Whether you’re a planner, a CEO, a supplier or whether you fill some other role, think back to the very first conference for which you selected/hired a speaker. Maybe it was for an association event, a church event, a community event or some other program altogether. In my role as education director for a state trade association, I remember early in my career my priorities for hiring a speaker: cost, availability and topic (often in that order).
Once a contract was signed, we’d next touch base the day of the event. I’d stand in the back of the room and say a little prayer that in 60 minutes our attendees would be singing my praises. I now know better and am intentionally more involved in the co-creation of a presentation that’s right for my clients and their attendees. But just how high should you set your expectations for speakers? Should you have different standards for professional speakers vs. industry speakers?
In his book Brain Rules, John Medina shares 12 brain-based principles for surviving and thriving at work, home and school. I’ve adapted four of his rules as the basis for advancing association meetings.
Medina claims that people usually forget 90 percent of what they learn within 30 days – a staggering statistic. Without key insights and takeaways, professional development investments are wasted. However, as more organizations offer continuing education both to support their strategic missions and to deliver business results, the threshold to meet or exceed the increasingly sophisticated expectations of attendees is changing.
Learning is now characterized by not only the acquisition of knowledge or skills, but by the retention and application of knowledge or skills in the work setting. By the way, your association scores extra points when it clearly describes the business measures that will change or improve as a result of an education program or if a specific return on investment can be attributed to its implementation.
If you understand how the brain learns and functions, you can greatly improve the retention and application of new information. Ultimately, this drives attendee value and influences member loyalty.
1. We don’t pay attention to boring things. Audiences tend to check out after only 10 minutes of content. To regain their attention, invite speakers to tell personal narratives based on their experiences or to create events rich in emotion. You might also consider writing learning objectives into participant materials; using humor to engage and activate learners; or answering the question, “What’s in it for me?”
2. Move to improve your thinking skills. Develop opportunities throughout the program to get participants out of their seats and moving throughout the room or venue (e.g., breaks, meal functions). Additionally, ask speakers to consider flipcharts, manipulatives, networking and roleplaying as excuses to get people on their feet. Other ideas include a wisdom while you walk format (leveraging pre-function/outdoor spaces); small group assignments and activities; or having participants get up/post responses on a magic wall.
3. The brain is designed to solve problems. Encourage speakers to build and implement practice exercises that challenge learners. It’s recommended that practice time comprise between 35 and 50 percent of education sessions. Practice time includes practice activities, facilitator feedback and both pre- and post-assessments. You might also ask learners to elaborate on what has already been presented; share a case study that illuminates key concepts; or encourage learners to reflect on new information.
4. Vision trumps all other senses. The power of visual tools such as PowerPoint, Prezi, videos, handouts and job aids should not be underestimated. It’s said that if participants hear a piece of information, three days later they’re likely to remember 10 percent of it. Add a picture and they’re likely to remember 65 percent. The key here is fewer words and more pictures. And if you can stimulate more of the senses at the same time, all the better for creating memorable content.
While there’s still a lot we don’t know, implementing these simple techniques when combined with quality meeting management can enhance the intentionality of an association’s professional development offerings.
Additionally, associations must work hand-in-hand with speakers and other subject matter experts well in advance to share with them clear expectations. Determine when and what you’ll introduce to instructors leading up to the learning program, the information to be covered during instructor orientation and how instructors will be supported both individually and as a cohort as they apply these new techniques.