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From broadcast to learning in 25 minutes

April 21st, 2014 by Adrian Segar

GMIC2014 collab session Last week’s Green Meetings Industry Council’s 2014 Sustainable Meetings Conference opened with a one-hour keynote panel: The Value of Sustainability Across Brands, Organizations and Sectors. Immediately after the presentation, my task was to help over two hundred participants, seated at tables of six, grapple with the ideas shared, surface the questions raised, and summarize the learning and themes for deeper discussion.

Oh, and I had twenty-five minutes!

For a large group to effectively review and reflect on presented material in such a short time, we have to quickly move from individual work to small group work to some form of concrete visual summary that’s accessible to everyone. So here’s what I did.

1) My audience hadn’t moved for over an hour, and their brains had, to varying degrees, gone to sleep. So, for a couple of minutes, I had people stand, stretch, twist and do shoulder rolls.

2) Next, I summarized what we were about to do. I

      • Outlined the three phases of the exercise: a) working individually; b) sharing amongst the small group at their table, and c) a final opportunity to review everyone’s work in a short gallery walk.
      • Pointed out the tools available. Each table had a sheet of flip-chart paper (divided into a 2 x 2 matrix), 4 pads of different colored sticky notes, and a fine-tip sharpie for each person.

2014-04-15 14.41.30

      • Explained the four categories they would use for their responses. After introducing each category I asked a couple of pre-primed volunteers to share an example of their response with the participants.
        • REMINDERS. “These are themes with which you’re already familiar that the keynote touched on. You might want to include ideas you think are important. And you might want to include themes that you have some expertise or experience with. More on that in a moment. Write each REMINDER on a separate blue sticky note, which will end up in the top left square of the flip chart.”
        • SPARKS. “Sparks are inspirations you’ve received from the keynote; new ideas, new solutions that you can adopt personally, or for your organization, or at your meetings. Write your SPARKS on yellow sticky notes; they’ll go in the top right square.
        • QUESTIONS. “These are ideas that you understand that you have questions about. Perhaps you are looking for help with a question. Perhaps you think a question brought up by the keynote is worth discussing more widely at this event. Write your questions on a green sticky note; they’ll go in the bottom left square.
        • PUZZLES. “Puzzles are things you feel that you or your organization or our industry don’t really understand and need help with. Write your puzzles on a violet sticky note; they’ll go in the bottom right.”
      • Gave these instructions. “In a minute I’m going to give you about five minutes to work alone and create your REMINDERS, SPARKS, QUESTIONS, and PUZZLES. Don’t put your notes on the flip chart paper yet; we’ll do that communally soon. Any questions?” [There were none.] “Two final thoughts:
        • 1) Words are fine, but feel free to draw pictures or diagrams too!
        • 2) Consider adding your name to any of your notes. We’re going to display your notes on the wall over there. If you have expertise or experience of one of your themes, adding your name to your note will allow others who are interested in the topic to find you. If you have a question or puzzle you need help with, adding your name will allow others who can help to find you.”

3) I gave everyone five minutes to create their individual notes, asking them to shoot for a few responses in each category.

4) For the second phase of the exercise, I asked for each person to briefly explain their notes with the others at their table, placing on the appropriate quadrant of the flip chart as they did so. I allocated each person a minute for this, and rang a bell when it was time for the next person to begin.

5) The final phase was a gallery walk. I asked one person from each table to go and stick their flip chart page on a large blank meeting room wall. Once done, I invited everyone to go to the gallery and explore what we had created together.

Here’s one end of the resulting sharing wall.

2014-04-15 19.06.05

6) Later that evening I had a small number of subject matter experts cluster the themes they saw. (If I had had more time, I would have had all the participants work on this together during my session.) The resulting clusters were referred to throughout the conference for people to browse and use as a resource. Here’s a picture, taken later, showing the reclustered items in our “sharing space”.

2014-04-17 15.08.14

Even when time is short, an exercise like this can quickly foster huge amounts of personal learning, connection (via the table work and named sticky notes), and audience-wide awareness of interests and expertise available in the room. I believe that reflective and connective processes like this should be used after every traditional presentation session to maximize its value to meeting participants.

