Business events are for networking and business generation. Well and good. They are marketed as learning opportunities. Not so well and suspect.
In my limited experience, what you get to know are things that you could possibly know by reading on your own. If the speakers have inspirational quotient, go ahead and indulge yourself. Once you have indulged enough, even that becomes mundane.
Why does the learning not happen?
Dialogue is missing.
An event can be a community in the making. But organizers do not look at it that way. To build a community requires staying connected throughout the year. A shared purpose, collaborative projects, assessments and surveys keep the fires burning. The event is then ripe for a dialogue, a conversation that goes beyond exchanging information. In a dialogue, people explore meaning, purpose, and values. They challenge and support each other by combining enquiry and advocacy.
But most industry meets are seasonal events that are folded up lock,stock, and barrel until the next year comes. The events are ends in themselves.
So, what do we have, right now?
Instead of dialogue, we have experts addressing us. Sharing their life-experiences, view-points, and perspectives in a speech followed by a cursory Q&A. Sometimes, there is a panel discussion.
The main problem is that the whole thing has a constrictive structure. It is designed to facilitate uni-directional communication.The speakers do not get the brief to build their case. They are not asked to elaborate on why their chosen subject is worth our attention. They are not compelled to frame their topic as a question and then take a stand on it. Instead, the speakers share pure information and data and prescribe solutions. The audience is literally ring-fenced. Q&A is an after-thought, rushed through and dispensed with for lack of time. If the audience is what makes the program, shouldn’t Q&A and audience-interaction be the center-piece? It is not..
The biggest problem is however something else. It is how people – the organizers and participants – kowtow to the experts. Our approach is reverential. This reverence leaves little hope for overcoming the constrictive structure and uni-directional communication.People sit back and accept uncritically whatever is shared with them. The ones who are critical end up being too polite or politically correct to ask searching questions. Rarely does anybody ask what I call first-order questions, questions like why does this matter, why should we change, what is the evidence. What is needed is a dialogue. It is not there. What is needed is irreverence. We need people to be assertive and even a little bit confrontational. Confronting realities.
Instead, we defer to the experts. We get information in the bargain. If we can get to a dialogue, it is possible to learn something worthwhile. Dialogue requires a deeper and longer commitment.
Have you recently attended a meet that reflected such a commitment and hosted dialogues? I would be happy to know how they did it.