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Ask Me Anything About Conference Panels—Annotated Video

July 25th, 2016 by Adrian Segar

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.

Ask Me Anything About Conference Panels — Thursday, July 21, 4-6 pm EDT Blab!

July 19th, 2016 by Adrian Segar

ephh AMA ABout Conference PanelsDo you dread having to listen to one more boring panel? Have you been asked be a panel moderate or panelist, and wonder what to do? Do you want to learn how to make conference panels much, much better?

Then we’ve got a Blab for you!

After the success of our Ask Me Anything About Event Production Blab, I’m happy to announce we are running an Ask Me Anything About Conference Panels Blab this Thursday, 4 – 6 pm EDT on my weekly #Eventprofs Happy Hour (#ephh) with special guest Kristin Arnold.

Hailed by MeetingsNet as the “Panel Improvement Evangelist”, Kristin is on a crusade to make ALL panel discussions more lively and informative. She’s the author of Powerful Panels: A Step-By-Step Guide to Moderating a Lively and Informative Panel Discussion at Meetings, Conference and Conventions, and has been moderating panel discussions for over twenty years. Among her other talents, Kristin has presented to over half a million people around the world, and retired from the US Coast Guard Reserves in 2002 as a Lieutenant Commander! Learn more about Kristin here.

Kristin & I have more than a few opinions on conference panels. But we want yours too! Join the Blab at any time to ask questions, share your thoughts—and I might invite you to join us on the video stream. Expect a lively discussion and a lot of good information and ideas!

To be reminded when the Blab begins, go here and click Subscribe. The same URL will take you to the Blab once we’re live.

Never joined a Blab before? Here’s a good introductory Blab tutorial. Kristin & I look forward to your joining us on Thursday!

Panels as if the audience mattered

July 18th, 2016 by Adrian Segar

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I’m in San Antonio, Texas, having just run two 90-minute “panels” at a national association leadership conference. I say “panels” because at both sessions, the three “panelists” presented for less than five minutes. Yet after both sessions, participants stayed in the room talking in small groups for a long time—one of my favorite signs that a session has successfully built and supported learning, connection, and engagement.

You may be wondering how to effectively structure a panel where the panelists don’t necessarily dominate the proceedings, letting attendees contribute and steer content and discussion in the ways they want and need. There’s no one “best” way to do this of course, but here’s the format I used for these two particular sessions.

Session  goals
Each session was designed to discover and meet wants and needs of the executive officers and volunteers of the association’s regional chapters’ members in an area of special interest. The first session focused on a key fund-raising event used by all of the participants, while the second covered the more general topic of chapter fundraising and sponsorship.

Room set
Room set has a huge effect on the dynamics of a session. Previous sessions in our room had used head tables with table mikes and straight row theater seating (ugh; well, at least it was set to the long edge of the thin room.) I had the tables removed, the mikes replaced with hand mikes, and the chairs set to curved rows with plenty of aisles so that anyone could easily get to the front of the room to speak (see below).

Welcome and a fishbowl sandwich
After a brief welcome and overview, I began a four-chair fishbowl sandwich format, which turns every attendee into a participant right at the start, and ensures that they end participating too. Check the link for a description of this simple but effective way to bring participation into a “panel”, and to understand how fishbowl allows control over who is speaking by having them first move to a chair at the front of the room.

Body voting
Next, I used body voting, to give participants relevant information about who else was in the room. For example, I had everyone line up in order of chapter size, so people could:

  • discover where they fit in the range of chapters present (from 80 to 2,600 members);
  • meet participants whose chapters were similar in size to their own; and
  • give everyone a sense of the distribution of chapter sizes represented.

Additional body votes uncovered information about:

  • revenue contributions from dues, events, and sponsorship;
  • promotional modalities used;
  • member fees; and
  • other issues related to the session topic.

I also gave participants the opportunity to ask for additional information about their peers in the room. This is another powerful way for participants to discover early on that they can determine what happens during their time together. I used appropriate participatory voting techniques (see also here, and here) to get answers to the multiple requests that were made.

