Stop treating adults like children at your conferences

stop treating adults like childrenPlease stop treating adults like children at your conferences. (For an exception, see the end of this post.)

With children there’s an argument for broadcast-style learning. Schools originally developed as establishments for improving the efficiency of oral communication of information. They did this by bringing many students together, so they could learn simultaneously from one teacher. The key cultural reason why broadcast methods remain firmly embedded in our children’s education is the sheer quantity of knowledge that society — for whatever reasons — is determined to cram into young heads during formal education.

For example, school curricula invariably include the Pythagorean theorem. (Why? One can make a case to skip it.) You can argue that most kids are best served by a broadcast style introduction to this GED requirement (though you might try a flipped classroom approach).

stop treating adults like children

Treat adults differently from children

But with adults, unless you’re an expert training a bunch of novices, there’s no excuse for deciding unilaterally “this is what you will learn today”.

Instead, frame the scope of the session, find out what people want to learn or discuss first, then create the session they want and need. Five minutes of Post It! for Sessions, described in Chapter 26 of my book Event Crowdsourcing, is exactly what you’ll need for an in-person session. Or use this variant if you’re meeting online.

So, please stop treating adults like children at conferences. But with…

…one exception

Children play — and play is important at meetings. More precisely, creating the potential for meeting moments of what I’ve described as mystery, play, and the suspension of belief.

That doesn’t mean filling our events with children’s games, singing, and water and sand play tables. Though I remember a few conferences I attended where such activities would have made a distinct improvement.

Rather, consider including sessions involving improvisation, Serious Play, and creative group work that satisfy attendees’ actual wants and needs. And if someone brings bagpipes to your event, let’s dance the hornpipe! 

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