New “Wow” Learning Formats for Your Next Meeting

By Al Rickard, CAE

When is the last time you introduced new learning styles at your major meetings?

Megan Denhardt, CAE, Senior Learning Consultant at ASAE and President of The Denhardt Group, believes the meetings industry is undergoing a paradigm shift in how it defines, plans and executes learning programs.

She talked about this in a session at the ASAE Springtime Expo called “Alternative Learning Formats That Wake and Wow Meeting Attendees.”

“People learn in different ways,” Denhardt declared, “and no one has a better learning style than anyone else. Some experts say there are as many as seven different learning styles; but it’s easier to narrow it down to three types of learning.”

She cited the example of one of life’s earliest lessons to illustrate learning styles, called “The Stove Can Burn You.”

  • Listening learners heard their mother, believed the information, and never touched a stove.
  • Seeing learners watched their brother touch the stove, and never touched it.
  • Experience learners touched the stove, but only once!

These styles suggest the types of programs you may consider for your meetings, and Denhardt offered these examples of alternative learning formats:

Point-Counterpoint Session – A technique used to present two different sides of an issue. It takes the form of a structured argument, with two people presenting their viewpoint in opposition to the other, hoping to persuade the audience to adopt one of them.

Design Thinking – In this format, a problem is presented to the audience, which breaks into small groups and answers specific questions designed to solve or address the challenge or problem.

Informal Chat – Leverage the meeting venue for unique settings that support learning and stimulate conversation. Consider chats by the fire, in cabanas at the pool, during spin classes, in early-morning exercise sessions, or in late-night dessert and coffee get-togethers.

Discussion Den – To fill in short windows of time such as during a break, set up a 20-minute themed conversation with a facilitator on a specific topic. It can be done in a meeting lounge set up near a high traffic area to attract people or in a separate room.

Snap Learning Spot – This can be a 30-minute session with just 1-2 speakers and a small group of under 30 people. Speakers can guide discussions centered on a particular theme such as personal development, ideas that worked, lessons from failure, etc.

Ignite Session – The “Ignite” name is trademarked so any session using this moniker needs to match the established format, which includes a series of speakers presenting for five minutes using 20 slides that automatically advance every 15 seconds. Topics can run the gamut but are usually connected to the life experience of the presenter.

Speed Solo – Designed to deliver content in a high-energy format with audience engagement, this session features a moderator plus four speakers who each give an 8-minute talk followed by a 4-minute discussion at tables. The moderator ties the pieces together and facilitates audience questions.

Micro-Coaching – One-on-one or very small group targeted learning or troubleshooting sessions that are ideal for people who want private help in a comfortable and safe setting. For example, these sessions could be used to assess marketing materials, get social media coaching, personal technology coaching, or career coaching.

Conversation Café – An informal bar-table setting for intimate peer-to-peer open learning involving 2-3 people at each table. Set up an area with several tables and a topic card on each one to start conversations. Include a few blank signs so people can choose their own topics.

Content-Sharing Marketplace – Set up similar to a poster session often used in exhibit halls, this is like a “reverse expo” where members showcase their work, learnings, successes, and award-winning campaigns. They can be set up during a reception or other casual gathering.

Reflection Zone/Un-Engagement Lounge – Sometimes attendees become over-programmed and need time to process content they have absorbed from your meeting. This lounge features comfortable furniture, softer lighting, and perhaps background classical music to help people relax and have a mini-retreat in the midst of a busy conference.

“Not all of these work for every audience or attendee,” Denhardt explained. “That said, a good balance and mix is important to support different types of learners and to help people create a customized experience for themselves. By providing a mix of offerings you help serve your audience and meet them where they are.”

Al Rickard, CAE is President of Association Vision, a communications company based in the Washington, DC area, and Director of Communications for

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