Panelist time!
Several weeks before the conference, I scheduled separate 30-minute interviews with the six panelists to educate myself about the issues surrounding the session topics and to discover what they could bring to the sessions that would likely be interesting and useful for their audience. After the interviews were complete, I reviewed our conversations and determined that each panelist could share the core of their contributions in five minutes. So I asked each panelist to prepare a five-minute (maximum!) talk that covered the main points they wanted to make.

During the first session I brought up the panelists to the front of the room individually. As each panelist gave their talk, I allowed questions from the audience, and, as I should have expected, each panelist’s five minutes expanded (by a few minutes) as they responded to the questions. So for the second session, I tried something different. All three panelists sat together with me, and I asked the audience to hold questions until all three had finished. Each panelist gave a five-minute presentation, and then I facilitated the questions that followed.

In my opinion, having only one panelist at the front of the room at a time creates a more dynamic experience. But on balance, I think the second approach worked better as there was some overlap between what the panelists shared, and when questions ended there was a more natural segue to the next segment of the session.

Fishbowl
At this point we switched to a fishbowl format. I had the panelists return to front row audience chairs, from where they could easily return to the “speaking” chairs. (They were frequent contributors to the discussions that followed.) I identified some hot issues, listed them for participants, and then invited anyone to sit in one of the three empty front-of-the-room chairs next to me to share their innovations, solutions, thoughts, questions, concerns, etc. Anyone wishing to respond or discuss joined our set of chairs and I facilitated the resulting flow of conversation. Some of the themes I suggested were discussed, but a significant portion of the discussion in both sessions concentrated on areas that none of my panelists had predicted.

The capability of fishbowl process to adapt to whatever participants actually want to talk about is one of its most attractive and powerful features. If I had used a conventional panel for either session, much more time would have been spent on topics that were not what the audience most wanted to learn about, and unexpected interests would have been relegated to closing Q&A.

Consulting
During my opening overview of the format, I explained that we might have time for some consulting on a participant’s problem towards the end of the session. We didn’t have time for this during the first session — given a break, we could have probably taken another hour exploring issues that had been raised — but we had a nice opportunity during the second session to consult on an issue for a relatively new executive officer.

Another option that I offered, which we didn’t end up exploring in either session, was to share lessons learned (aka “don’t do this!”) — a useful way to help peers avoid common mistakes.

Closing
With a few minutes remaining, I closed the fishbowl and asked participants to once again form pairs and share their takeaways from the session. The resulting hubbub continued long after the sessions were formally over, and I had to raise my voice to thank everyone for their contributions and declare the sessions complete.

When an audience collectively has significantly more experience and expertise than a few panelists — as was the case for these sessions (and a majority of the sessions I’ve attended during forty years of conferences) — well-facilitated formats like the one I’ve just described are far more valuable to participants than the conventional presentations and panels we’ve all suffered through over the years. Use them and your attendees will thank you!

At the conference sessions I design and facilitate, everyone is “up there” instead of “down here.” Yours can be too! To learn how to build sessions that build and support learning, connection, and engagement, sign up for one of my North American or European workshops.

Bruce Eric Kaplan cartoon displayed under license from The Cartoon Bank

The Next Best Thing

July 11th, 2016 by Adrian Segar

Best furniture 18549017990_ae707a8a0d_k

“Best” is context-specifica matter of opinion, and transitory.

When we use “best” dishonestly, we ignore one or more of these realities. We appeal to status, implying that our “best” thing is absolutely best, transcending environment, viewpoint, and the passage of time.

Claiming the highest status for our “best” thing preys on our audience’s fears by offering a simplistic solution. “Believe us, buy this, and Bingo! You can stop worrying that you might have made a mistake!”

Sure, when aware of environmental and personal context, it’s fine to make an in-the-moment judgment that some thing or course of action is the best of multiple alternatives (be sure there are at least three!) We do this all the time.

But when we simply slap on a “Best” label we are selling comforting feelings disguised as our product or service.

In addition, believing that we have or are the best does ourselves a disservice. We will focus on “best” practices instead of next practices. Consequently, we may maintain the status quo, but with the danger that at any time a competitor could make our “best” second best.

