The ultimate "destination" for any meeting or convention lies between the ears of the conferees. Only when the light bulbs go on in the minds of the participants, has the job of convening been fully and truly accomplished.

So a round of applause is due to the top professionals in the industry, who have recently taken some big new steps to improve learning. Significantly, both meeting planners and professional speakers are stepping up to the challenge.

From the planners' side comes the superb publication Adult Learning in Associations: Models for Good Practice, the brainchild of the ever-innovative Susan Sarfati of the Greater Washington Society of Association Executives.

"The delivery of education at conferences really hasn't changed in 20 years," says Sarfati. This book, a joint project of the GWSAE and the ASAE Foundation, could go far to close that gap.

The volume contains twenty-seven different educational alternatives to the Sage on the Stage model. Each is covered in a succinct two-page format that just begs to be copied, spritzed to your committee, and put into immediate practice. The innovations range from Simulations and Peer-driven Learning, to Teleconferences and Creativity. (Readers of Convene will recognize these approaches from coverage in this column, and elsewhere in these pages, over the past three years.)

"It's a toolbox which planners can use to start immediately to create more active learning environments," says Clifford Baden, the book's chief author, who directs the programs in professional development at Harvard University's Graduate School of Education.

At the same time, from the speakers' side, comes the recognition that professional presenters need to master new skills to enhance learning at their sessions. The National Speakers Association has launched a program to provide the know-how.

A pilot training session offered to 70 NSA members in Tempe recently, focused on "Facilitation" -- the art of involving participants in using their own skills and knowledge to solve their problems. "Companies and associations have discovered that the best answers to their problems come from employees themselves," says Leslie Charles, who was one of the instructors. "But you've got to master the art of activating and focusing their abilities."

All the leading organizations in the field have launched related initiatives, according to reports in recent issues of Meeting News.

PCMA, long a leader in this area, has opened its Learning Environment Specialist program to convention service managers at all hotels, and will be requiring all speakers at its educational sessions to attend pre-conference training in adult teaching methods.

MPI is upgrading its focus on adult learning in its Certificate in Meetings Management program and it its advanced-level institute programs.

It's a remarkable and promising consensus throughout the industry and among the major professions within it: meeting planners, convention managers, and speaker/educators. The ultimate result should be conference and convention sessions that yield far higher ROIs.

Copyright © 1999 Ronald Gross