Friday, April 01, 2005

Chris Corrigan on Improving Conferences

The always delightful and thought provoking Chris Corrigan posted a bit on Improving conferences. I've pulled a few snippets. Read the whole thing!
Prompted by posts by Johnnie Moore Ton Zylstra and David Wilcox, I've been thinking about how we might improve conferences.
  • "As a facilitator of Open Space Technology and other large group processes, I offer clients ways of radically transforming conferences to make them highly productive. But these meetings require changes in expectations and frames of reference that are sometimes too much for a client to go on....I would argue that this degree of change is EXACTLY what is required to move to another level..."
  • "Traditional conferences with plenary sessions, speakers and power points are a huge missed opportunity in most cases. ...In almost every case, attention to logistical detail generally ignores attention to process."
  • How do we make the most of the opportunities...First...contextualize each person's reason for being at a conference. If you can take time to come to a conference prepared with questions and invitations and learning objectives for yourself, you will bring built-in filters to the hoards of information and options provided by most conferences.
  • Second, good conferences have easy ways of connecting people.
  • Finally, conferences find their power when we can provide opportunities for real and intentional dialogue and conversation. It is a cop-out when conference designers place this critical function at the mercy of coffee breaks, question and answer sessions and "networking events." ...Serendipity has its place and these unstructured processes are powerful opportunities, but they are made more powerful by being offered with intention."
Next, Chris moves to some specific ideas.
  • ...responding to Ton's idea that maybe we can import Open Space elements into conference setting, I have been toying with the idea of what I am calling "keynote facilitation."
  • The keynote facilitator combines the attention and energy of a keynote address with the process care of a facilitator... as a keynote facilitator I help to set the context for your own learning, and guide process that invites you to turn to those in the room and begin to craft innovation together in collaborative conversation.
  • I have been using World Cafe as a process for doing this ... and I believe that it does provide added value for participants who are able to get quickly deeply into the issues and questions they face.
  • With the hour or so assigned to traditional plenary keynote speakers, I can have a conference of people talking to one another, creating connections and seeking out partners.
  • Supporting that conversation during and after the conference is the challenge, and that is one that my friend Susan Neden in Saskatchewan has taken up with her Conference Quest software which supports conference attendees as learners on a journey, or a quest for a nugget or two of knowledge and innovation that might change everything about how they do business.
Here are a few more things I'd consider:
  • How do we bring the power of visuals and music into the service of our learning/working together? Graphic facilitation, performance as metaphor and unlocker of different ways of thinking and perceiving and as ways to help us use our brains in the concentrated experience of a conference.
  • Venues that support our new conference ideas, from the ease of rearranging a room, great walls for posting flip charts and graphing to places where communal meals are part of the experience - sound for conversation, size of tables, ease of moving around, internet( wifi).
  • Ways for us to cross this chasm about our power and responsibility as participants - the trick of when we pay someone else, how we expect them to do everything which really only cheats ourselves. Which leads to...
  • Transparency on costs, partcularly when participant participation is central. Value is a tricky issue here that crosses both the lines of affordability for any individual and our sense of what is of VALUE!
Other ideas?


Blogger Jon Garfunkel said...

Nancy-- here's a suggestion that I had for conference lectures: BackChannel Conferencing, which can organize an IRC back-channel to help queue questions for the speaker, and also allow some questions to be offloaded to others.

6:33 PM  

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