Why Adults Make the Worst Students #meetingproblems

By: Kaitlyn Hudlow


It doesn’t matter if you’re presenting at a small staff meeting, or at a conference with hundreds of people, we’ve all been there where you look out into the audience and you realize maybe about 20% of the people are actually giving you their undivided attention.

Before moving into association management, I spent the last several years as a teacher. I taught students from elementary school all the way to undergraduate studies at Florida State University. I made presentations at conferences, and faculty meetings. After all of my years standing in front of people, I can safely say that ADULTS MAKE THE WORST STUDENTS.

You’re probably thinking, “No way! Surely those high schoolers were worse than we are.” But you’d be sorely mistaken. Yes, the youth of America have a hard time detaching from their cell phones and everyday melodramas, but overall they understand that school is somewhere they have to be, and opt to make the most out of it.

Adults, on the other hand, are a little harder to convince. So what is it about adults that make them the worst students? And more importantly, how can we combat these issues to help make for a more engaged learning environment in a meeting or conference? Below you will find the answers to those pressing questions, and become one step closer to having a successful event.

Why Adults Make the Worst Students- Reason #1: They’re busy

We are all too aware that adults have a lot going on. We’re busy at work, and then we go home and have to deal with cleaning the house, picking the kids up from daycare, feeding the dogs, and the list goes on. Being an adult is hard. The last thing you need is to be wasting your precious time doing something you feel is unnecessary.

You’re probably wondering what any of this has to do with adults in a meeting. Let me tell you, it has EVERYTHING to do with how adults behave in a meeting.  If someone thinks they are wasting their time, they will instantly be thinking about everything else they could be doing with it. You’ll start seeing people balance their check book, make grocery lists, maybe even step out to make a phone call. I personally have been guilty of grading papers in the back of a faculty meeting, because it was the 4th meeting I had been to that day talking about the SAME THING (I figured I might as well do something productive!). To keep adults focused on the material at hand, you need to get them to understand that what they’re participating in is IMPORTANT; not just another chore.

In the beginning of the meeting, describe the purpose of the session and why it is necessary. Next, explain that you understand that everyone is busy, and that you’re not here to waste their time, but to enrich it. Now the next part is the hard part; you need to practice what you preach. Don’t waste their time, enrich it! Make your presentation no longer than it needs to be, and bring something new to the table (new ideas, new techniques, etc.).

If you keep things fresh, and acknowledge up front that you know their time is precious, adults are more likely to temporarily forget about everything else they have going on in the world, and focus on you.

Why Adults Make the Worst Students- Reason #2: They think they know everything

If someone is attending your meeting, there’s a good chance they’re industry professionals as well. This means that going in, there are always going to be those people who think, “They can’t tell me anything I don’t already know.” This is one of the hardest things to combat in a meeting. Credibility needs to be established immediately. Even if you’re making a presentation in front of peers with similar backgrounds, make your knowledge base known by referencing articles you’ve read, past experiences you’ve undergone, or any certifications or professional development opportunities you’ve taken advantage of. While you don’t want to come across as a “know it all”, you do want the attendees to see right from the beginning that you’re a qualified professional who will have them leaving the meeting with AT LEAST a new perspective on some old ideas.

Why Adults Make the Worst Students- Reason #3: They’re people too!

When you’re hungry, can you focus? I sure can’t! I just sit in the meeting quietly hoping that my stomach doesn’t shake the Earth as is grumbles with frustration. The last reason why adults make the worst students is a simple one; they’re people too! We all get hungry, we all get tired, and we all get bored. But if these things are such basic human reactions, how can we fight them? Here’s how:

Hungry: Have snacks and beverages available at your meeting. As a meeting planner, I understand that it’s not always so simple to say, “Ok we’ll get a gallon of coffee and some donuts”. At some hotels, that alone will cost you over $150! If you’re on a tight budget and can’t afford to have snacks for people to munch on during breaks, try hosting your meeting where there is a restaurant or vending machine nearby.

Tired: No one likes to sit in a meeting for 4 hours. NO ONE. If you know your meeting is going to be a long one, or if you look out and notice that you’re starting to lose everyone…don’t push through. Let everyone know that you see they’re looking a little tired, so you’re going to give them a 5 minute break to stretch their legs. This will be a great opportunity to not only wake everyone up, but also give them a chance to use the restroom, and make any phone calls if needed.

Bored: PowerPoint presentations are a great learning tool. However, so are pictures, videos, hands-on activities, demonstrations, and panel discussions. Too often meetings are made up of one educational medium. Think “differentiation”. Some people follow along well to a PowerPoint, some people get roped in more by videos, and others need to be a part of the action to feel invested. When preparing for your meeting, make sure to check and see if you’re using at last three different methods of delivering material. This will not only help people not to become bored, but also increase the level of understanding with your attendees.

There’s no doubt about it, adults are a hard group to entertain. Between everything they have going on in their lives, being industry professionals, and of course, being people, there are countless challenges that arise when trying to present in front of a group of grown-ups. However, with my years of experience in teaching, I’ve developed some tricks of the trade that I’ve found helpful, and hopefully you will too!


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