Meeting Formats: Everything Old Is New Again?

Last week, I was invited to participate in an upcoming session at ASAE on “creating provocative and edgy learning topics and formats” for the 2009 AM. Aside from some momentary uncertainty about whether I’m really sufficiently creative, provocative, and edgy to be able to contribute in a meaningful way, I figured, what the hell, right?

I almost immediately stumbled onto this debate on Acronym about whether we’re really ready for creative, provocative, and edgy meeting formats. Apparently, for many people, the answer is an emphatic, “NO!”

On the other hand, we just got back the evaluations from the September CAE Immersion Course. They were generally good (Go CAE Action Team! Y’all rock!), and, as I reminded all the domain presenters, when reading the comments, don’t take any of them too much to heart – there’s always someone who LURVES you and someone who HAAAATES you. Focus on the overarching themes. (Does everyone say you talk too fast? Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know I do – I’m Northeastern city girl. Y’all are just going to have to keep up! But I digress….) I’m sure you can guess where I’m going:

One of our most prominent overarching themes was the need for MORE INTERACTION.

Adult learning 101, dontcha know?

Interaction is good – interaction is bad. Expert talking heads are good – expert talking heads are bad. PowerPoint is…no, I can’t even write that. PowerPoint is pretty much universally evil in my book.

So what’s really going on here?

I quote from adult learning pioneer Malcolm Knowles:

Adults have accumulated a foundation of life experiences and knowledge that may include work-related activities, family responsibilities, and previous education. They need to connect learning to this knowledge/experience base. To help them do so, draw out participants’ experience and knowledge which is relevant to the topic.

Which I think is the key. Interaction is good if expectations are properly set (i.e., make sure the session description includes “highly interactive” if that’s what the session is going to be) and if interaction is relevant to the topic.

Look, if I’m going to a presentation by Larry Lessig on copyright and fair use, I don’t really want to chat about my experiences on this topic – I want to listen to him (not least of which because he’s a really good presenter). On the other hand, if I’m trying to help a room full of 100 freaked out association professionals learn how to think like ASAE wants them to think in order to pass the CAE certification exam (like the Chief Staff Executive of a large national association that always follows best practices, in case you were wondering), I better give them some time to practice what that feels like, by working through situations and scenarios that are representative of what might show up on the exam.

So if we threw out everything about conferences as we currently know them, what would your ideal conference look like?