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Bringing people together

September 29th, 2014 by Adrian Segar


In early 2010, at the first EventCamp, I discovered the wonder and power of meeting people face-to-face whom I had previously only met online. Perhaps the wonder is stronger for me than most, living in rural Vermont, 100+ miles from any city. Nevertheless, when I travel to a major metropolitan area these days and have a few hours free I try to bring people together.

This month I spent time in Chicago and a couple of trips to Washington, DC. Before the first DC jaunt, I sent an email out to #eventprofs and #assnchat acquaintances who lived in the area. KiKi L’Italien, Lindsey Rosenthal, Angelique Agutter, Alex Plaxen, Melanie Padgett Powers, and more met up for delicious hors d’oeuvres and drinks at a private home (thank you Libby O’MalleyNancy Pasternack!) and dinner in Alexandria Old Town.

In Chicago I met with Heidi Thorne & Anne Carey for a tasty lunch.

And last week, Maddie Grant, Jamie Notter, Alex Plaxen, Brian Davis, Gina Leigh, Monica Bussolati, Moira Edwards, Brian Volmuth, Lori WoehrlePamela Strother (and probably a few others whom I didn’t get to talk to) met up at The Rooftop at The Embassy Row Hotel (big thanks to Sarah Vining who sponsored our meetup!)

I love bringing people together in ways that work for them—in fact that’s my mission. So it was a pleasure to host these three casual meetups for event and association management professionals. What was amusing, however, was how often people thanked me for bringing them together. I had to laugh—here was a guy from Vermont facilitating connection between people who all lived near each other, people who could easily arrange to meet frequently. And yet…they didn’t.

Sometimes people need permission to connect. In this case, a small outside impetus was all that was required. An hour of my time to send emails out to my local connections, find somewhere to meet, and track/answer questions from those who were coming. No big deal. And I doubt it hurt my professional life to be a connector, an initiator for the enjoyable and interesting connections that subsequently occurred.

Yes, we’re all busy. But let’s not forget that our work in the event and association spheres is fundamentally about facilitating connection between others. And that should, once in a while, include ourselves—our peers—both known and new. So, pass it forward, my friends. Once or twice a year, send out some invites for a casual get together with your peers. It needn’t be elaborate or have a specific marketing focus; just meet somewhere for drinks or a meal. Publicize the event to your local network and welcome anyone who hears about it and wants to come.

You’ll be bringing people together. Who knows what the pleasant consequences will be?

Most meetings are small meetings

September 22nd, 2014 by Adrian Segar

small meeting 2328078954_a86f4d8f92_oMeetings industry publications seem to focus on “large” meetings. This is not surprising. Big meetings require big fancy venues, command big budgets, employ lots of meeting professionals, and can command high-price speakers and opulent spectacle. Though we don’t talk about it, being responsible for big meetings is implicitly higher-status than small meetings.

So I think it’s worth pointing out that, if you take a moment to check out hospitality data, it turns out that large meetings are the exception rather than the rule. For example, here are a couple of panelists at the August 2014 Hotel Data Conference quoted by Ed Watkins, Editor-At-Large of Hotel News Now, in this article:

“Faust [VP of Sales, Omni Hotels & Resorts] said the biggest change at Omni has been the growth of smaller meetings: 65% of the chain’s meeting business comes from groups that book 50 rooms or fewer at peak. At MGM Resorts, 80% of group business is 100 rooms or fewer at peak, and 62% is 50 rooms or fewer, Dominguez [Senior VP of Corporate Sales, MGM Resorts International] said.”

The Conferences That Work meeting format described in my 2009 book works well with meetings of up to a hundred people, (and I’ve shared ways to extend it to larger meetings in a free supplement, though you’ll need the book to fully understand the update.) But what hospitality data indicates is that for around 80% of the meetings held today, if you want a participant-driven and participation-rich conference, the book’s meeting design is all you’ll need.

Sure, we’ll always have large meetings for all kinds of reasons, and we’ll continue to enjoy the unique possibilities that big events can provide (despite some significant downsides). Just remember that the beautiful large meeting facilities prominently featured in meeting magazines may be what you and your clients lust after, but, most of the time, they aren’t what your clients actually need.

Photo attribution: Flickr user caribb

A caveat on working with human “Catalysts”

September 15th, 2014 by Adrian Segar

catalyst 4267237788_2cee555179_o

cat·a·lyst

/ˈkatl-ist/
noun
a substance that increases the rate of a chemical reaction without itself undergoing any permanent chemical change.

Nearly 200,000 people include the word catalyst in their LinkedIn profile. A catalyst is something that causes a change without being changed itself. For example, a gas or diesel car’s exhaust system uses a catalytic converter to reduce air pollution. The core catalytic components of the converter do not get altered or used up as they do their job.

In the competitive world of consulting, the word catalyst has become a synonym for change. Catalyst sounds sexy, mysterious, and—scientific! Not surprising then that it’s become a common marketing term for consultants. “Idea Catalysts”, “Strategic Catalysts”, “Creativity Catalysts”, “Innovation Catalysts”, and “Marketing Catalysts” abound.

But can you be a genuine catalyst—a person who facilitates change of some sort but stays unchanged in the process?

I don’t think so.

If you set yourself up as an unchangeable teacher or trainer who flies in, runs your box of process to change others in some way, and leaves unaltered, you are someone who is closed to learning while simultaneously advocating it to others. This is not congruent behavior.

