I have a confession to make. I’m a back of the room learner.
When I attend conferences, workshops, seminars, or training sessions, I like to sit in the back of the room. And I must admit, it’s a bit unnerving when I get called out by someone for sitting in the back of the room. I’ve been quiet on this topic for quite some time, but decided to share my thoughts.
It’s time for presenters, speakers, and trainers to stop calling out people who sit in the back of the room. There are a couple of reasons that people do it.
- They’re trying to be considerate. An attendee knows that their boss or a caregiver or their kids are going to call so they sit in the back of the room so they can quickly and quietly excuse themselves when the call arrives.
- They’re trying to help market the speaker. A participant wants to live blog or Tweet during the session so they don’t want others to be subjected to hearing them type.
But the last one, and IMHO the most important one, is that the participant is comfortable in the back of the room. And when they’re comfortable, they learn best. This makes the experience learner-centric (versus speaker-centric).
Now, I will fully admit that there are moments when participants need to realize that back of the room doesn’t mean anti-social. This is especially true during training, when there are activities and discussion. During a presentation, where the majority of the content is being delivered via lecture, where a person sits should be immaterial.
If the problem is that a presenter is in a large room and everyone is sitting in the back, that’s not the participant’s problem. Frankly, that’s the meeting planner’s issue. And, cajoling all of the participants isn’t the solution.
The reason I’m bringing this up is because people have lots of options when it comes to their learning and professional development. And professional development is expensive. Individuals want a valuable experience, which includes being comfortable. I’m not talking about comfortable just in the context of stretching the mind or learning something new. I’m talking about comfortable in terms of ease and relaxation.
In fact, it could be said that one of the best ways for individuals to embrace learning “uncomfortable” topics is from a place of comfort. Just something to think about as we approach spring conference season. Let people sit where they want. Hold them accountable for the content. (Thanks for letting me rant about it.)
Image of Sharlyn Lauby captured from the back of the room during the HR Florida Annual Conference.10