Sorry for the Elvis paraphrase, but it’s really the way things are going these days. At least, it’s the way things should be going.
Sadly, there are still plenty of meetings out there during which participants (no, wait, attendees) are expected to sit quietly and magically absorb key learnings via a stream of words directed from the podium. And we should all feel sorry for those attendees, because being a participant is ever so much better.
Thankfully, well-designed meetings that engage participants in two-way conversation are becoming the norm. Hey, it’s even the new TED model. In a conversation-based model, questions get asked and answered, ideas get shared and sparks ignite. Tapping into the collective mind is a much smarter way to take advantage of bringing people together, and allows us to get better answers to better questions.
So how do you open the door to conversation in a meeting room? Well, there’s always the tried-and-true audience response system, but it seems that only about half (if that) of the attendees engage with the clickers placed at every seat. But, it’s a start.
Q&A sessions, sure. Although this may seem like a given, sometimes it seems that conversation is the very thing people are scared of. Instead of asking “What if someone asks the tough questions? What if there are too many questions? What if? What if?” ask “What are we afraid of?” Would it be better to spend the money to bring people together and send them home with their questions unanswered? Certainly not. Has anyone counted the cost of not being able to tap the ideas that occur during a really good facilitated conversation or Q&A?
Small-group discussions always spur conversation, especially when well-directed. Consider, for example, an educational medical conference where case studies are solely presented from the podium. How much more effective might it be if this was coupled with a chance for the doctors-in-training who attend to present their own case studies to a small group, come up with solutions and then receive feedback from the stage?
Or, start the conversation in one room and continue it in another. For an upcoming event, we’re filling a room with interactive technology, where participants can interact with (and generate) general session content in a variety of ways. By collecting their insights and comments and making sure they’re addressed (even by contributor name) in subsequent general sessions, attendees will know their input in this conversation is valued and recognized.
Also, why hold sessions that spur ideas and beg for conversation then follow with a mere 15-minute break? Consider building in time for people to really engage with each other, or to sit with the speaker and ask the questions they may not want to ask in front of the entire group. Or, plan a one-hour break with interactive materials that spur conversation. Or follow up with a breakout solely for people who want to go deeper (and get more specific) with the material or onsite expert.
So if learning is the most important goal of your event, don’t let it be an afterthought. Take a look at the space, schedule and format of your meeting to see if it’s really conducive for learning, and remember: sharing ideas, asking questions and encouraging conversation (before, during and after the event) all serve to help us engage and LEARN.
So what are you waiting for? Get the conversation started!
-- Amy Oriani
* For more of Martin Bastian's tips on speakers and entertainment, see our Fall cover story: Your Best Event.