Ultimately, what’s important is to continuously strive to be the best, not for the sake of being best, but from a genuine desire to provide the best value / outcomes / opportunities for one’s organization or clients. Rather than feeling proud under the illusion that you are the “best”, work to be proud of your own efforts and achievements (including the learning that occurs when things don’t go according to plan or you take a risk that doesn’t pan out.)

Live with the knowledge that “best”, while well worth pursuing, is a moving fluid target. Remember, there will always be a next best thing.

Photo attribution Flickr user thomashawk

Lessons for #eventprofs from an improv and mindfulness workshop — Part 2

July 5th, 2016 by Adrian Segar

MPPMcomposite

More of my experiences and takeaways for event professionals from the wonderful five-day improv and mindfulness workshop Mindful Play, Playful Mind, held June 8-13 2016, at Mere Point on the beautiful Maine coast — followed by their relevance to event design (red). (Here’s Part 1.)

The YOU game
In the YOU game, participants stand in a circle and create — by saying YOU and pointing to someone — patterns of categories, such as people’s names or breeds of dogs, around the circle. (Detailed description & instructions can be found here.) When you have several different patterns going around simultaneously, things get hectic. When we add people moving to the next person’s place in the pattern while playing, things get…demanding! The game vividly drives home this golden rule: When communicating, make sure that your message is received! When everyone successfully implements this rule, the YOU game flows despite complexity. And when we slip up, the patterns mysteriously disappear…

Successful event professionals learn the importance of this golden rule early! Another way to think about and practice this rule is the ask, tell, ask formulation.

Status
I have written about status in both my books, as it’s an important aspect of event design—and improv. At the workshop we played several improv games that explored status and allowed us to practice taking status roles and working to change our own or other’s status. One example was a two-person scene played over and over again with the same dialog:

Player 1: Hello.
Player 2: Hello.
Player 1: Been waiting long?
Player 2: Ages.

Each player had the option to choose their original status and then work to raise or lower their own or the other player’s status. Status is affected by qualities of body stance, control of space, speech, and interaction, and it’s something that I would like to be more aware of in my life. As a facilitator, I typically work to equalize status with people with whom I’m working, but, programmed by my upbringing, I also have a tendency on meeting new people to default to lower status until I know them better. Improv status work helps me become more aware of such proclivities.

Ted also introduced us to Patsy Rotenburg’s Second Circle model of communication and connection, which maps in many ways onto improv status work. Worth checking out!

If you’ve read my books or this blog you know that I am a proponent of replacing traditional preordained status at events with a peer model where individual status can and does change moment to moment. Such participant-driven and participation-rich events provide a fluid-status environment that supports leaders and experts appearing and contributing when appropriate and needed. 

Building things together
One of the most wonderful things about improv is the opportunities it gives us to experience what can happen when we build something together with others, something that is a true joint creation that would have been different if any one of its creators had not been present. Improv games provide an environment of mutual support, where players add to what’s currently been created. The addition can be of more detail or deeper focus on some aspect, but the whole glorious edifice only increases in size and complexity over time.

Many improv games provide this experience. One that we enjoyed a lot was three-words-at-a-time poems. We wrote group poems, our only instruction being to read what we received and add to it in a way that seemed true to what had already been written. Sitting in a circle, equipped with a piece of paper and pen, each of us wrote the first three words of a poem and then passed our paper to the next person in the circle who wrote three more words and passed the paper on again. Our papers circulated twice around the circle, with the starter of each poem contributing the last three words.

Here’s one we created together:

The Dinner
The cold lasagna sat on the white stool.
Uneaten, unloved.
Unlovable.
No cheese?
No noodles?
No meat?
No because too much.
VEGETABLES!
The guests departed, deflated, never to return to my sugarless, soulless party.
My hungry friends
Even hungrier for the lost moment
Of Italian goodness lingered beside
White plates and glasses.
Never host again.

I think the most satisfactory experiences I have designing, producing, and facilitating events occur when every person involved in the event contributes creatively to making the event what it becomes. It feels darn good to be part of something wonderful that an entire group of people made possible through their individual work.

