In preparing for our Like Minds itinerary this year, I’ve been thinking again about how people learn and how events should help them learn. In particular, I’ve been thinking about a diagram I blogged about almost a year ago now:


This is the cone of learning by Edgar Dale, which says that we remember 10% of what we read, 20% of what we hear, but 70% of what we say and 90% of what we say and do.

This is great news for event producers, right? Because now all we need to do is get our attendees talking and they will start learning more.

Well, it should be great news, but it isn’t. Unfortunately, most events focus on people listening and they are unlikely to change this because we have adopted the view that the best events are those who have the most and best speakers. We don’t have the view that the best events are those which help you learn.

In Let Attendees be Participants, I discussed the major root of this being an obsession with new content. On Twitter we love the newest thing, and it is new content that really drives the Twitter ecosystem. No wonder then that when these same people get together in a room, it’s to hear more of the new stuff.

The reality is, however, that whilst events run in this way might have buzz and get more people along, they don’t help people learn. And ultimately, the only reason people go to the event is about association rather than learning. Essentially, these events become networking events rather than learning or thought leadership events.

I can’t emphasis this enough. Scientifically: if an event is just you listening to speakers, you aren’t learning, and they are ripping you off.

How To Talk

But enough doom and gloom and onto your thoughts and some creative room for us to brainstorm.

My question is this: how should we be talking at events?

At Like Minds Conference last October we did a 20 minute insight, and then we would ask the crowd to turn to the people next to them and discuss what they just heard. In addition, we have facilitators going around who sparked conversation and helped people reflect on the content.

Whilst this was certainly better than the panels that we’ve had last time, I think there is too much start-and-stop for people to really get into things.

What I want to try at our event is having a 2 hour session, during which we will have a number of 20 minute insights, a few interviews, and then time at the end to digest it and reflect the key learnings. But enough of me:

Your Leading Thoughts

  • When have you learnt the most at an event? Why did you learn the most then?
  • How do you think, as being someone in the crowd, you’d like to interact with content and talk?

Archived Comments

  • Armando Duran

    For me the best way to interact with content is by engaging in something that the people in the room participate to do something real that relates or focuses on the topic at hand. I think the best way to do this is by doing “Gamestorming” which is a way to interact, learn and brainstorm using simple games. Dave Gray from wrote a book about this and here is how he presents this as he spoke at UX Week:

  • Anonymous

    I comment ;)

    “How should we be talking @ events” is tough. Perhaps there is a hybrid digital + personal approach.

    Has Like minds considered assigning people to groups or teams to talk & collaborate? I’m 80% sure it’d be weird, but it’s worth “Gamestorming” on it haha.

  • Brian Driggs

    Of all the meetings and webinars I’ve attended, only two readily come to mind in practice. One was a presentation by Ajay Pangarkar on obtaining internal client buy-in, the other a recent team meeting here at work. The common thread: I spent (and spend) a considerable amount of time discussing the information with others.

    As a member of the crowd, nothing incenses me more than being read to by a presenter using PowerPoint slides as a crutch. Well, short of the people in the group busy doing other things on their laptops, but you know what I mean. Even so, being in a room full of strangers, the thought of being forced into near role play with complete strangers is a considerable obstacle to overcome.

    I really like your idea of “participations,” Scott. Audience engagement means more than asking “Are there any questions?” to palpable silence. How might presenters ease the group into the idea of small world interactions among audience members before throwing them real challenges for discussion?

  • Becky Cortino

    Great points and interesting stats, Scott.Something to be said about — ‘Walking the Talk.’

  • Paul Simbeck-Hampson

    Oooh… now you’ve got me all excited!

    Your absolutely spot on here Scott – your ‘scientific’ statement should be plastered at the entrance to every conference, tattooed on to speakers forearms’ and turned into a national hymn. Too Extreme? Ok, perhaps a little, but not as extreme as ignoring the point, which is, people do not learn from being talked to, told to, or stuck on courses where the relevance cannot be immediately demonstrated, used, discussed and ultimately shared. (And that should be tatooted on the other forearm!)

    I commented yesterday on a post by the infamous learning champion, Clive Shepherd – it was entitled ‘Laura’s learning cupcakes’ and I tried, with my dunkel humor, to express exactly what your getting at here, and indeed what we, in the informal learning world, have been going on about since the year dot. Here’s a link to the conversation >

    I’m about to leave for the UK to ‘speak’ at Learning Technolgies, a very proud moment for me considering the line up of thought leaders. When I designed my presentation I tried to include more than just words and volume. I want engagement and conversation, which with potentially a few hundred people, may seem a little ambitious, but applying the basic principles of creativity I hope to achieve that and much more.

    I’ll send you a link this week to the live virtual presentation, it’s on Thursday afternoon at 2.30pm and you can participate, and it would be great if you did and asked your network to join in to. You’ll all need to install a QR code scanner, such as Quickmark’s on your smartphones and then follow the instructions I give out.

    Ok, back to work – last couple of days, lots to do.

    Note: to self – read Scott’s posts more often and engage more! Cheers, my friend, inspiring as ever. PS, need some advice from you soon regarding mission spreading – will call you in the not so distant future ;) Auf wiedersehen!

  • Paul Simbeck-Hampson


  • Paul Simbeck-Hampson


  • Paul Simbeck-Hampson

    I thought this question on Facebook was worth transferring over here, it was in reply to the statement “Scientifically: if an event is just you listening to speakers, you aren’t learning, and they are ripping you off.”

    Eric Snyder: Hmmm… what does this say about the TED events, do you think?

    Paul: Same with any other event. Unless the cognitive wires are lighting up and burning brightly then scientifically the sponge will not hold the water very long… how to engage an audience so that they learn must include a form of interaction. Having said that, for each of us there are topics and talks that we will never forget, because it has such an impact on our personal motivations and those get stored in a special location, ie. the soul. A bit deep for a Saturday afternoon – but I’m hoping you follow, do click through to Scott’s post and see my comment too. Have a nice weekend Eric.

    I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on Eric’s question.

    Scott > check out Livefyre – (it’s the new Disqus – AWESOME, see this post on my site – – it’s real time conversation in comments with a gamification angle :) ) Let me know if you want to give it a whirl, I can get you a private beta. Cheers.

  • Mike Brown

    Interesting. I always contend that I rarely learn while I’m talking. I learn from others’ perspectives.