involved. They want to be active, not passive. In short, they don't want to be lectured to. What's happening is that many lectures today can just as easily be delivered over YouTube or iTunes. Lucky students.”
  • The Traditional Lecture Might Not Be Dead, But It Is Severely Flawed by Lauren Landry.
  • In Chunk It, Don’t Hunk It, Jeff Hurt recommends that conference organizers should push speakers to divide their content into ten-minute chunks. Then insert a short discussion or reflection activity between chunks so that the audience can process it. 
Chunk It Don’t Hunk It Analogy
In the Hunk It lecture format, the presenter talks the entire allotted time and the audience is not able to retain very much of the content.  In switching to the "Chunk It" format, the presenter divides the information into three smaller segments and has some type of audience interaction between each segment and the audience retains more information.
  • Think of the brains of our attendees as a dry sponge waiting to be “filled.” When you pour water over a dry sponge, most of the water runs off because it isn’t able to soak it all up. If, however, you slowly pour water on a dry sponge, the sponge begins to get wet and as it gets wet, it is able to soak up more water. Jeff’s Chuck It Don’t Hunk it strategy follows the wet sponge.
What alternatives might associations use at their conventions/educational programs?
Coming from a family of teachers, I’ve admired the way they have adjusted teaching formats to learning styles over the last few decades. My wife (who taught elementary students for 30+years) moved from all the kids in desks in rows to focus on “learning centers” which allowed small groups of students to move through 3-4 “stations.” Most included “manipulatives” so the students could learn hands on. For example, to help students learn how to multiple 3 x 4, she gave them 12 bottle caps and they manipulated the caps in three rows of four then counted to discover the total was 12. She also had them put the caps in four rows of three so they could understand the reverse fact.

Here are six suggestions as starters:

1. Meeting Structure
  • Is the “general session” format dead? Perhaps it should be ... at least cut to one (perhaps at lunch?). Big name speakers are expensive and (based on surveys I did back in the 1990s, not a “draw” for attendance. Have you checked to see what percent of your registrants actually attend the general session (s)? I remember talking with the agent of a big name speaker. And, he told me “for his fee, you would think you would get something that lasts a lifetime.”
  • Many associations have shortened or dropped the general sessions and replaced it with smaller breakout sessions. This provides more options and smaller crowds for participants. Unfortunately (and I’m guilty here), many of us continued to use the lecture format here.
  • Associations which host a trade show often invite exhibitors to hold demonstration sessions. The key is to provide knowledge and not just make it a sales pitch.
  • The AMC (Association Management Company) Institute has found that morning roundtables are well received. AMCI surveys members before the conference. The roundtables feature different topics (based on the survey) at each table. One member serves as the “recorder.” Members self select the topic that interests them.
  • For my staff meetings at Drake & Company (now SCD Group Inc.) I often turned problems over to the staff ... I posed one or two questions (often with background materials as pre-reads) and divided the staff into small groups (5-7 each) and asked them to develop answers/solutions. Then, each group gave a report for the entire staff to discuss. In our meeting evaluations, this format always got the highest ratings.

2. Consider Shorter Sessions Featuring More Specific Topics
  • Attention spans are shorter. So, you need to shorten your session times. 
  • When planning several conferences back in the 1990s where the organizing group insisted on 30 minute presentations focused on specific recommendations and/or case studies. You should have heard the speakers squeal when we approached them and said they had to cover the topic in 30 minutes! But, the audience raved about the format!
  • Narrower topics in shorter time frames follows the Chunk It Don’t Hunk It strategy.
3. Ask the Audience
 Some of my best experiences as both an attendee and a speaker come when the audience has an opportunity to suggest areas of interest for the sessions.
 • I often send (email) members (or pre-registered attendees) a pre-conference survey asking for their “expectations” from the talk and giving them a chance to help design the presentation.
 • Some speakers can “modify their content on the fly” ... so live polling during sessions gives them instant feedback from the audience so that they can go back and review or even switch to a different topic. I’ve used keypads which also let the audience see the answers which helps understanding.
 • For smaller groups, the speaker can invite the audience to “submit” ideas that are posted on flip charts. I participated in a “staff retreat” once when Chuck Rumbarger used this very effectively and made the audience feel that the session was just for us.
 • Using Twitter allows participants (as well as non attendees following the Twitter stream) to pose questions that allow the speaker to adjust on the fly.
 • Writing on flip charts and then asking the audience to “vote” with “sticky dots” helps engage your audience. And, gets them to stand up which stimulates the brain.

4. Hands on Workshops and/or Tours

  • Demonstrations allow participants to engage in hands-on activities. For many, this is a key learning method that helps them better understand.
  • Tours: I know several organizations for which a “field trip/tour” is a key element of their program. This lets participants see what they have heard in sessions. For visual learners, this is an important activity.
5. Incorporate Today’s Digital Technology Platforms
  • According to a story in USA Today University of Missouri journalism professor Jen Lee Reeves urges students to tweet about the topic of discussion during her classes -- then checks her phone occasionally to make sure entries are appropriate. "It turns into kind of a live, flowing notebook of what we've discussed in class," she says.
  • From a Twitter stream & back channel to live streaming and digital scavenger hunts, the new technology provides platforms that enhances learning and engages your audience.
  • Power Point is also a piece of technology that benefits learning ... if used well! Ask speakers to limit “PPT slides” to one idea per slide. Three words per slide plus one major visual on that slide. One rule of thumb for speakers is limit to 3 words and 32-point type. 
6. Don’t Forget “Older Tools”
  • Back before Power Points, Twitter and other digital technology, presenters employed a variety of “tools” to grab attention and engage the audience. You may find value in speakers who understand these “tools.”
  • Props & Visuals: Select a “prop” that illustrates a key point (or points). A rock. A jar of liquid. A sponge. A fishing bait(s) and/or tackle box. Hold it up to illustrate your point.
  • Costumes: Some speakers “dress up” to illustrate their messages,
  • Sticky dots, index cards, Post-it Notes. You can use round sticky dots) to give the audience an opportunity to vote on key ideas (which can be posted on flip charts on walls). If you have the audience seated at round tables (please no more than 8 per table!), you can use index cards for them to “brain write.” And, you can have the audience write ideas on Post-in Notes and post them along the walls. Remember, engaging the audience helps them retain the key points of the presentation.

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