The tragedy of wasting valuable meeting time having experts presenting to “learners”

The tragedy of wasting valuable meeting time having experts presenting to "learners"

Ask attendees why they go to meetings and their top two responses are to learn and connect. Remember kids that ask a question, and when you answer it they say “why?”

“Why can’t we go outside?”
“Because it’s raining.
“Why?”
“Well, water’s coming out of the sky.”
“Why?”

So be that annoying kid for a moment and ask: “Why do you want to learn and connect?

If you play enough rounds of the why game, and ignore the unprofessional but possibly truthful answers — for example: “I’m hoping to get to know an attractive colleague better”; “My boss said I had to and I need a pay raise”; “It’s been too long since I ate fresh Maine lobster” — you will find that the core motivation to go to meetings is to change in some useful way. Change how you see things, and, most important, change how you do things: i.e. behavior change.

So now we’ve got that out of the way, let’s review what Harold Jarche, a veteran educator in the Canadian Armed Forces and now a leading consultant on workplace learning, has to say about the value of public speaking [emphasis added]:

I do a fair bit of public speaking. But I doubt that much of it has changed anyone’s behaviour. I may have presented some new ideas and sparked some thinking. With a one-hour lecture, you cannot expect more. Yet a lot of our training programs consist of an expert presenting to ‘learners’. Do we really expect behaviour change from this? That would be rather wishful thinking. Learning is a process, not an event.”

To learn a skill or get better at one you have to practice. Deliberate practice with constructive feedback is the key for long-term success.

“I conduct face-to-face workshops as well as online ones. For my on-site sessions, usually 1/2 or a full day, I try to cover the basics and the key concepts. We do a few exercises to get people thinking differently. But I don’t expect significant changes in performance as a result of one day together.”
Harold Jarche, no time, no learning

Like Harold, after years of running meetings and workshops I’ve learned that the likelihood creating permanent valuable behavior change increases as a power of the time spent together. By “together” I don’t mean listening passively to an expert talk. I mean working together as a group to learn new skills and approaches and ways of thinking and practicing with constructive group and expert feedback.

We’ve all heard we should be doing these things to maximize the value of our valuable time together — but very, very few of today’s meetings involve even a smattering of facilitated deliberate practice with constructive feedback.

When you think of all the expensive time we continue to waste doing things we’ve been doing for hundreds of years which we now know don’t work — well, I think tragedy is an accurate description of what routinely passes as a “meeting”.

Change is hard. We now know that social production is the way to maximize learning that leads to significant, valuable, long-term change. At meetings, the instantiations of social production are facilitated workshops run by and/or with content experts. That’s what we should be doing.

Not lectures from experts. Stop wasting valuable time at meetings doing that!

Meeting participants deserve real choices, not just window dressing

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My daughter Cara and her kids joined us last week at our home in Vermont. We ended up spending most of our time goofing around:

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July 4 fireworks
Bellows Falls station
Bellows Falls station

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How we decide is important because it greatly determines what we decide. Last week we made superficial decisions. That’s a recipe for relaxation and fun—and who doesn’t need some of that!

When it comes to making decisions about meetings, however, many meeting professionals stick with old familiar formats. Keynote, plenary, panel, breakout, social; rinse and repeat. That decided, they concentrate on the logistics: F&B, decor, etc.

Here’s Seth Godin’s take on this approach:

Sometimes, it seems like all we do is make decisions.

Most of those decisions, though, are merely window dressing. This color couch vs. that one? Ketchup or Mayo? This famous college vs. that one? This nice restaurant vs. that one? This logo vs. that one?

Genuine choice involves whole new categories, or “none of the above.” Genuine choice is difficult to embrace, because it puts so many options and so many assumptions on the table with it.

There’s nothing wrong with avoiding significant choices most of the time. Life (and an organization) is difficult to manage if everything is at stake, all the time.

The trap is believing that the superficial choices are the essential part of our work. They’re not. They’re mostly an easy way to avoid the much more frightening job of changing everything when it matters.
Seth Godin, The Illusion of Choice

We have known for a while now that traditional formats are not the best ways for attendees to engage, learn, and connect. The increasing popularity and success of social production (e.g. Wikipedia, Linux, Kickstarter, etc.) parallels the growing adoption of innovative participant-driven and participation-rich meeting formats. Meeting planners now need to take on the “frightening job” of changing conference models to those that give participants real choices about what, how, and with whom they engage, learn, and connect.

There’s a time and place for making superficial decisions. (Like last week!) But when we concentrate on the superficial at the expense of the important when planning our meetings we are doing a disservice to those who spend significant resources of time and money to attend.

We can do better. Yes, it’s scary. But we owe it to our clients.

Shop window photo attribution: Flickr user orinrobertjohn