By Josh Orendi
Do the ways we traditionally teach our members to run their organizations actually work? Are we actually affecting behavior? Are we getting results? Can we do better?
Not too long ago a blog post from Seth Godin, author of several of our favorite books, inspired us to think critically about the way we educate our audiences. A number of factors have played into our inspiration besides that blog post, but it should get some credit (because it asked this same essential question to a wider audience). Since then we've been trying quietly to challenge our fraternity, sorority, and student organization industry to do the same. When we spent this summer at dozens of fraternity/sorority conferences, our minds kept churning"
In an age of instant communication, flying people on airplanes to meet from around the country for the purpose of transferring information is outdated, inefficient, and some might add … insulting. Information can be shared in a variety of user-friendly formats with the click of a button at no cost to the recipient. Why on earth are we making attendees sit through curriculum that is primarily designed to tell them what we think they need to know? As many have said before, “telling is not teaching.” To take the point further, how do we know what they need to know? Anyone that's been in the field for more than 6 months will tell you there's lots of conference excitement that goes home with an attendee but very little evidence of lasting motivation or sustained change.
Instead of focusing on information transfer, let's actually listen to those evaluations we all collect at the end of every gathering. Attendees at conferences value the free time they spend together, meeting new people, reconnecting with friends, enjoying a new city, informal learning environments, etc. Let's look beyond the evaluations to a more accurate measure of attendee priorities. What parts of the conference are they skipping or leaving early? What parts of the conference are they paying extra to attend? What are attendees choosing to do in their free time together? What parts of the formal/informal conference draws the most participation?
Heart-to-heart time! If we're forcing them to pay for the conference, then forcing them to send representation, then forcing them to attend sessions, then getting upset when they “don't make the most of the experience” (read: leaving early to find a bar in the city) … why the hell are we surprised?
As we take an honest look in the conference planning mirror, let's admit that we all create a line up of speakers, education sessions, banquets, awards, and ceremony, because … well … that's the way we've always done it. Urg!
I've got an idea! What if we rewarded their attendance by giving them the things they value most with more powerful take away lessons that they would actually apply when they got home? What if we went a step further to eliminate the fat from the experience? What if we redefined the purpose of our conference and the model for measuring its effectiveness (e.g. “satisfaction” does not equal success)? Then, we can stop telling them stuff and simply make information transfer available on-demand for the attendee. They can get the information when they need the material and/or when they're ready to learn it (think online education, video, PDF, newsletter formats, website, etc). Going forward, the conference could be a “context” expanding experience rather than a “content” filled event.
Yeah, yeah, yeah … but how?
One answer = experiential education. I'm thinking full emersion stuff. Think The Apprentice, think Amazing Race, think ramped up role plays, think extreme learning environments, think on-site training, etc. If we want to teach swimming, we don't do that in the classroom do we? It's time to jump in the pool! Let's DO recruitment instead of talking about it. Let's DO risk management in the environment being questioned. Let's DO academic support programming rather than letting anyone get away with “talking” about starting study tables this semester. Whoooo! This stuff gets me pumped!
*What if we took the 30 people in the MGCA recruitment breakout and trained them to each work a vendor booth in the main lobby for 30 minutes before the banquet starts?
*What if a wealthy Trustee brought in his business checkbook for a small group of new chapter treasurers to balance at this summer's convention? What if each attendee brought his chapter's books to be audited by fellow chapter treasurers?
*What if the chapter service chairmen from schools near the conference location were the ones that organized the Service Plunge?
*What if we were actually on our cell phones calling prospects during the recruitment training rather than talking about it?
*What if we were on campus gathering names of non-Greeks, instead of talking about it?
*What if, instead of talking about what the "best and brightest" students on campus think about fraternities and sororities, we brought them into the room and asked them ‐ in front of our members?
Phired Up is championing a whole movement away from traditional education toward an investment in COACHING and full emersion EXPERIENTIAL EDUCATION. You don't need us to begin making these changes in your conferences and programming, but you're welcome to draw ideas and inspiration from the work we're doing. We're pushing ourselves and our clients to think more critically and more creatively before offering another program. Give them a transformational experience they’ll never forget, and they’ll seek out the information on their own that we used to waste all of our time telling them was important.