Derrell Jackson is a strategic education consultant for Herman Miller where he oversees the Learning Spaces Research Program, which assists educational and corporate institutions with informing the design of their future learning environments.
The “Sage on the Stage” model of presentation is alive and thriving at conference centers and meeting venues across the country: rows of chairs face the main stage, where “sages” impart their knowledge to an audience of eager listeners. This lecture-style of space design — still prevalent throughout academia and has been since medieval times — makes sense for keynote sessions where hundreds of attendees pack a room for high-profile speakers such as General Colin Powell (who, by the way, is quite entertaining). But it’s increasingly less relevant as events become smaller and more intimate (100 or less), and attendees and presenters alike seek more collaborative engagement.
Statistics justify this shift in settings and style. According to a recent study from the National Training and Learning Institute, learners only retain half (50 percent) of the information heard when discussing a particular topic among peers. The number increases considerably (to 75 percent) in interactive settings, where people are given the opportunity to put learning into practice. Lectures round out the bottom, indicating that just 5 percent of what is heard in lecture-style presentations remains in attendees’ memories once they walk out the door. Thousands of hours and millions of dollars are invested every year with the goal of designing impactful conference experiences. And as executive leadership continues to demand more measurable returns for all facets of business, clearly something needs to change.