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“You exist as a consequence of people seven generations ago who were willing to proceed as if a day would come when you and yours would be in the world and they’d be long gone, and you somehow picked up an ember of that and safeguarded it until it caught a spark. And maybe that turned into your life’s work, but you can’t claim to be the author of it. You’re on the receiving end, and your job is to have the humility of a broken-down jalopy. So you’re not going to make a lot of claims for yourself, but you can say you have a sneaking suspicion this has been around before, and you’re a part of some kind of tradition.”
“…when I was working in palliative care…I realized that if I was going to serve these dying people well, then I couldn’t wait for anyone to ask me to do it.”
So many conferences are a collection of unrelated sessions. But the June 2015 PCMA Education Conference in Fort Lauderdale showed how a coherent set of meeting goals can be embedded in a congruent conference arc, improving learning and connection amongst attendees. Here’s what PCMA did.
Although PCMA asked me to be the “conference facilitator” and “connect the dots” for EduCon, most of the credit for the conference design goes to the PCMA team. Pre-conference collaboration with the team was a pleasure.
My consequent jobs over the three days of conference sessions—which boasted a record 675 attendees, plus several hundred following the live stream of portions of the conference—were to:
open and close the conference;
interview John Medina on stage and at a “deep dive” breakout;
facilitate a closing public evaluation of the conference.
Being up on stage so much, interviewing, and providing event continuity for as many as a thousand people was a new experience for me—definitely risky learning! Connecting the dots immediately after presentations is hard when you don’t know what presenters are going to say!
When I accepted the offer of facilitating the conference, I only had a rough outline of the presentations, and I wondered about the content/learning arc of the event. To my pleasant surprise, as the event design unfolded, EduCon delivered a coherent set of sessions that shared common themes around predetermined goals.
At the opening I told a story and shared the EduCon design goals: experiential learning, risky learning experiments, and meaningful engagement. I’ll use [EL], [RL], and [ME] respectively to indicate how these three themes were woven throughout the event.
John Medina’s opening session immediately touched on some of these themes. He described how prospect-refuge theory suggests that a mixture of private and public spaces provides an optimum environment for events, balancing the needs for safety [RL], frankness, growth and confidentiality with the openness required to spread content.
Interviewing John—who must surely be the easiest person in the world to interview—was a blast! I had 15 minutes with him on stage, followed by 75 minutes in a breakout. For the breakout I simply had the audience sit in curved theater seating facing John and me plus a couple of empty chairs, and had audience members with questions come up to the front of the room and talk with him. We could have easily spent another hour with John.
Read my earlier post to learn more about the session crowdsourcing experiment I facilitated the following morning, which incorporated all three goals for the event [EL] [RL] [ME]. A few of the sessions chosen: women’s leadership in the event industry (described to me afterwards by several participants in glowing terms), cultural issues in international meetings (run by Eli Gorin, who seemed very pleased), and selling sponsorship (held in the round). This 26-second video gives another perspective.
After lunch I facilitated a personal introspective breakout session [EL] [RL] [ME], which provided participants the opportunity to think about what they had experienced so far, how their experiences might impact their life, and what changes they might want to make as a result. Afterwards, I received the same feedback independently from many people—they had gone into the session thinking they had little to say, and discovered during the process that there was a lot to talk about and get excited about. I have heard this kind of feedback for many years now, but it’s still gratifying to hear the conversation volume rise steadily and observe the palpable reluctance of people to leave their small groups when the session is over.
I attended a few of the other breakout sessions during the conference, and observed a good mixture of [EL], [RL], and [ME] in all of them. Though I can’t be sure that those I missed followed the same path, the interactivity of the sessions I witnessed was unusually high for a meeting industry conference, and all the presenters I talked to had incorporated trying something new during their sessions.
The second plenary speaker, Sarah Lewis, author of The Rise, spoke to several themes related to the “gift of failure”:
the “deliberate amateur” who avoids the traditional route of learning [RL];
the need for “private domains” that allow creativity to flourish [EL]; and
the “supple grit” needed to know when to keep working on an idea and when to stop before the work becomes dysfunctional persistence [EL].