Privacy issues in meeting apps

April 14th, 2014 by Adrian Segar

Privacy 3225688274_a05fdd9079_o

I’ve written before about the lack of information about who has access to attendee information, and I’m concerned about the ramifications of the growing trend for meeting apps to offer login via one of the established social media networks, typically Twitter, FaceBook, and LinkedIn.

Perhaps you should be too. Social check-in is touted as a plus for event attendees, allowing them to:

  • discover friends, contacts, followers, and followees who are also attending the meeting;
  • provide in-app social network functionality; e.g. the ability to tweet from inside the app; and
  • be notified (in some apps) when social network contacts are in the vicinity.

These features are, indeed, potential pluses for an attendee. But there are downsides too, which are rarely mentioned.

When you authorize an app to access your personal social network information, you are allowing the company that created the app access to that information. At a minimum, this includes read access to your social media contacts in that app, which may (e.g. Twitter) or may not (e.g. FaceBook, LinkedIn) be public. If the app also requests write access, it can, in principle, do things like sending tweets from your account.

There’s potential for abuse here. An app developer can copy all the information that you expose to them and keep it forever, even if you de-authorize the app from access to the network later. Some questions that come to mind:

  • What will be done with the information I make available to your app?
  • Who will have access to it? For example, unless you pay LinkedIn big bucks you do not have access to every member’s information. But an app can (and in one case I’ve seen, does) expose every attendee’s LinkedIn profile to all other attendees.
  • For how long will that access be made available?
  • Will the app developer eventually destroy the information retrieved during the event?
  • What are the consequences if the app’s security is breached? Can the attacker take over the compromised social media accounts?

Clear answers to these questions are rarely given before you’ve (perhaps reluctantly) given the app permission to access your social media account(s).

In addition, some apps don’t give you a choice; you can only use them if you provide the app login via one of your social media networks. And if you want to share other social media IDs with attendees, e.g. your Twitter ID, you can’t just add the ID into a data field for your information but have to give the app access to your entire Twitter account.

I understand there are more stringent data protection standards in Europe, but the state of affairs I’ve described above is common in many of the U.S. apps I’ve seen.

I think it behooves app developers to provide clearer answers to these questions, and allow us to opt out from providing forced access to our social media accounts when we use a meeting app.

What do you think?

Photo attribution: Flickr user michellzappa

If your event had a mouth what would it say?

April 7th, 2014 by Adrian Segar

mouth 7303556544_01b8cd707b_bIn the brilliant book Into The Heart Of MeetingsEric de Groot & Mike van der Vijver set out their process for formulating meeting objectives—a critical activity that, sadly, is glossed over by most meeting owners and planners. Instead of the usual approach of developing a dry meeting “brief”, Eric & Mike describe how they ask a meeting owner to talk about the “motion” of the meeting content:

“…could you try to visualize the content as some kind of physical substance? Imagine you could turn the content of your meeting into a material such as stone, water, rubber, sand, a bunch of plastic pipes, a fireball — anything…”

Once the meeting owner begins “to see the meeting content as physical matter, we give him a large sheet of paper and a fistful of coloured felt pens, and ask him to make a drawing of this content and the way it has to move”.

The book goes on to give explanations and examples of how this seemingly strange process successfully draws out the meeting owner’s fundamental ideas about what the meeting is to do. It works by providing a creative environment for the client’s underlying culture, assumptions, and desires to be uncovered and expressed.

At the 2014 PCMA Convening Leaders conference I had the opportunity to witness a variant of this approach. Eric and I were talking about meeting design with “Thomas”, the manager of a North American conference center. Thomas was telling us about the challenges of positioning his venue to cater to a rapidly changing meetings market. After a few minutes of listening and discussion, Eric asked him:

“If your venue had a mouth what would it say?”

Thomas thought for a few seconds and said. “When you asked that, the image that came into my mind was that of a fairytale.” He paused. “It’s like there’s a little fairy sitting on your shoulder telling you what you need to hear.”