Conclusions
Our five days together passed swiftly. Throughout our time together we had moments of play, joy, seriousness, sadness, intimacy, fun, learning, and much laughter. I love workshops like this, because they offer and support a unique experience for each participant—prescribed learning objectives are refreshingly absent, though I am sure that each person (including Ted and Lisa) took away something personally meaningful, valuable, and probably important. I have only covered some of what I experienced and enjoyed, and recommend Ted and Lisa’s skillful, supportive, and empathetic workshops to anyone who wants to explore the wonders of improv and mindfulness in a community of not-long-to-be-strangers.

I plan to be back next year; please join me!

P.S. Ted & Lisa’s excellent Monster Baby Podcast just published David Treadwell’s interview with Ted & Lisa, which was recorded during the workshop. They explain “why they offer these retreats, what the weekend usually covers, and how improv skills can lead to a better life. They also consider what keeps people from such ways of being in their normal lives and when they themselves can get into the “no” mode. David asks about how the retreat can help teachers, business professionals, and those in personal relationships before getting into the rewards and challenges of leading such retreats. Ted and Lisa offer a few specific examples of the kinds of exercises they offer and the podcast closes with a few short testimonials from this year’s participants. And if you keep listening past the apparent end, there’s a hidden bonus track improvised performance from Ted and Lisa!”

Ask Me Anything About Event Production—Today! (June 30, 4-6pm EDT)

June 30th, 2016 by Adrian Segar

Today (June 30) from 4 – 6 pm Eastern Daylight Time I’m hosting an Ask Me Anything (AMA) about Event Production with A/V production professionals Brandt Krueger, Christopher De Armond, and Patrick Brochu. Between them, these three guys should be able to answer just about any question you have about event production. So, if you’re wondering how to contract wisely for A/V services, whether those line items for a cyc & fresnels are legitimate, why you need a 24-channel mixer, what kinds of insurance you need, or have any A/V production related questions, this is your chance to get great advice about event production from knowledgeable professionals.

Unlike our usual weekly #Eventprofs Happy Hour (follow @epchat or #ephh), where we use Google Plus Hangouts, our AMA will be hosted on the group video-conference platform Blab, making it open to anyone with the URL (see below). The only thing you’ll need to do to interact with our experts is to be logged in to your Twitter account, otherwise you’ll be restricted to lurking anonymously. If you haven’t used Blab before, here’s a great introductory Blab tutorial.

We’d love you to join us! Subscribe to the Blab in advance (you’ll get a notification when it starts), and/or join us here.

Lessons for #eventprofs from an improv and mindfulness workshop — Part 1

June 27th, 2016 by Adrian Segar

AdrianAndNancyAtMPPMImprov

You had to be there. In this case, “there” was a wonderful five-day improv and mindfulness workshop Mindful Play, Playful Mind, held June 8-13 2016, at Mere Point on the beautiful Maine coast. In this two-part article I’ll share a little of my experience and takeaways, followed by their relevance to event design (red).

How I got there
Although most people think of improv as a form of entertainment, I am fascinated by my experiences of improv as a tool for better living. As Patricia Ryan Madson, a teacher of both workshop leaders, says: “Life is an improvisation.” In addition, I’ve been working for over 40 years (with erratic focus and success) on practicing mindfulness in my daily life. So, when I heard in 2015 that Ted DesMaisons and Lisa Rowland, with whom I’d spent three days at a 2012 beginner’s improv workshop in San Francisco, were offering a workshop on improv and mindfulness, I badly wanted to go. Although that opportunity had to be passed up—PCMA made me an offer I couldn’t refuse: facilitating the 2015 PCMA Education Conference—I made it to the 2016 workshop.

I’m glad I did.

Where I came from
I became interested in improv after short experiences in various workshops during the last 15 years. After a three-day introductory workshop at BATS, I attended two four-day Applied Improvisation Network World Conferences (San Francisco 2012 and Montreal 2015). In Lessons From Improv, and other posts I’ve shared how improv shines a powerful light on core practices that improve events. Saying Yes to offers can allow amazing things to happen at conferences, Being Average improves our creativity by focusing on the possibilities inside the box, and Waking Up to the Gifts makes the importance of public and specific appreciations at events obvious.

