A few ASAE calls for proposals have hit recently, and it’s gotten me thinking about conference sessions.
On the one hand, associations want to recognize the expertise and knowledge our members hold and give them a platform to shine and a chance to share that knowledge and expertise with their peers.
On the other hand, we all gripe about conferences we attend where all the speakers are volunteers. Some of the speakers aren’t very good, and a lot of the content is shallow or too basic, people seem ill-prepared, the slides are bad, etc.
I’m calling myself out here, too – I’ve been the griper, and the under-prepared speaker that’s being griped about.
Preparing all these proposals got me thinking about learning experiences in my own life. Which got me thinking about grad school, where I taught political theory to freshmen.
What if we dumped breakout presentations in favor of university-style sections?
What would that look like?
You’d start with a fairly traditional presentation by a recognized PAID expert in a given topic. Everyone who was attending would be required to do prep work, familiarizing themselves with a common canon (books, articles, blog posts, videos, podcasts, whatever), allowing them to operate from a shared base of knowledge (that would NOT be restricted to the book s/he just wrote that the presenter is shilling). Which means your PAID expert could actually speak at a high level and have some chance of being understood.
After the “lecture,” the larger group would split into discussion sections, which would be led by expert VOLUNTEER MEMBER facilitators, with knowledge of both the topic at hand and how to keep a discussion moving, whose job would be to ask interesting questions and keep the conversation flowing at a high level. And since all the attendees would enjoy that shared base of knowledge from doing the prep work and from the high level presentation, they’d actually enjoy substantive conversations about important topics, as opposed to devolving into the “this is how we do it at my association” (dare I say it?) drivel that usually results from the table exercises at our conferences.
What would that learning experience look like?