Diary of an Event Learning Sherpa

event learningPost Authored by Donna Kastner, Event Marketing Strategist & Workshop Designer

Recently, I had a chance to experiment with an idea I’ve been noodling on.

This idea is a twist on a grander concept, first introduced by Velvet Chainsaw Consulting: The Content Weaver.

Here’s more from Velvet Chainsaw Consulting:

“A content weaver connects the dots and weaves the threads of the conference’s content, overarching issues and themes. Similar to an emcee, the content weaver opens and closes each general session, asking provocative questions and framing the context of the conference’s learning opportunities.”

I’ve watched a few masterful content weavers in action and it’s a sight to behold.

But I wondered, in what other ways might we tweak this concept to help attendees think more, remember more, and apply more of what they learn at events?

My experiment happened at Experient’s Encounter ’18 conference in Palm Springs, where I assumed the role of Learning Sherpa. While my appearances were much briefer than what’s outlined above, there was one more channel I incorporated in this experiment – digital.

event learning

Why a Sherpa?

“Map Your Future” was the theme running throughout Encounter ’18. With the Opening Keynote delivered by Jim Davidson, who shared his Mount Everest summit and earthquake survival stories, Sherpa seemed like an apt title to take on for this event.

In mountain climbing circles, Sherpas provide guidance and comfort. They steer mountain climbers away from danger and keep them safe and advancing on their climb. As a Learning Sherpa, I’d provide similar guidance and encouragement, but more focused on the event learning journey.

Granted, Learning Sherpas aren’t operating at a danger level anywhere close to their mountain-climbing counterparts, but they’re tackling one dangerous event ROI threat: The Forgetting Curve

The Forgetting Curve speaks to the rapid decline in memory retention over a short span of time. In the context of events, if new insights aren’t reviewed within a day or two, many are forgotten. Yep, you read that right – POOF – gone.

In the context of events, if new insights aren’t reviewed within a day or two, many are forgotten. Yep, you read that right – POOF – gone. Click To Tweet

As Learning Sherpa, from time to time I’d prompt attendees to ponder, share and discuss key takeaways with one another. The more we could draw attendees into these exchanges, the better the odds they would remember and apply something they learned when they returned to the office.

event learning

Adding Digital Channels

We fired up the digital channels, encouraging participants to share takeaways at any point during their journey in one of three ways:

  1. They could text me
  2. They could email me
  3. Or they could tweet takeaways using the hashtag

Why three channels? I wanted to give participants a chance to select a channel they were comfortable with. Also, with fewer people using Twitter—and of those using Twitter, only 10% are tweeting—I thought many might appreciate a less public way to share their thoughts.

Now, a few stats from this Learning Sherpa experiment:

  • Nearly a third of the 200+ people attending shared at least one takeaway.
  • Of those who shared something:
    • 95% did so via text
    • Nearly half shared three or more times
    • 25% shared photos of event experiences

Here are a few more things I discovered along the way:

  • Contests Boost Participation
    On Day 2, I launched a contest and there was a nice uptick in activity. The prize: $10 Starbucks gift card. Low cost, high yield – win, win.
  • Peer Affirmation Stokes the Sharing Fires
    “Who’s Your Person? When you encounter a challenge, who do you call?” That’s the question I posed on Day 3. This sparked another activity surge. Keep in mind, this group had a higher-than-average degree of collegiality, which made this a particularly good question to ask.
  • Richer One-On-One Chats
    Several people requested face-to-face meet-ups during the event and the insights they shared with me in these chats were outstanding. Next time, I might suggest adding a Learning Sherpa booth where folks can stop by to share their thoughts in person.
  • Safe Place to Share
    At various points during the event, I’d roll up data to share with everyone in the general sessions. Things like, “Here are your top three answers to this question.” I’d never reveal who shared what – confidentiality (safe place to share) is a crucial trust builder and helps to drive participation higher.
  • To Nudge or Not to Nudge?
    I debated over whether to text participants and ultimately decided to text everyone just once, near the end of Day 2, with one brief question: “Best moment so far?” The flurry of responses (and photos) I received were priceless – several made me smile.
  • Does It Scale?
    This experiment was with a smaller group (one Sherpa/200+ attendees) and my digital collection methods were low-tech. If you were to scale this for a conference with several thousand attendees, you’d need a stronger collection tool, plus at least a couple of people helping to capture and roll up insights from sessions.

event learning

The Big Finish

When I scoped out this project, one important deliverable I called out was a post-event recap, which would go out to attendees soon after the event ends.

This recap would include session highlights from the Sherpa’s notes, plus feedback from attendees (no names). Light on text, heavy on visuals, this recap would include just enough content to refresh key takeaways – which were plentiful at this event.

I thought this document might run a few pages in length. Boy, did I underestimate that one.

Once I scanned all the amazing content we curated, I decided to go bigger – 25 pages, to be exact.

Based on the feedback I received about this recap, attendees appreciated both the depth of this recap and how quickly it was delivered. Best of all, it’s a treasured event artifact that’s sure to spark even more learning discoveries and conversations. At the end of the day, isn’t that what it’s all about?

How about you? What new approaches are you exploring to create event learning that sticks? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

This entry was posted in Event Design and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.