Welcome To
Conferences That Work
innovative conference formats that reliably build
highly interactive, participant-led events,
leveraging attendee expertise and experience to
create exactly the conference that participants need and want.

"Simply the most productive conference I've been to."



Do you want to make your current face-to-face conference "can't miss" better, even as more and more content becomes available online? Are you wondering how to successfully start a new conference? Are your events suffering from falling attendance, evaluations, or profits? I can help!

I'll help you create engaging conferences around the learning your attendees really want and need. Conferences designed to build meaningful, mutually beneficial connections between participants. Conferences that help people work smarter and lead to action.

For over 25 years I've been designing and facilitating Conferences That Work: innovative, highly interactive, attendee-driven events that leverage attendees' expertise and experience to create just the conference that participants want. If desired, you can include traditional plenary sessions to create an event experience that will delight your attendees.

I consult on your conference (re)design, facilitate entire conferences, individual sessions, and session crowdsourcing, present regularly about participant-led and participation-rich events, and lead interactive workshops on participation techniques anyone can use to fundamentally improve their meetings and conference sessions.

I also offer three popular sessions—The Solution Room, The Personal Introspective, and The Group Spective—that provide powerful opportunities for participants to learn, connect, engage, and reflect at your event.

My 2009 book, Conferences That Work: Creating Events That People Love condenses 30 years experience designing, organizing, and facilitating conferences into an information-packed step-by-step guide to a proven design for creating productive conferences that people love.

My latest book, The Power of Participation: Creating Conferences That Deliver Learning, Connection, Engagement, and Action, is a comprehensive guide to participation techniques that increase learning, connection, engagement, and outcomes at any conference session.

Contact me today to set up a consultation.

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Peer Conference In Action

Recent Peer Conference Calendar Additions

  • 09 Feb 2017 - 11 Feb 2017: The Second Annual Meeting Design Practicum, Barcelona, Spain.
    Adrian will be participating in the Second Annual Meeting Design Practicum, an invitational event for meeting designers from around the world.
  • 20 Mar 2017 - 21 Mar 2017: Adrian workshop: Techniques for Turning Meeting Attendees Into Participants, Catalyst Ranch, 656 West Randolph Street #3W, Chicago, IL 60661.
    Adrian brings his expertise to the Midwest for this 1½ day workshop, a unique opportunity for you to: — learn how to make your conferences and conference sessions far more engaging and effective; — gain powerful meeting design insights; — significantly increase participation and satisfa

For more upcoming events >>>>


From The Blog:

December 5, 2016

Should presenter contracts include a no brown M&Ms rider?

vanhalenriderVan Halen‘s 1982 World Tour performance contract contained a provision calling for them to be provided backstage with a bowl of M&Ms from which all the brown candies had been removed. Although this sounds like a self-indulgent rock-group’s outrageous whim, there was a sound business reason for inserting this peculiar request in the depths of a 53-page contract:

“The M&Ms provision was included in Van Halen’s contracts not as an act of caprice, but because it served a practical purpose: to provide a simple way of determining whether the technical specifications of the contract had been thoroughly read and complied with.”
Brown Out, snopes.com

If the group arrived at a venue and discovered brown M&Ms present, they knew they needed to immediately check all contract stipulations — including important matters like whether the stage could actually handle the massive weight of the band’s equipment. Apparently, David Lee Roth would also trash the band’s dressing room to drive home the point.

Over the years I’ve contracted with hundreds of organizations for meeting facilitation and design consulting, and I’m starting to wonder if I need to adopt Van Halen’s approach.

For example, I have arrived at presentation venues to find, despite a written contract agreement to the contrary:

  • The room is full of furniture that prevents participants from moving around. “We didn’t realize it was important, and we need this room set for the session after yours.”
  • I can’t post materials on the walls. “Can’t you use some tables instead?”
  • Requested audio equipment isn’t available. “We couldn’t get you a Countryman/lav, but here’s a hand mike.”
  • The unobstructed free space is far smaller than what I requested or was told. “We needed a stage for the afternoon keynote.“/ “We decided to hold the buffet in the room.”
  • Fine-point Sharpies have been replaced by ballpoint pens. “Oh I see, yes, I guess no one will be able to read all the participant Post-Its at a distance. We’ll just have to make do.”
  • Projector resolution is not what I was told or requested. “Your slides will be a bit distorted, but I’m sure people will still be able to read them.”
  • Tables that were supposed to be covered with taped down white paper for participant drawings are still bare. “Kevin said he’d cover them, but we don’t know where he is. Surely it won’t take long; can you help us?”
  • Carefully diagrammed room sets have been replaced with something different. “Well, our staff have never set up curved theater seating before — it’s not on their standard charts — so they set the rows straight.”

It’s true that I’m not the standard-presenter-talking-from-a-podium-at-the-front-of-the-room — i.e. “Give me a room full of chairs and my PowerPoint and I’m all set!” Yet there are sound reasons for my, apparently to some, strange-seeming requests. Those contract provisions are not about making my life easier or more luxurious — they are needed to provide participants with the best possible learning, connection, and overall experience during my time with them.

I am well aware of the incredible demands made on meeting planners before and during events. I’ve had that role for hundreds of events, and know what it’s like. Things rarely go according to plan, and creative solutions need to be invented on the spot. No matter what happens, I always work with planners to the best of my ability to ensure that the show goes on and it’s the best that it can be under the circumstances.

What’s frustrating is that complications like the examples above can almost always be avoided with a modicum of planning — if meeting planners read and take seriously the contract terms to which they’ve agreed. I will bend over backwards to resolve pre-event concerns, but being hit with last-minute surprises is, at best, annoying, and, at worst, can significantly reduce the effectiveness of what I have been paid and contracted to do.

No, I’m not going to start trashing dressing rooms like David Lee Roth. (Full disclosure: nobody’s ever even offered me a dressing room.) But, folks, if you hire me, don’t spoil the ship for a ha’p’orth of tar. Please read the contract before signing it, ask me about anything you don’t understand or are concerned about so we’re clear about my needs and your ability to fulfill them, take my requests seriously, and, as the event approaches, keep in mind your commitments so they don’t get overlooked. I will appreciate your professionalism, and everyone — your attendees, you, and I — will reap the benefits.

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If it weren’t for the acceptance of well entrenched traditional conferences, I would think that peer conferences would be the only thing that people would consider attending—that is if they really cared about getting the most from the event.

— Pat Cook
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