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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'm available for consultation 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 improve their conference sessions. I also offer two popular sessions—The Solution Room and The Personal Introspective—that provide powerful opportunities for participants to connect, engage, and learn 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.

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Recent Peer Conference Calendar Additions

  • 21 Sep 2016 - 24 Sep 2016: FinCon peer conference for personal finance media, San Diego.
    FinCon is a peer conference for personal finance media. 1,000+ of the best bloggers and financial minds around today participate to connect, learn to create compelling online content, and discover the latest trends in the world of personal finance. FinCon is an annual event with a dual mission:

For more upcoming events >>>>


From The Blog:

July 25, 2016

Ask Me Anything About Conference Panels—Annotated Video

I guarantee you will learn many new great ideas about conference panels from this Blab of my Thursday chat with the wonderful Kristin Arnold. I’ve annotated it so you can jump to the good bits . (But it’s pretty much all good bits, so you may find yourself watching the whole thing. Scroll down the whole list; there are many advice gems, excellent stories and parables, folks show up at our homes, Kristin sings, etc.!) With many thanks to Kristin and our viewers (especially Kiki L’Italien who contributed mightily) I now offer you the AMA About Conference Panels annotated time-line.

[Before I turned on recording] We talked about: what panels are and aren’t; the jobs of a moderator; panel design issues; some panel formats; and our favorite panel size (Kristin and I agree on 3).

[0:00] Types of moderator questions.

[1:30] Using sli.do to crowdsource audience questions.

[2:40] Panel moderator toolboxes. One of Kristin’s favorite tools: The Newlywed Game. “What word pops into your mind when you think of [panel topic]?”

[4:30] Audience interaction, bringing audience members up to have a conversation; The Empty Chair.

[6:00] Preparing panelists for the panel.

[9:10] Other kinds of panel formats: Hot Seat, controversial topics.

[12:00] Continuum/human spectrograms/body voting and how to incorporate into panels.

[13:50] Panelist selection.

[14:40] Asking panelists for three messages.

[16:30] How the quality of a moderator affects the entire panel.

[17:30] More on choosing panelists.

[18:30] How to provoke memorable moments during panels; Kristin gives two examples involving “bacon” and “flaw-some“.

[20:30] Panelist homework. Memorable phrases: “The phrase that pays“; Sally Hogshead example.

[23:00] Panelists asking for help. Making them look good.

[24:10] Warming up the audience. The fishbowl sandwich: using pair-share as a fishbowl opener.

[25:30] Other ways to warm up an audience: pre-panel mingling, questions on the wall, striking room sets.

[26:30] Meetings in the round.

[28:00] Kristin’s book “Powerful Panels“, plus a new book she’s writing.

[29:00] Pre-panel preparation—things to do when you arrive at the venue.

[30:00] Considerations when the moderator is in the audience.

[31:00] Panelist chairs: favorite types and a clever thing to do to make panelists feel really special.

[32:50] Where should the moderator be during the panel? Lots of options and details.

[36:20] A story about seating dynamics from the late, great moderator Warren Evans.

[37:50] The moderator as consultant.

[38:40] Goldilocks chairs.

[39:40] Adrian explains the three things you need to know to set chairs optimally.

[41:00] “Stop letting the room set being decided for you,” says Adrian, while Kristin sees herself as more of a suggester.

[44:40] When being prescriptive about what you need is the way to go.

[46:30] Ideas about using screens at panel sessions.

[49:00] The UPS truck arrives at Adrian’s office door!

[50:00] Using talk show formats for panels: e.g. Sellin’ with Ellen (complete with blond wig.)

[52:20] Kristin’s gardener arrives!

[53:40] American Idol panel format.

[55:20] Oprah panel format.

[55:50] Control of panels; using Catchbox.

[56:20] Ground rules for the audience.

[59:10] What to say and do to get concise audience comments.

[1:00:00] A sad but informative story about a panelist who insisted on keeping talking.

[1:03:20] The Lone Ranger Fantasy.

[1:04:00] The moderator’s job, when done well, is pretty thankless.

[1:05:30] How you know if a panel is good. (Features mind meld between Kristin & Adrian!)

[1:06:10] The end of the fishbowl sandwich.

[1:07:40] Room set limitations caused by need to turn the room.

[1:10:00] Language: ground rules vs covenant; “Can we agree on a few things?”; standing to indicate agreement.

[1:13:00] You can’t please everyone.

[1:14:20] Kristin breaks into song!

[1:15:00] Non-obvious benefits obtained when you deal with an audience’s top issues.

[1:15:50] Why you should consider responding to unanswered attendee questions after the panel is over.

[1:16:40] The value (or lack of value) of evaluations.

[1:18:00] Following up on attendee commitments.

[1:20:00] Immediate evaluations don’t tell you anything about long term attendee change.

[1:21:10] “Panels are like a Wizard of Oz moment.”

[1:22:30] “Panels reframe the conversation in your head.

[1:25:00] Kristin’s process that quickly captures her learning and future goals; her continuous improvement binder.

[1:26:40] Closing thoughts on the importance of panels, and goodbye.

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I’ve been reading your site often to gear up for our next conference. Always enjoy your posts!

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