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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 »

How Conferences That Work support participants’ experience

August 4th, 2014 by Adrian Segar


A two-minute video of participants sharing their experience of Conferences That Work at Vermont Vision For A Multicultural Future, an annual conference on diversity, fairness and equity in the State of Vermont.

If you can’t sell it, you can’t build it. But.

July 28th, 2014 by Adrian Segar

Lego city 7373799876_60fc952ad6_k

Architecture students bristle when Joshua Prince-Ramus tells them that they are entering a rhetorical profession.
A great architect isn’t one who draws good plans. A great architect gets great buildings built.
Now, of course, the same thing is true for just about any professional. A doctor has to persuade the patient to live well and take the right actions. A scientist must not only get funded but she also has to persuade her public that her work is well structured and useful.
It’s not enough that you’re right. It matters if it gets built.
—Seth Godin, If you can’t sell it, you can’t build it

A great reminder from Seth, as usual.

But.

As a consultant you have no authority, only influence. And sometimes you will fail.

Even if you’re right and do an amazing selling job, sometimes you will fail.

Because sometimes it’s not about you, it’s about them.

If you can’t handle failure—having your great advice ignored—you won’t be consulting for long.

Photo attribution: Flickr user norio-nakayama

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