Group Discussion

Talking Points: Why Group Discussion Is a Must for Meetings

A new study reveals that the number-one reason people attend face-to-face events is to take part in group discussion. While not surprising, that finding serves as a good reminder for associations to create these opportunities at their conferences. Here’s how some are doing it.

In case you needed another reminder about why your attendees decide to register for your in-person meetings, a new study by Imago shows that successful face-to-face events must include this type of learning format: group discussion and interaction.

Face-to-face communication is important in a business setting because it allows relationships to develop in a way that can’t be achieved by email and telephone conversations.

The study—titled “Does the Future Have Room for Face-to-Face Communication?”—surveyed 779 meeting organizers, attendees, and students. Close to 90 percent said that group interaction and discussion was the top benefit of meeting face to face in a learning environment, followed by 67 percent who said the top benefit was knowledge sharing.

“Amongst those who already attend and organize a meeting and the meetings and events organizers of the future, face-to-face communication is most preferred because it allows people to read facial expressions [and] increases interaction and understanding of the message,” said Emma Boynton, Imago’s head of sales and marketing, in a press release. “Most importantly, it creates an environment where people can learn rather than be taught. Face-to-face communication is important in a business setting because it allows relationships to develop in a way that can’t be achieved by email and telephone conversations.”

While the findings of this study are not surprising, I do think they serve as a good reminder that associations need to be thoughtful and deliberate in carving out time for group discussion and interaction during their conferences, whether during education sessions or at other times, and particularly for their introverted attendees who may be less inclined to start a conversation with strangers.

With that in mind, I figured it couldn’t hurt to take a look at how associations are being creative when it comes to group discussions at their events. (Hey, at the very least, it could be another idea to steal for one of your upcoming conferences.) Here are three I liked:

Share success. Everyone likes to talk about the wins they’ve had. For its 2016 Spring Institute Conference, the Michigan Library Association is playing off of that idea and is currently seeking submissions for a new networking event called “Cool Things My Library Does.” This quick and engaging session will give presenters an opportunity to showcase their brilliant ideas in a comfortable, small-group discussion format. MLA is calling it “a strolling poster session show-and-tell with props.” Examples may include unique collections, outreach programs, engaging services, or distinctive displays.

Maintain focus. Attendees sometimes like to get down into the weeds. With this in mind, the International Association of Medical Science Educators (IAMSE) will be offering Focus Sessions at its 2016 meeting. The purpose of these 90-minute sessions is to hone in on a specific topic in small-group, interactive discussion format. Attendance will range from 10 to 50 people.

Formats may vary. For instance, IAMSE says a session leader may arrange for the pros and cons of a particular issue to be presented by a mini-panel discussion. Or the group may be subdivided and be assigned certain tasks that are then shared during the last 20 minutes of the session. To make sure discussion happens, IAMSE says no more than one-third of the time is to be used for formal discussion.

Pick a mentor’s brain. It’s always nice to get a chance to be in the room and talk to someone whose job you one day aspire to have. At the Association of Climate Change Officers’ 2016 Climate Strategies Forum, the Women’s Climate Collaborative, an ACCO program, will host its first-ever speed-mentoring event. Participants will get to meet with a variety of experienced professionals from across sectors (11 mentors are signed up so far) in a small-group discussion format that will enable conversation and facilitate networking. The focus will be career development for female professionals who are working to address climate change.

What creative group discussion formats have you come across at meetings you either planned or attended? Let me know in the comments.

(Samuel Zeller/StockSnap)

Samantha Whitehorne

By Samantha Whitehorne

Samantha Whitehorne is editor-in-chief of Associations Now. MORE

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