I’m sure that Thomas was surprised by the image that he conjured up in response to Eric’s question. In a few seconds he discovered and shared a evocative summation of how he saw his venue appearing to the world: a benevolent magical assistant appearing when needed to help achieve his clients’ meeting objectives. This led to a deeper discussion of steps Thomas could take to better align his operations with this vision.

As this example illustrates, visualization techniques provide extremely powerful methods for excavating key meeting objectives and underlying client desires—vital information that a client may not even be consciously aware of until they have been brought into the light of day.

There’s another big benefit. Such approaches supply valuable buy-in by the client to the meeting design that is ultimately adopted. As Eric & Mike explain:

“Conclusions…about what the programme is supposed to do with the content come from meetings’ owners drawings and they accept the consequences because they made the drawings themselves.”

Have you used visualization techniques to develop meeting designs? If so, what was your experience? If not, do you think they could be useful tools for working with your clients?

Photo attribution: Flickr user sloverton

Cooperative Learning: Lessons from neutrino physics and pair programming

March 31st, 2014 by Adrian Segar

leptonic weak neutral current

As an experimental elementary particle physicist in the 1970’s I was lucky enough to work on what turned out to be one of the most important physics experiments in the second half of the twentieth century. Exploring the rare interactions of neutrinos in a huge bubble chamber at CERN, the European laboratory for particle physics, required labs in five countries to view and hand-digitize millions of filmed particle tracks projected onto large white tables. Only a few of these images were expected to show the crucial events we were looking for, so it was important that we didn’t miss anything important.

Gargamelle film scanning table

Gargamelle film scanning table

When you’re staring at hundreds of similar images, one after the other, for hours on end it’s easy to overlook something. So how did we minimize the chance of missing an infrequent crucial particle interaction?

The answer is surprisingly simple. Every set of film images was scanned at least twice on separate occasions by different staff. The resulting set of information on each image was then checked to see if all the viewers agreed on what was going on. If they didn’t, other staff viewed the film again to discover who was right, thus catching missing information or interpretative errors. Statistical methods then allowed us to calculate how accurate each scan operator was, and even to predict the small likelihood that all viewers would miss something significant.

This approach allowed us to be confident of our ability to catch a few, very important particle interactions. The best evidence for our results—which provided the first confirmation that a Nobel Prize winning theory unifying two fundamental forces in nature was indeed correct—was based on finding just three examples.

Another example of how people working together can create more reliable work is pair programming: a technique that became popular in the 1990’s for developing higher quality software. In pair programming, two programmers work together at one computer. One writes code while the other reviews the code as it is typed in, checking for errors and suggesting improvements. The two programmers switch roles frequently. Pair programming typically reduces coding errors, which are generally difficult and expensive to fix at a later stage, at the cost, sometimes, of an increase in programmer hours. Many software companies creating complex software find that the value of the increased quality is well worth any additional cost.

While these two examples of cooperative work concentrate on reducing critical mistakes, it doesn’t take much of a leap to see that working together on a learning task may increase the accuracy and completeness of what is learned. As a bonus, the two (or more) learners involved receive an opportunity to get to know each other while they share an experience together. With the right design, there is little downside but much to be gained from learning with others rather than alone.

Conference size and “success”

March 24th, 2014 by Adrian Segar

audience at big conference 2805860205_18b3dd9dc3_oHere’s the beginning of a blog post by Seth Godin with every occurrence of the word “organization” replaced by the word “conference” and the word “traditional” added to the first sentence. I think it still works, don’t you?

As a [traditional] conference succeeds, it gets bigger.

As it gets bigger, the average amount of passion and initiative of the conference goes down (more people gets you closer to average, which is another word for mediocre).

More people requires more formal communication, simple instructions to ensure consistent execution. It gets more and more difficult to say, “use your best judgment” and be able to count on the outcome.

Larger still means more bureaucracy, more people who manage and push for conformity, as opposed to do something new.

Success brings with it the fear of blowing it. With more to lose, there’s more pressure not to lose it.

Mix all these things together and you discover that going forward, each decision pushes the conference toward do-ability, reliability, risk-proofing and safety.
—Seth Godin, Entropy, bureaucracy and the fight for great

Judging by their favorable evaluations, conferences that use the Conferences That Work format are highly successful. Yet they don’t grow significantly bigger, even though some of them have been held for years. Participants discover that effective intimate learning and connection that occurs requires a small event, and the maximum number of attendees is capped to ensure that the attractive conference environment isn’t lost by the consequences Seth describes.

