Ask Me Anything—a better alternative to guest lectures

Ask Me Anything

Recently, I’ve been appearing as a guest at college event planning and hospitality courses to talk about meeting design. (I love to do this. Teachers, please contact me, it’s free!) Rather than lecture for an hour, I’ve been using an Ask Me Anything (aka AMA) meeting format.

Here’s why I think Ask Me Anything is almost always a better session format than a lecture.

I’ve written extensively on this blog (1, 2, 3) and in my books about why the meeting lecture is a terrible way to learn. (A one-sentence distillation: learning is a process not an event.)

But suppose a group gets the opportunity to spend time with a content expert who knows a lot more about their field than anyone else present? Isn’t a lecture the best format to use in these circumstances?

Well…sometimes. First, let’s explore the circumstances when a lecture may be the way to go. Then I’ll make a case for why an Ask Me Anything format is usually a better choice.

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Drive-by experts at your conference

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Want to discover the experts at your conference?

“It’s been clear from the beginning of the Web that it gives us access to experts on topics we never even thought of. As the Web has become more social, and as conversations have become scaled up, these crazy-smart experts are no longer nestling at home. They’re showing up like genies summoned by the incantation of particular words. We see this at Twitter, Reddit, and other sites with large populations and open-circle conversations. This is a great thing, especially if the conversational space is engineered to give prominence to the contributions of drive-by experts. We want to take advantage of the fact that if enough people are in a conversation, one of them will be an expert.”
—David Weinberger, Globalization of local experience

This is exactly why the Conferences That Work format works so well. Peer conferences allow participants to discover the conference experts in (what was formerly known as) the “audience” they want to meet, connect with, and learn from. Instead of restricting teachers to the few folks at the front of the room, peer conferences allow us to tap the experience and expertise of anyone that’s present.

In other words, Conferences That Work extend the effectiveness of the online conversations that David describes above to face-to-face meetings.

Photo attribution: Flickr user jannem