Creating a Learning Environment

By Lain Ehmann

If you’re going to spend tens of thousands of dollars and hundreds of person-hours to plan and conduct a meeting, it doesn’t make sense to sabotage your own efforts. Yet that’s what many meeting planners unwittingly do, says Judy Sunvold, business development manager for the Continuing Education and Conference Center at the University of Minnesota’s College of Continuing Education.

Creating an environment that’s conducive to learning should be common sense, “but it’s not,” she says. Instead, meeting planners and presenters often make choices that actually make it more difficult for their attendees to get the most from the conference, says Sunvold, who’s coined the three Cs of learning-oriented meetings – comfort, conference services and clarity. Here are her recommendations.

1. Comfort. “The mind can absorb only what the rear end can withstand,” says Sunvold. In other words, if your attendees aren’t comfortable they’re not going to be paying attention to what’s going on. While you might be limited as to the types of seating and tables, you can make ensure people are given ample chance to stretch their legs, particularly if meetings last longer than one and a half hours. Keep the temperature in the room around 70 degrees and remind your guests to dress in layers, particularly if the outside climate is an extreme one. Also, don’t make your speakers compete against outdoor noises or the session next door. Walls and partitions should be thick enough to offer some level of sound proofing.

2. Conference services. One of your greatest resources is the venue’s staff, says Sunvold. Use their expertise in running meetings, keeping guests happy and operating audiovisual equipment to keep your proceedings operating smoothly.

3. Clarity. While you might not get to choose who is presenting material at the meeting, you can help guide the process. Suggest that presenters keep things simple. Just because you can incorporate 15 different font styles and colors in a PowerPoint presentation doesn’t mean you should. In fact, Sunvold urges presenters to pare things down while also including a joint visual and verbal learning environment. “Adults learn 30% of what they see and 20% of what they hear, but they retain 50% of what they see and hear simultaneously,” she explains. Make sure speakers have the chance to execute a complete run-through of their presentations, including A/V equipment.

While it is impossible to select options that will please each of your meeting attendees, you can make the best possible decisions by asking for feedback and incorporating suggestions in the next go-round, says Sunvold. “A lot of a meeting’s success comes from knowing your audience,” she says.

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