Last week I spoke to a veteran of large medical conferences who bemoaned the time she had wasted attending such events. She told me that the talks were invariably on already-published work, with people presenting for status or tenure reasons. Apart from the schwag and meeting a few old friends, she did not enjoy or find her attendance productive and was looking forward to a much more rewarding experience from the small conference I was planning for her group.

Her comments are typical, in my experience. Unfortunately, the size of a conference is usually assumed to be a metric of its “success”. From the point of view of organizers and presenters this is true: the bigger the conference, the more status you receive. But from the point of view of the customers of the conference—the attendees—after 30+ years of attending and organizing conferences it’s clear to me, both from my own experience and from that of hundreds of attendees I’ve spoken to, that, all other things being equal, smaller well-designed conferences beat the pants off huge events in terms of usefulness and relevance.

What do you think? What redeeming factors make larger conferences better? Are these factors more important than the learning and connection successes that smaller conferences provide?

Photo attribution: Flickr user markizay

Events Uncovered TV interviews Adrian Segar about Conferences That Work

March 18th, 2014 by Adrian Segar


Silvia Pellegrini of Events Uncovered TV interviews me about how I got into events (0:00), why participation at events is so important (4:40), participant-led formats (7:10), an overview of the Conferences That Work meeting format (8:10). Silvia’s questions touch on: the difference between child teaching and adult learning (13:40), the social construction of knowledge (18:00), running your own Conferences That Work (20:45), how and why public feedback is built in to the closing session (21:10), session formats used (22:15), and why it’s easy to find others who share your interests at Conferences That Work (24:30).

Event marketing—you can’t do it all yourself

March 17th, 2014 by Adrian Segar

Old Metal AdvertisementsI recently consulted with a client who was new to meeting planning. Mike had bravely decided to create a new conference featuring his talents and those of over twenty friends and colleagues, all of whom had followings in their realm of expertise. This was a conventional format conference with a high amount of interactive and small group work.

Mike told me that registration response had been poor to date and he was stressed-out about reaching his break-even attendance goal. I asked him how he was doing his marketing.

Read the rest of this entry »

The biggest unconference mistake you can make

March 10th, 2014 by Adrian Segar

Biggest-error-message Sometimes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

CONFERENCE ORGANIZER: “Hey, Adrian, we’re incorporating participant-led sessions into our conference this year!”

ADRIAN: “That’s great! What are you going to do?”

CONFERENCE ORGANIZER: “Well, some program committee members are skeptical that this format will work, so we’re going to add an unconference track that people can attend if they’re interested.”

ADRIAN: Nooooooo! Don’t do that!

I’ve had more than one conversation like this. Here’s why adding an unconference track to a conventional conference program is a big mistake. Read the rest of this entry »

Don’t bet on Getty: the downside of “free” stock photos

March 6th, 2014 by Adrian Segar

Getty Image embedYesterday, Getty Images announced that it would be making 35 million of its more than 90 million images available as free website embeds.

Don’t do it.

The program looks attractive. Getty is the world’s largest commercial image archive, and the lure of free access to such a rich treasure trove of eye candy for your web site is hard to resist. Here are four reasons why I’m not going to take the bait.

So I’m just saying no to “free” Getty embeds. Instead I’ll continue to use Creative Commons licensed images from Flickr and Wikimedia Commons for my blog. Finding the “right” image is sometimes challenging, but always oddly enjoyable. Join me—don’t take the Getty sucker bet.

Unmembership and unconferences

March 5th, 2014 by Adrian Segar

rootsSparked by my article Is unmembership the future of associations?, Joe Rominiecki, senior editor of Associations Now, has published an interview with me: How “Unmembership” Gets Back to the Roots of Associating.

Talking with Joe helped me verbalize the close connection between the core reasons why associations begin and new conferences are born. I’ll leave you to read Joe’s excellent article for the details.

Photo attribution: Flickr user buehlerphoto

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