When you're presenting at a conference, you have a limited amount of time to engage your audience and offer experience or participation, but you can certainly engage your audience more directly by knowing something about adult education. This was part of the session I presented at RaterFest!
The thing is, conferences are often the most lucrative time for people to gain continuing education or professional development credits. But many conference sessions are a one-way talkfest. Presented lecture style and with way too much information jammed into a short time frame for adults to really get what you're talking about.
Knowing a bit about how adults learn can help you make your presentation memorable in more ways than one. Here's the quickest rundown ever of a toolkit for adult education:
1. Learning is the acquisition of knowledge, skills and attitude.
2. Adults need to have material that is immediately useful, relevant to their lives,
3. Learning needs to be presented in an environment that is welcoming and feels safe to participate, is respectful of learners life experiences, and has space for them to share.
There are two basic ways that adults take in new information. Through real life experiences and examples or in the form of models or ideas. Once in hand, the new information might be put to active experimentation by some people but others will observe and reflect on the new information.
The Experiential Learning Cycle has four stages: concrete experience, reflective observation, abstract conceptualization and active experimentation. The order in which any individual prefers to go through these stages can be called their learning style.
A good adult learning program takes the learning through all stages of the learning process for each activity, but shakes up the order of the stages to appeal to different learning styles.
Your presentation, 60 or 90 minutes, can't encompass everything a learning program should do. Your best bet to engage your audience is to share experience and tell your story.
Engaging your audience is not about entertaining (although that's a good way to be memorable), but your stories, case studies, and anecdotes help your adult learners make connections between new information and their life experience.
You can be confident that you will hit at least two of the four parts of the learning cycle (thinking and reflecting) with a presentation that allows your audience to interact with you. If there is an exercise that you can complete in your session where your audience can interact with each other, you will hit a third part of the learning cycle - applying. Depending on what you're presenting on, this could also capture the elusive fourth part of the learning cycle: experiencing.