Post authored by Donna Kastner, Event Marketing Specialist.
For most conferences, attendees will make their purchase decisions based on education sessions.
Some attendees view events as an expedient way to earn and retain certifications, while others are more interested in exploring future trends that will impact their work world.
Whatever the motivation, designing event learning experiences that matter is only the beginning.
There’s more you’ll need to do to make sure these learning experiences are appreciated, remembered, and ultimately applied in the workplace to drive performance improvements.
When you deliver on that event promise, that’s when you transform casual participants into loyal fans who can’t wait for the next learning opportunity you tee up.
The Forgetting Curve
Back in 1885, psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus published findings from an extensive study on our ability to remember – especially in the context of learning new concepts. This led to his introduction of the Forgetting Curve, where time is the bandit that’s constantly robbing memory.
As you’ll notice in the graph below (from a Penn State article), it doesn’t take long for insights to fade away. Within an hour, if these insights aren’t refreshed in some way, the memory loss can run 50% or higher.
Now think about the endless hours you invest to create these educations sessions. Without reinforcement, much of the learning you worked so hard to design and deliver will vanish.
Ebbinghaus went on to identify factors that accelerate the speed of forgetting, including the complexity of the learned material, stress, and lack of sleep. These three factors are prevalent at many conferences.
Sessions tackling advanced content are often the most popular and your attendees are away from their day-to-day creature comforts, which tends to ratchet up stress levels and disrupt peaceful sleep.
Happily, Ebbinghaus and others have outlined modifications we can make to combat the forgetting curve and deliver learning that not only sticks, but lasts. Here are three big ideas that apply well to our event learning environment:
Tip #1: Trim Back Sessions & Align with Topics That Matter
Many conferences suffer from “agenda bloat,” with 80-100+ sessions happening over a three-day span of time. Granted, many are feeding the needs of a dozen or more segments, but as they strive to please everyone, they’re pleasing fewer people than they think.
Review your agenda and ask yourself, “Does this session matter to our top audience segments?” If your answer is YES, carry on. If your answer is NO or you’re not sure, give serious thought to removing this session or tackling this need in a different way. Try including a short talk in a trade show pavilion or serve up helpful content via the mobile app.
The “trim back” mandate applies doubly to content that’s delivered in a single session. As I work with session speakers on content strategy, I’ll encourage them to boil down their session into three big ideas. Once we’ve landed on a short list of valuable takeaways, we’ll explore ways to hit each one repeatedly, but in different ways. It might start with a story or case study, followed by evidence, discussion, activities, etc.
The human brain is hard-wired for efficiency. As the brain takes in massive volumes of information, it’s constantly discerning what to keep and what to dump. Fast fly-by information is usually the first to go, while concepts that resonate and are repeated tend to be remembered much longer.
Keep in mind, when attendees engage in discussion with peers or activities, that’s when the learning and remembering soars. Yet this continues to be a sticking point for some speakers, especially the subject-matter-experts who have less experience leading sessions like these.
Tip #2: Apply Themes and Threaded Content Across Entire Event Journey
The concept of a single theme running across a conference is popular, yet often misunderstood.
As I gaze back on conferences where the learning value was off the charts, there was a single theme running through the entire conference journey. Sometimes it was obvious, other times it was a subtle drum beat in the background, but this purposefulness and connectedness contributed much to the learning outcomes.
As for session threading, one big challenge I’ve observed is that session development processes tend to be siloed. Many event organizers opt for a more efficient, divide-and-conquer approach, where committee members are assigned to help with a session or two, but there’s little attention to how this learning tapestry weaves together to create something exceptional.
Tip #3: Extend the Learning Value Runway
One great reinforcement practice that happens while attendees are still onsite: “Continue the Conversation.” Here’s how it plays out: A speaker would facilitate a 50-minute session, but once they hit the finish line, they would invite participants to a meet-up later to explore this topic further. This provides more “white space” for participants to think, reflect, and even share thoughts with others who didn’t attend the session.
This two-step learning approach—when done well—can blow away the forgetting curve and often drives stronger bonds between participants.
As for post-event touches, it’s best to create a series of content “drips” you might share over a longer span of time to help your participants remember and apply what they learned at your conference. The mobile app is a great delivery vehicle for this – but you need to activate this quickly and make it count.
Many of your attendees will be sitting at the airport, waiting to board their flights. What new and helpful gem could you share immediately after your closing session to refresh and extend the learning?
With major technology breakthroughs happening around attendee behavioral data analytics, event organizers now have a wealth of valuable insights they can tap to tailor post-event learning invitations.
When future learning offers link with the past learning experiences your attendees cherished most, you’re now ascending to the platinum learning zone level, where your organization is viewed as a catalyst for thought leadership, innovation and business performance improvement.
What roadblocks are you encountering as you develop education session content? What tips can you share to help ease the Forgetting Curve and ensure that the learning experiences delivered are appreciated, remembered, and applied?