Looking back, I’ve only one post about mindfulness. Not because it’s less important, but because I find mindfulness hard to write about.

The content and process of Mindful Play, Playful Mind was so rich that I’ll cover only a fraction of what one might learn from participating: the fraction that especially resonated for me at this time in my life. Here goes…

Practice
One of the key gifts I received from the workshop was the gift of practice of improv and mindfulness.

The principles of improv, though easy to grasp, require practice to master. I’m far from mastery. The first time I worked with a fellow participant in a simple game, Ted and Lisa gently pointed out that I blocked her first two offers (saying essentially “no, not that” to what she had suggested about my character and motivations). I noticed that I sometimes say “no” to perfectly appropriate ideas. Improv doesn’t mean accepting anything anyone says to you; rather it is a way to expand a world of possibilities that one might otherwise reject. Practicing saying “yes” over our five days together helped me be more open to saying it in my life.

Each morning, Ted led us thought an hour of movement and meditation. During the last ten years, I have had a rather, well let’s just say, sporadic mindfulness practice, consisting of yoga several times a week and meditating whenever I feel moved to do so. On the fourth morning of the workshop, I was so aware of the benefits of daily practice, I determined to start each day henceforth with yoga and meditation. This decision was a surprise to me, and may well turn out to be the most significant change in my life that I’ll directly ascribe to this workshop. We’ll see.

After we have grasped the basics of event design, mindful practice is how we improve: better at noticing what happens and learning from it, more focused on the present, and less distracted by our ego. Improv practice increases our creativity in dealing with the unexpected (turning broken eggs into omelets), makes accepting offers (of assistance and opportunities) easier, and helps us to work better with and support collaborators.

Being appreciated
It was a surprise to me to find during the workshop that I still short-change appreciations from others. I was taught at an early age to feel embarrassed by compliments, applause, or thanks, and, though I’m better able to accept these things nowadays, I still feel a certain reticence at accepting these positive affirmations.

Providing private and public appreciations to those who make our events possible is incredibly important. Accepting such appreciations as offers of love, connection, and support is equally important.

GroupPhotoMPPMImprov

Workshop participants with Ted DesMaisons (beard) and Lisa Rowland (scarf)

Creating connection with others
Although I had previously spent time with workshop leaders Ted & Lisa, I had never met my fellow participants before. All nine of us spent five days living, playing, and working together. We stayed in an old family home overlooking a stunning Maine estuary, and ate meals together. One afternoon we hiked together over Morse Mountain to Seawall Beach. Our workshop was held either outside or in the Mere Point Yacht Club next-door 😀.

2016-06-09 14.37.34

By the end of our time together, I got to know Ellen, Nancy, Nahin, Ellena, Wendy, and Everlyn better in some ways than our Vermont neighbors (and friends), with whom we’ve shared a driveway for over thirty years. The improv and mindfulness exercises we experienced together allowed us to help each other learn and grow, in ways that we will likely never fully know.

Well-designed events can change peoples’ lives through the connections we make during them and the learning and changes that result. What an amazing responsibility and opportunity we have!

There’s more! Read Part 2!

Who owns your event?

June 20th, 2016 by Adrian Segar

owner appreciationWho owns an event? The usual answer to this question is “the event’s sponsors”, i.e. the people and organizations that decide to hold the event and contribute the resources needed for the event to occur. Sponsors typically define the context, format, scope, and desired outcomes of an event, so they are clearly key candidates to be considered as owners.

But I think there are other plausible answers to this question.

Increasingly we are moving to event models that make participants generators of event value. Conferences that leverage all the expertise in the room, rather than the contributions of a few experts. Meetings that become what the participants want and need them to be, autofocusing on the topics and questions that are of genuine relevance, rather than sessions predefined six months in advance.

Yes, sponsors define an event’s boundaries and make it happen (for which we should all be grateful). But at participant-driven and participation-rich meetings, the shaping and contributions that participants provide are crucial for the event’s success. Without this input, such events are worth very little, so isn’t it fair to say that, under these circumstances, the participants are owners of the event as well?

