Education or Entertainment: Does One Matter More to Meetings?

Should museums and other cultural institutions be more educational or entertaining? That’s a question one blogger posed recently. And it’s one that associations should ask about their meetings.

“Which is more important for cultural organizations: being educational or being entertaining?” That was the main question asked in a post on the Know Your Own Bone blog that I was pointed to by a colleague.

The truth is that providing education and entertainment are both important to our visitors—and knowing exactly how these elements contribute to the visitor experience may help inform future strategies and conversations.

In the post, Colleen Dilenschneider, chief market engagement officer at IMPACTS Research & Development, discusses the tension within organizations—in her case, museums and cultural centers—regarding the how to strike the right balance between providing an entertaining experience for visitors and an educational one.

One of her points: “Entertaining” is “a sort of dirty word” and often gets a bad rap internally since museums are mission-driven and have a goal to educate.

“The truth is that providing education and entertainment are both important to our visitors—and knowing exactly how these elements contribute to the visitor experience may help inform future strategies and conversations,” she writes.

Dilenschneider dives into data to look at how each aspect of the visitor experience contributes to overall satisfaction when a person visits a museum, zoo, aquarium, historic site, performing arts center, and so forth. She derives two takeaways from the data:

  1. Entertainment drives visitor satisfaction and re-visitation. “Education value influences only about 5 percent of overall satisfaction, whereas entertainment value influences more than 20 percent of overall satisfaction,” she writes. “In short, cultural organizations need to be at least somewhat entertaining in order to stay alive.”
  2. Education justifies visitation. When asked the primary purpose of their visit to cultural organizations, the top two answers given by respondents was learning something new or different, following by seeing something new or different. “This is a big deal, because it means that while the educational aspect of an organization’s mission may not necessarily bear extraordinary influence on how satisfied a visitor is during their onsite visit, it is thereafter recalled as a primary factor motivating the visit—and this is good news!” Dilenschneider writes. “It helps to reinforce the purpose of cultural organizations externally, underscoring our drive for social good.”

Now consider how these points apply to association meetings. It’s pretty easy to see the similarities.

Like cultural institutions, associations want to drive attendee satisfaction in the hopes that they’ll attend again. Sure, entertainment is one way to do that. But, like museums, they don’t want their conferences to lose their original educational purpose.

Another similarity is that learning something new is definitely at the top of the list of goals for meeting attendees. And I’d guess education probably matters even more at an association conference, considering that most attendees are there to boost their own professional development and learn new skills.

But, with these entertainment and education forces at play, associations may have to find ways for different aspects of their meetings to serve both needs. In other words, how can they add elements of “edutainment”?

Consider two examples I came across recently.

First, the American Academy of Physician Assistants will hold its National Medical Challenge Bowl this weekend during its Annual PA Conference.  More than 70 PA student programs from across the country will face off in a quiz competition in front of a live audience and answer questions on a variety of subjects, including microbiology, anatomy, emergency medicine, and surgery. Not only will it be entertaining, but participants and audience members will probably learn something new.

The second example is Snowsports Industries America’s On-Snow Demo/Ski-Ride Fest and Nordic Demo, which gives buyers and media the chance to test and compare more than 120 brands of skis, snowboards, boots, poles, helmets, and accessories on the mountain. The association holds the event immediately after its 2017 SIA Snow Show and Sourcing Snow. No better way to get your industry and members out there than by actually having people test their products in real conditions.

No matter your industry, Dilenschneider makes a great point at the end of her post that I think gets right to the heart of the strategy that association meetings need to take: “Successful organizations aim to make education entertaining. It’s not a battle, but a balancing act wherein fun and learning work hand in hand to make both visitors [or, in the case of meetings, attendees] and the organization better,” she writes.

Now it’s your turn: How do you strike a balance between entertainment and education at your meetings? Please share in the comments.


Samantha Whitehorne

By Samantha Whitehorne

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

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