DevLearn 2014: How to Lose a Guy in 10 Hours

A week and a half ago, I was very excited to head to Las Vegas for the eLearning Guild’s 10th annual DevLearn conference. I wrote a blog post wondering if I could find the equivalent of a soul mate when it comes to a single presentation that could capture my heart and set my imagination on fire.

I wanted a presentation that could “show me the ring” (because I really, really wanted to be engaged by this presentation). I wanted a pacifist type of presentation where bullets wouldn’t be used in the PowerPoint slides. I wanted a fearless presenter – confident in delivery and willing to take some risks, maybe even get the audience involved (and no, just saying: “I want this to be highly interactive, so make sure you raise your hand if you have a question” does not mean you’ve designed an interactive presentation!!).

By the end of the first day of the conference, I seemed to have chosen a string of sessions that broke my heart. Were my standards too high? I’ll let you decide. If Composure magazine was writing a “how to” column entitled “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Hours”, these are some of the strategies they would have written about:

  1. Talk about yourself. For an hour. I understand that real-life case studies and stories about how someone has overcome a problem are what make for good conference proposals. The problem is: your actual presentation isn’t about you. It’s about how you can help solve a problem or address a need for your audience. Spend some time setting the stage about what you’ve been able to accomplish… but don’t neglect an opportunity for discussion with the audience about how your lessons learned can be applied to their problems or needs.
  2. Use discredited information. If you’re going to talk about book clubs as a learning strategy, don’t use Three Cups of Tea as the central example for the success of your online program. The book has been exposed for containing lies and half-truths and the author has been thoroughly discredited as a reputable figure in the international development arena, making it harder for those of us doing good work in international development to gain the confidence of potential funders. This was a total turn-off for me.
  3. Take a “do as I say, not as I do” attitude. Several sessions offered “best practices” in elearning design… yet chose a lecture format by which to share those design elements. Why not model some of those best practices in person? One presenter lectured on the three basic learner needs in Self-determination Theory. One of those elements was “autonomy”. Why not model this element by asking the audience which of the three basic needs they wanted to know more about first? And then point out that this was an example of “autonomy”?

To be fair, there were several sessions which already have me thinking about ways to integrate ideas and concepts into my work, but I’d think twice before allocating professional development dollars for me or anyone else from my organization to attend this event in the future.

Anyone who has ever found a soul mate might be able to identify with the idea that they can be found in the most unlikely of places… the places you’d never think to look. At DevLearn, I was looking in the place I felt would be most logical: conference breakout sessions. The aspect of DevLearn from which I left most energized, most wanting to repeat again in the future however, was the opportunity to meet people I’d only worked with or interacted with online.

If you’re looking for some new people to follow via Twitter, I’d recommend these folks: Kirby Crider, JD Dillon, Brent Schlenker, Nicole Legault, David Andersen, Meg Bertapelle, Tom Spiglanin and Learning Rebel Shannon Tipton. Not only are they really smart and have good things to share via Twitter… they’re all pretty cool people, too!

4 thoughts on “DevLearn 2014: How to Lose a Guy in 10 Hours

  1. Hi Brian – I just posted a similar comment on Ajay’s blog –

    In essence I completely agree with your comments, and your’s wasn’t the only voice I heard stating the same thing as you are expressing. Where I take issue is there is certain amount of hubris that comes with certain L&D professionals who make the conference circuit, there is also an amazing amount of boredom that I get from some of the speakers. They are bored with their own subject matter, and that boredom becomes clear to the participants. I want to be at a session with the excitement about the content is palatable. Not just the speaker trying to subconsciously trying to sell another book or a service.

    There were several people I spoke with who were unhappy with the quality and content of some of the sessions of the most recent conference we all attended, my response was always the same. Did you tell someone? Did you complete the survey honestly? We need to do our part and just say no to:

    ~ Speakers who clearly have no interest in their audience and are only looking for their own ROI.
    ~ Speakers who are boring and uninspiring in their subject matter. They may be SME’s, but there’s a reason why SME’s should not be in front of group.
    ~ Hold sponsored sessions up to the same standard as others, just because they have given the conference a chunk of cash doesn’t mean they are any less responsible for the content they are deliverying.
    ~ There should be someone (secret shopper) who’s only job is to audit the sessions, and here’s the kicker, provide HONEST, unbiased feedback.

    Want to think outside of the box, outside of the status quo. Keep a live feedback feed up in the EXPO room. Open up PollEverywhere and ask 2 questions, “What are we doing well?” and “How can we improve?” Keep it up and live for however long the conference is – that will tell us all a thing or two (or three).

    Great post Brian, and hopefully others appreciate your honesty with this topic.

    • Thanks Shannon – I caught Ajay’s post earlier. Two sides of the same coin!

      For as much as we sometimes poo poo the Level 1 feedback after a session, I think this is an instance in which it could prove quite valuable for both the speakers and the meeting organizers. I think the eLearning Guild did a good job with their app and the concept of awarding points for completing the eval forms. Hopefully people took the forms seriously.

      In several of the Day 1 sessions I attended, the speakers were clearly uncomfortable in front of the room. And that’s ok – I enjoy learning from speakers who are authentic. I think some of the speakers may have just needed a little help in designing their presentations (someone to say: don’t use Three Cups of Tea as your example or someone to say: why not involve your audience a little more here…).

      Every presentation can be engaging… as long as the speaker intentionally plans for engagement. I think it was that intentional plan/design that was missing.

  2. Great post Brian! I wasn’t at the conference but I’ve seen what you describe at other conferences. I especially resonate with your points about the purpose of the presentation being to help participants solve a problem or meet a need and modeling what we are teaching. How can we expect to “sell” best practices if we don’t do them ourselves? I’m doing a curriculum design training for a client next month and I’ll be listing your blog in the participants’ packet as a resource for great advice for instructional designers. Thanks for what you do!

    • Thanks Tracy. I *get* that this was more of a tech conference, and it focused on elearning… but why not bring the concepts that you’re talking about to life in the classroom?

      I totally understand how busy people are and how difficult it is to get up in front of people to present… and at the same time, if you’re going to get up in front of people to present, you’ve inherently accepted the responsibility of making it an engaging experience.

      Thank you so much for including this blog in your resources section!!

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