So glad I represent speakers and presenters that learned this message a long time ago! We are right on target and we know how to bring the “WOW” factor to you!  This also applies in other arenas of our speaking and learning lives as well! 

Social Innovation Fellows Program - Pop!Tech 2008

Today’s audiences expect more from a speaker than the traditional lecture.

They want to be inspired, motivated, entertained and learn relevant take aways that they can apply immediately.

They are not satisfied with sitting passively listening to monologues and panel platitudes. They want to actively participate in an education session.

The End Of A Speaker-Expert Era

For the past 10-20 years, the focus of conference education sessions and keynotes has been on the speaker. Speakers acted as performers on the stage. They were the center of the attention. Conference organizers spent considerable amount of time securing speakers that could wow audiences’ with their oratory skills.

We marketed their names and expertise. We felt that speakers attracted our audiences.

We now know differently. It’s not the speaker that drives registration. It’s whether the content solves the attendees’ problems.

Don’t get me wrong, there will probably always be a place for one or two inspirational, motivation conference speakers but they are limited.

The Shift From Speaker To Facilitator Won’t Be Easy

The emphasis is shifting. We are shifting from a speaker-centric, expert-emphasis conference to attendee-emphasis and learner-centric conference.

This shift is not one that will be easy for most speakers, especially professional speakers and professors that are stuck in traditional lecture models. It is not the way most of us were taught in school. And it’s not the way most of us usually present.

Some professional speakers will denounce these methods of shifting to a facilitator and exclaim that the old ways will still work. They do not believe in evidence based education that proves lectures don’t provide the ROI for learning.

As Nobel-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman and author of the indispensable 2012 Thinking, Fast and Slow, says, “The confidence people have in their beliefs is not a measure of quality of evidence but of the coherence of the story the mind has managed to construct.” Other cognitive psychologists like Dr. Daniel Willingham call our beliefs based on our experience “conformational bias.”

And trust me, many professional and industry speakers will denounce this needed change based on their flawed conformational bias.

Speakers Have To Shift From Being The Focus To Facilitator

Audiences are demanding that speakers shift from being great orators and entertainers to facilitators of learning experiences.

Speakers as facilitators:

1. Let audiences become participants and do more learning tasks.

These speaker-facilitators don’t come to session with scripted presentations and everything planned. Instead, they come prepared and part of the plan is to allow participants to do the work of learning.

2. Do less telling so the audience can do more discovering.

Speakers are known for telling audiences too much content. They tell them what they are going to talk about, they talk about it and then they recap it. This much telling is a vicious cycle. Speakers spend extraordinary amounts of time preparing their speeches. They do all the learning and then think they can hand that knowledge to audiences.

Instead, speakers should be asking, “Why am I telling them this? Have I bought into the myth that I can distribute knowledge from my mouth?”

3. Focus on instructional design work more carefully.

Instead of organizing the content that will be spoken, speakers as facilitators spend time and effort designing activities that now engage adults as learners. They focus on creating significant learning experiences which is different from have audiences listen to a lecture.

4. Design learning experiences that motivate participant involvement and participation.

The object is to draw an adult into the content so they are energized before they realize it. The adults do the work instead of just reciting what the speaker said. These experiences take audiences from their current knowledge and skill level to a new place of competence. These learning experiences develop content knowledge and learning skills at the same time.

5. Explicitly model how experts learn.

These speakers demonstrate how experts approach learning and tasks. Presenters specifically discuss learning processes they use when solving problems, discovering new content and confronting difficult issues.

6. Encourage adults to learn from and with each other.

They value peer to peer learning and group work. They place their beliefs in the evidence that peer learning and group work increases knowledge retention and application.

7. Promote evaluation that leads to learning.

Speakers as facilitators are not satisfied with smile-sheet evaluations and butt-time lectures. They realize the importance of providing feedback during peer and group work. They look critically at their own work and ask audiences for feedback as well. They care constantly evaluating the session to see if their participants are really learning and understanding.

Sources: “Where the evidence of actual learning works,” by J. Michaels, Advances in Physiology Education, 2006; Improving Learning New Perspectives, P. Ramsden, 1988; Learning Centered Teaching by Maryellen Weimer.

This is part five in the series: It Is Time To Revolutionize Conferences

How can conference organizers help volunteer committees understand the shift from expert-centered to learner centric education sessions? What types of resistance do speakers and some audiences display towards a more participatory conference education session?

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