Meetings & Your Brain

3 Ways Traditional Conferences Don’t Work

Adrian Segar is a meeting planner and consultant who isn't terribly interested in the status quo, so when I interviewed him I asked him to talk about his book, 'Conferences That Work: Creating Events That People Love,' from the outside in — by describing conferences that don't work.

Segar_Front_CoverHere are some ways that conferences can fail:

They use an outdated learning model: “I think the learning model that most traditional conferences use of having experts talking at people — we’ve known for a long time, it’s a terrible way for people to learn. It’s not like lecturing by itself is inherently bad. At any moment in time, if you have a group of people, one person is talking and the other people are listening. The issue is the timeframe. If you have someone talking for an hour and everyone listening, we know that people tune out after 10, 20 minutes.”

They squander valuable face-to-face time: “These days, we have all these amazing ways to learn broadcast content. We don’t need to go physically to hear an amazing lecture anymore. We can just watch it on YouTube or on the Internet. And so, if you’re going to spend all this time and money sending people to face-to-face events and they’re just going to sit and listen to someone recap their YouTube video, that’s not a really good use of people’s time.”

They haven’t kept up with the modern workplace: “The kinds of knowledge people need to do their jobs these days has changed radically in the last 30 years. I mean, 30 to 40 years ago, most of what you needed to know to do your job you learned in the classroom. In the late-1990s, they did [a study of] some large firms, and they looked at how the people in those firms, these large Fortune 500 companies, learned what they needed to know. They discovered that most of what people needed to know they learned from their peers, or they learned themselves, through self-education.”

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Those are just a few snippets of my interview with Adrian. You can read the whole thing here — and you’ll want to, if for no other reason than to learn how an Englishman with a Ph.D. in physics ended up living in Vermont and dedicating himself to upending conferences as we know them.

Christopher Durso

Christopher Durso formerly was executive editor of Convene.