And there’s another way to think of event ownership. As facilitator Dan Newman points out:

“…participants enter an event owning practically nothing, but they come out the other end owning a powerful experience constructed of things they’ve seen, heard or heard themselves say.”
—Dan Newman, From the Front of the Room: Notes on Facilitation for Experienced Practitioners

If we think of an event as the thing that happened between the moments when the first attendee arrived and the last person left, we are ignoring the changes in the knowledge, viewpoints, and connections, and the subsequent outcomes that the event created. The participants not only own their event experience, but also the consequences of their participation. The changes that result loop back on the event’s sponsors, influencing their future choices. Thus, participants are event owners because, to some extent, they control what happens next.

To conclude, I like the idea that both sponsors and participants are the owners of events. By consciously bringing participants into the realm of ownership, we widen the community that makes the event what it is, and this benefits all the players.

Reduce Chinese-style self-censorship at your meetings

June 13th, 2016 by Adrian Segar

Lost in fog 8160237809_e1baab76d9_kThe Chinese government runs a massive online censorship program. Why mention this on an event design blog? Well, the most effective aspect of China’s online censorship regime illustrates what happens when you don’t incorporate covenants into your meetings.

Tech In Asia explains:

“Imagine being near a steep cliff. During the day, when you can see clearly, you might walk right up to the edge to take in the view. But at night or during a thick fog, you’re probably going to steer well clear of the cliff’s edge to ensure that you don’t accidentally misjudge where you are and tumble to your death.

China’s vaguely-defined web content rules and inconsistent censorship enforcement work the same way as the fog near a cliff: since people can’t see exactly where the edge is, they’re more likely to stay far away from it, just in case. There’s no toeing the line, because nobody knows exactly where the line is. So instead of pushing the envelope, many people choose to censor themselves.”
The cleverest thing about China’s internet censorship, Tech In Asia

As I’ve explained elsewhere, good covenants publicly clarify the freedoms that attendees have at an event, like the freedoms to speak one’s mindask questions, and share feelings. When such freedoms are agreed to individually and as a group at the start of a meeting, ambiguity about meeting behavior dissipates. The cliff edge dividing acceptable from unacceptable behavior becomes much clearer, liberating participants from uncertainty about what is O.K. to say and do.

When attendees feel safe to share and empowered to ask questions and express what they think and how they feel, what happens at a conference can be amazing. I’ve been using explicit covenants for fifteen years, and in my experience, effective learning, meaningful connection, engagement, and resulting community all noticeably increase.

If you omit group covenants at your meetings, you default to an environment where most participants will self-censor their behavior to some degree. Given that it takes about five minutes to explain and obtain covenant commitment, it’s crazy to miss out on one of the simplest and most effective things you can do to improve your meeting.

Don’t just read this, nod your head, and forget about it. The next time you run a meeting, introduce covenants at the start (Chapter 18 of The Power of Participation: Creating Conferences That Deliver Learning, Connection, Engagement, and Action has full details) and discover the power of covenants for yourself and your attendees!

Bonus insight on another relationship between censorship and meeting design: How you may be treating your meeting evaluations like a Chinese censor.

Photo attribution: Flickr user zedzap

Feedback Frames—a low-tech tool for anonymous voting

June 6th, 2016 by Adrian Segar

Feedback+Frames+open+with+coinsJason Diceman is developing a novel tool for anonymous voting — Feedback Frames.

Unlike high-tech audience response systems, Feedback Frames are refreshingly low-tech (no computers, clickers, smartphones, power, or technical support required). One graphic explains the tool:

Feedback+Frames+-+how+it+works

 

Although I tend to prefer public and semi-anonymous techniques for the participatory voting I use extensively in my facilitation practice, Jason’s approach is a refreshing alternative to the complex (and typically expensive) high-tech ARS methods routinely used for anonymous voting at meetings.

Jason created an even lower-tech (free!) tool Idea Rating Sheets in 2004 (originally called “Dotmocracy”) to “make it easier to find agreements in large groups”. He has been a Senior Public Consultation Coordinator for the City of Toronto since 2010, and is working to crowdfund his invention. Visit Feedback Frames to learn more.

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