In my last column, I discussed the first three areas that form the foundation of the planning process: systems thinking, philosophy, and design. The next three disciplines strategic meeting professionals need to master are communication theory, adult learning, and theater.
Build a Story Communication theory refers to interpersonal communication (speaking and listening), with a specific focus on the arts of persuasion or rhetoric.
The best resource is Mortimer Adler's book How to Speak, How to Listen (1997, Collier Books, New York, N.Y.). All meeting professionals should pay attention to his first sentence: "How do you make contact with the mind of another person?"
I echo Adler's suggestion that we must know the art of rhetoric. Persuasive argument will help us to design meetings that meet their objectives. Adler refers to Aristotle's belief that successful persuasive argument rests on ethos (establishing character or credibility), pathos (arousing the passions of the listeners), and logos (the marshaling of reason). As you create meetings, think of using them as a vehicle to tell a story and build that story by constructing a progression of messages that: 1) establish credibility; 2) inspire the attendees; and 3) define your mission's logic.
Learn by Doing Adults learn differently than children, but the formats of our meetings usually don't reflect this. Adults learn best by doing, yet too often we conduct training based on the model of didactic lecturing we remember from childhood.
Both experiential and interactive learning are good models to follow for the adult attendee. They are not exactly the same: interactive learning would be asking an audience to answer questions, while experiential learning would draw on someone's direct experience. Two leading authors offer information on how to construct adult learning sessions for maximum impact: Malcolm Knowles, author of The Adult Learner (1998, Gulf Publishing Co., Houston, Texas), and David Kolb, author of Experiential Learning (1983, Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River, N.J.).
Lights, Camera, Action The last discipline in my communications trio is theater--the whole body of techniques we use to communicate on a large scale. One critical aspect is creating a feeling of intimacy. Attendees who feel like they are being spoken to as individuals will be far more motivated than those who feel like an anonymous face in the crowd.
Effective theatrical techniques include lights, which focus attendees' attention; sound, which brings the distant voice close up; media projection, which scales the distant image to one that is comfortably within view; and all forms of media such as video, film, slides, 3-D animation, and multimedia, that help us tell our stories. While meeting professionals needn't know how to create theatrical events, they must understand the application of theater technology.
1. Systems Thinking
4. The Psychology of Human Performance
6. Adult Learning (training and development)
8. Management and Leadership