I attempt to be open to learning as much as I can. I wrote my first book about participant-driven and participation-rich conference design after seventeen years refining the process first used in 1992. Four years later, I published an update that included many important improvements I’d learned from feedback and my own observations. Every conference I facilitate leads to more ideas; there will always be refinements to the Conferences That Work format for as long as I’m convening events.

In fact, if I ever run an event and feel that I haven’t learned something from it and been changed in the process, that will a sign that I’m losing my effectiveness and should consider doing something different.

I’m not sure that you can facilitate change effectively without being changed yourself—or, at the very least, being open to the reality that you may be changed.

So if you’re planning to work with someone who calls themselves a Catalyst, be cautious. They may be using the term as a synonym for change (like my friend Thom Singer who is certainly open to being changed himself), but alternatively, they may believe that they are true catalysts—they “have the answer”. The wisest and most interesting individuals I know are, despite their obvious expertise and experience, always open to learn from anyone and be changed in the process. These are the people with whom you may want to spend your time.

Photo attribution: Flickr user rustychainsaw

Sometimes words are not enough

September 8th, 2014 by Adrian Segar
Adrian, Cara and grandkids on the top of Castle Rock

Adrian, Cara, and grandkids on the top of Castle Rock

A family picture taken on an Adirondack peak. We made it!

What was the journey like?

I’m not going to attempt to tell you. You had to be there.

We live in a world full of explanations. Sometimes it seems that we should be able to explain everything with the right words.

And yet it’s so hard to convey what an interactive participant-centered event is like to someone who hasn’t experienced one. I’ve tried to explain to over a thousand people the power and value of the Conferences That Work meeting format. Some people “get it” right away. But a significant number remain skeptical, somewhat unconvinced.

I end up advising people they have to participate in a Conferences That Work event to truly understand what this kind of learning and connection can be like. When they do, 98 percent become converts. The most common comment on evaluations is: “I don’t want to go to traditional events any more.

Why does this happen over and over again? Perhaps it’s because we live in a world where people are led to expect “experience” as something produced by a minority and broadcast to a group: experience as entertainment. Somehow we ignore the reality that the most important learning moments in our lives invariably occur when we participate and connect via sharing with others. Entertainment is fine when we’re tired and want to zone out in front of the TV and watch a movie. But entertainment rarely leads to long-term learning, growth, and change.

I salute and appreciate the growing number of people who are willing to risk saying “Yes!” to an event experience they don’t understand. Eventually, perhaps, participant-driven and participation-rich formats will become the new normal for face-to-face events.

Until then, we need to remember that, sometimes, words are not enough.

A powerful question: Whom is your event for?

September 1st, 2014 by Adrian Segar

Who is conference for

A fundamental question frequently arises when I receive initial requests for conference or meeting designs, because it’s often not clear whom the event is expected to benefit:

Whom is your event for?

Read the rest of this entry »

How to sell me stuff right

August 27th, 2014 by Adrian Segar

Muster MeLibby O’Malley rocks. I haven’t met her (yet!) but she read my 2012 post A letter to event technology companies trying to sell me stuff and—wow!—actually took the time to figure out how to introduce me to her new product Muster Me in a way I would like.

A vendor who really listens and responds appropriately; how refreshing! Yes, the flattery doesn’t hurt, but Libby clearly made sure that the complaints in my post about the hundreds of event profession product and service pitches I receive each year were addressed.

This is the best product pitch I’ve ever received. Fantastic work Libby!

I am not endorsing her product (though the demo on the website worked fine for me) but I’m happy to reproduce here what she emailed me today, as an example of how to do selling right.

Here’s the text of Libby’s email: Read the rest of this entry »

A little humility leaves us open to learning

August 25th, 2014 by Adrian Segar

Every time I’m sure of something that turns out not to be true is an opportunity for me to learn.

To remember that I can always learn something new.

Now if only I could be less all-knowing more of the time…

Being Schooled: Inside a Conference That Works

August 19th, 2014 by Adrian Segar

edACCESS 2014 Roundtable“Mad blogger” Sue Pelletier of MeetingsNet has written an excellent article on her experiences at the four-day Conferences That Work format edACCESS 2014 annual meeting I convened in June.

Solution Room edACCESS 2014Sue, a veteran journalist, was there for the opening roundtable, peer session sign-up, The Solution Room, and even one of the 32 resulting peer sessions. Illustrated with great photos by Brent Seabrook Photography, Being Schooled: Inside a Conference That Works is one of the best descriptions I’ve read of the opening of a peer conference.

Recommended!

Photo attribution: Brent Seabrook Photography

 

Passive Programs Past Prime

August 18th, 2014 by Adrian Segar

Sleeping audience 12635014673_d06b960426_k

“Part of the art of making change happen is seeing which cultural tropes are past their prime and having the guts to invent new ones.”
—Seth Godin, Skinny, sad and pale

It took hundreds of years before standard medieval medical practices like blood-letting, exorcism of devils, spells, incantations, and a proscription of bathing were replaced by modern medicine.

Conference programming consisting of one person lecturing at many has been our standard meeting model for hundreds of years. One day I think we will look back on this tradition and marvel about how we could believe for so long that it was the best thing to do at meetings. Read the rest of this entry »

Becoming comfortable with silence at meetings

August 11th, 2014 by Adrian Segar

Silence is sexy 21686590_a821f3c026_oSilence during a meeting is often seen as something awkward and uncomfortable, something to be avoided. We may feel embarrassed and think “somebody say something!” Yet silence is often an essential tool for effective sessions at meetings, allowing participants to think before speaking, to notice feelings, and to rest and recharge. Facilitators need to be comfortable with silence, as it usually signals something important.

Read the rest of this entry »

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