David Pointon from FAST Meetings Co. explains why we need to adapt the learning structures of our conferences to be relevant in our emerging world.

DAVID POINTONWhat are your memories of being in a classroom at school? When I look back, I can picture sitting in a classroom in year 11 english and year 12 maths. I can visualise where I sat. I can even recall leaning back on my chair and talking with the person sitting behind me.
We all have our unique classroom memories, some more vivid than others. But there’s a fair chance that our memories have the same basic structure. We sat and learned in traditional ways from the teacher at the front of the room who had the information and knowledge.
Traditional educational methods alone are no longer relevant to a delegate’s real world learning needs. We must move the conference room away from the classroom to create dynamic and engaging environments that allow changes in the structure of learning.
Here are four changes taking place in how people need to learn in your conferences so they are equipped and productive for their working world.

1 From Push to Pull

The Encyclopaedia Britannica was an up-to-date source of knowledge in the world for 244 years. It is now out of print.
As a society and workforce we have moved from receiving information from a few sources controlled by others and being pushed to us (e.g. encyclopaedias, newspapers and presenters), to having knowledge at our fingertips we can pull down whenever we want it and wherever we are (e.g. Google, YouTube).
Our conferences must become sources of learning and information that go beyond what the presenters push to the audience. The explosion in conference apps is tapping a delegate’s desire to pull down various information from different sources when they want it. Greater sharing amongst delegates means more sources from which to draw learning, with greater control for the learning given to them.

2 From  ‘Know-What’ to ‘Know-How’

There is an important difference in knowledge, between ‘know-what’ and ‘know-how’. Imagine going to YouTube and watching a video on how to swim. This is ‘know-what’ learning.
However, if you were to jump off a boat into the ocean, you now want the ‘know-how’ of swimming. ‘Know-how’ knowledge resides in our bodies, our hands and our hearts, as well as in our heads. It comes through experience, the modelling of others and applied learning approaches.
Conference goers experience this in the contrast between bringing home a pile of notes (know-what) and the ability to put that knowledge into action (know-how).
It’s the difference between knowing about someone’s skill in your industry versus learning from them in an engaging and applied conversation.
Conferences need to move beyond watching a speaker towards deeper digging in ‘know-how’ sessions that respond to delegates’ practical needs. How are you going to allow for more practical knowledge sharing at your next conference?

3 From ‘Me’ to ‘Us’

The classroom of old ultimately tested what we knew as individuals. Our own capacity to be right and smart was the end goal.
Yet with the explosion of knowledge in our complex world, one person no longer has all the answers. This is why workplace collaboration is increasingly prevalent; not because it feels good but because it can increase the learning and quality of results.
Conferences provide a massive opportunity for learning through collaboration. Facilitating conversations with good structure while people are physically present is often a once a year opportunity. For the benefit of our companies, industry or association, we must foster opportunities for structured collaboration while people are together. This can help everyone involved come to understand greater complexity, strengthen their learning networks, and generate solutions to wicked problems.

4 From ‘Silver Bullet’ to ‘Buckshot’

Learning at school was based on getting the one right answer. However, solutions aren’t that straightforward in the real world.
What is the silver bullet solution to your company’s next product launch? Or to how your industry or association should best lobby government? There isn’t one.
Today’s world requires systems thinking, where the learning and solutions needed require deep thinking, and being open to many possibilities.
Conference organisers must move away from presenting one right answer to issues, and instead create environments for deep exploration and understanding, where many possibilities are examined. This will lead to greater innovation.

David Pointon is the managing director of FAST Meetings Co., an Australian based organisation dedicated to improving the productivity of meetings and conferences worldwide. To learn more about FAST Meetings visit