One thing I have learned from teaching over the past six years is that if you want your audience to not only learn, but also remember what they learn, you have to make it memorable. There are many ways to do this – you can speak with passion, you can use humor, you can have catchy phrases and acronyms, you can even (heaven forbid) have a catchy PowerPoint presentation – but what you are saying and doing has to catch and hold the audience’s attention. In a way, it is education as theater, and it is particularly effective in an adult education setting where the distractions of emails and messages from the office are a constant challenge.
Last week I attended the NIRI Southwest regional conference in Ft. Worth and it reinforced my opinion that the Southwest regional conference is a better overall learning experience than the NIRI national conference. I have a variety of reasons for saying this, but for today I want to focus on the educational aspect of the Southwest regional conference. The national conference seems to be locked into a format that is heavily dependent upon panel discussions featuring panelists that are long on narrow technical expertise and short on speaking skills. This was true a year ago when I attended in Seattle and a quick review of the 2013 National conference agenda reveals that the vast majority of the sessions continue to be panel discussions. The result of many panel discussions viewed in quick succession is the verbal equivalent of Chinese water torture – many words delivered in a monotone, leading to eventual brain damage.
The Southwest regional conference, in the years when it has been organized by the Houston chapter, has broken from this mold. In 2010 and 2012 the conference featured a case study that forced attendees to work together and make decisions. They went beyond that and introduced several new formats to the conference this year. (Full and fair disclosure: I was on the conference planning committee, but due to my move back to Chicago, cannot claim much credit for the work of the planning committee.) In addition to the usual speakers and panel discussions, the conference introduced an interactive case study based on a real life example (featuring yours truly), a point - counterpoint style debate featuring practitioners discussing current hot topics in IR, an IR version of the dating game where IR officers try to convince an analyst to cover their company’s stock, and my favorite, three short (20 minute) TED style talks where people addressed issues near and dear to their hearts with passion and conviction. The result was a mix of information delivered in memorable fashion that consistently engaged the audience.
When you are in investor relations, a key element to what you do is communication. I can only hope that the National Investor Relations Institute takes note of how the Southwest regional conference is expanding the communication boundaries in order to help people remember what they learn at conferences and become better practitioners of investor relations. After all, isn’t what these conferences are all about?