Monday, January 16, 2012

The Right Way to Use Expert Speakers

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How many times have you gone to an educational conference sponsored by an association and been presented with an expert speaker who knows next to nothing about the industry represented by the association? She's there because she's an expert on the topic she's come to present on, but it's her standard and practiced presentation, and it fails to take into account fundamental aspects of the industry she's addressing. If your experience is anything like mine, you've see this happen many times.

So why don't you do something about it? And I'm not talking about negative comments on the evaluation form.

The last time this happened to me something wonderfully spontaneous happened. The speaker was there to present the results of a survey exploring trends and issues related to membership marketing in associations. Good information and the speaker had good professional experience. But he was talking to a group of trade association professionals and his data was based on a survey audience that was split; 40% trade associations and 60% professional societies.

The problem was he didn't break out the responses from the trade associations so we could see how our direct peers compared to the overall universe. We were left taking guesses as to how the responses to each question applied to us and what we could still learn from the data.

This could've been a disaster, but it wasn't. Thanks to a less than bashful audience and a less than flustered speaker, I soon found myself listening to and engaging in one of the most productive peer to peer to expert conversations I've had in quite some time.

People were challenging assumptions, sharing experiences, and the speaker was doing a good job facilitating the discussion and interjecting his own perspective when it was helpful and appropriate.

It was fantastic, and it made me think--what if someone actually planned their education this way?

Bring in an outside speaker. Make sure she has real expertise in an area relevant to your industry. Ask her to prepare three or four pieces of content--each no more than 10 minutes in length (I'm not kidding; count her slides). And then, get a group of smart, out-going members, spread them liberally through the audience, and ask them to challenge the content, speculating out loud about how it translates to your environment and what value they find in it.

Those not in the loop may think the session has gone off the rails. But I'll bet the ensuing conversation will have far more value to your members than letting a speaker who doesn't know who she's talking to drone on.

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