Event Design

The Next Generation of Conference Education

Traditional conference-education models — calls for session submissions, transmitting and dispensing information, and packaging it as professional development — are losing their relevance.

We’re in the midst of great workplace disruption, brought on by a new generation of workers and rapidly changing technology. Today’s conference organizers need to focus on their key customers with much more specificity than ever before. Aligning their needs with your mission of education or thought leadership will require the work of a senior-level education-strategy professional who is well versed in learning design and the future of work. It’s going to take ongoing forward thinking and continuous improvement if you want to be known as the learning disruptor in your profession. If you achieve this for the most advanced attendee segment possible, only then will you hold the advantage in your respective fields of endeavor.

Adopt learning-design principles that line up with where your customers are going.

Progressive organizations will understand the pressing workforce priorities of their customers and develop programming and experiences that meet those needs. According to the 2012 IBM Global CEO Study, Leading Through Connections, three of the most critical workforce priorities are:

1. Creating open and collaborative cultures

How much of your conference education is dedicated to peer learning, peer sharing, and collaboration instead of an expert dispensing knowledge? Do you create spaces and sessions that embrace and leverage collaborative processes?

2. Developing agile analytic muscles that respond immediately with relevancy

Does your conference education help participants turn mountains of data into actionable insights? Do you help participants reduce complexity and increase efficiency for their employers? Do they know what agile processes are and how to shift to a model of taking successive sprints instead of running a marathon?

3. Amplifying disruptive innovation through partnerships

How much of your conference programming discusses high-stakes partnerships? How well do you understand the partnerships your customers have or desire? Do you model innovation by having your conference in constant beta mode?

Adopt learning-design principles that line up with where your customers are going. Focus on helping them accelerate workplace change by learning, unlearning, and leading. Build your conference education around the future of business. One progressive theory is “Leanership.” As futurist and digital anthropologist Stowe Boyd describes it, Leanership values experimentation over execution, places agility above process, and puts learning ahead of knowing. In today’s fast-paced work environment, we need to practice the art of thinking, connecting, reflecting, and sense-making in order to guide our organizations toward their future.

Dave Lutz, CMP

Dave Lutz, CMP, is managing director of Velvet Chainsaw Consulting.