On the final day of EduCon I ran a public evaluation of the conference in 45 minutes using plus/delta. Having attendees publicly evaluate a conference they have just experienced was clearly an [RL] activity! I think it went well; the scribes’ Google doc summary (projected in real time as the session took place) gives a taste…
The first question Sarah was asked at the conclusion of her talk was on overcoming fear [RL], which segued nicely into the subject matter of the closing session by Mel Robbins, author of Stop Saying You’re Fine. Mel delved deep (and interactively) [ME] [EL] into our fear of change and introduced her 5 second rule—if you have a game-changer impulse, act on it within five seconds or else it dies [RL]—another formulation of improv’s “say yes”.
Mel closed with a powerful call to action, a key component of a compelling conference arc, to take ownership of our lives. After such a powerful session, I kept things short with my closing remarks, pointing out specifically how PCMA’s conference goals had been achieved, and then asking the audience to stand and applaud themselves, as the people who, collectively, through their own interactions, risk taking, and engagement had made the achievement of those goals possible.
It felt good!
Awesome photo of me at 2015 PCMA EduCon taken by and licensed from Jacob Slaton!
“The EduCon organizers asked me to say a little about the conference format, and I thought about when I was a teenager, and loved to go to parties and dance. Then something happened, I don’t remember what it was—probably something incredibly embarrassing involving a girl I liked—and I became self-conscious and stopped dancing.
I stopped dancing for 40 years.
In 2003 I go to a workshop, and if you had told me beforehand that I would dress up in costume there and dance, solo, in front of an audience I would have a) said you were crazy and b) skipped the workshop.
I’m very glad I wasn’t warned, because at that workshop, when I experienced dancing again, I remembered that I love to dance—and I’ve been dancing ever since.
If I had been reminded at the workshop that I used to like to dance, it wouldn’t have made any difference.
All the lecturing in the world wouldn’t have shifted my belief that I really didn’t like to dance any more.
I had to experience dancing again.
I had to get on my feet and dance!
Now, we’re not going to ask you to dress up and dance at this conference—unless you like doing that, in which case we’ve got the Fort Lauderdale Pool and Beach Party tomorrow night!
But what we are going to do at this conference is to give you plenty of opportunities for participative engagement—to experience things that we think may be useful for you in your lives and work.
In addition, this conference is full of experiments with a variety of learning environments and methods. We are proponents of risky learning—Sarah Lewis & Mel Robbins—will be exploring this in their sessions.
And, in our crowdsourcing experiment tomorrow, you’ll get to choose what you want to learn about, discuss, share, and connect about.
So our hope and desire is that, at EduCon, you will:
– be open to your experience, with a willingness to learn from each other; and
– be a resource to your peers.”
It was my hope that sharing a revealing story in front of a thousand people at the start of this conference would model openness amongst attendees for what followed. Based on the feedback I received during the event and my observations of the level of interaction and intimacy that ensued, I think my hope was realized.
Right after the 2015 PCMA Education Conference Tuesday breakfast, I facilitated an experiment that allowed 675 meeting planners to choose sessions they would like to hold. In 45 minutes, hundreds of suggestions were offered on sticky notes A small team of volunteers then quickly clustered the topics on a wall, picked a dozen, found leaders, and scheduled them in various locations around the Broward County Convention Center during a 90 minute time slot after the lunch the same day. The experiment was a great success; all the sessions were well attended, and, from the feedback I heard, greatly enjoyed and appreciated. Many people came up to me afterwards and told me how surprised they were that such a simple process could speedily add 50% more excellent sessions to the 21 pre-scheduled sessions.
All of us who plan meetings have an understandable desire for everything to be perfect. We strive mightily to not run out of coffee, comprehensively rehearse the show flow, allow for rush hour traffic between the day and evening venues, devise in advance alternative plans B -> Z, and anticipate a thousand other logistical concerns. And every planner knows that, during every event, some things will not go according to plan, and we pride ourselves on dealing with the unexpected and coming up with creative solutions on the fly. That’s our job, and we (mostly) love doing it—otherwise we’d probably be doing something less stressful, e.g. open-heart surgery.
Aiming for perfection is totally appropriate for the logistical aspects of our meetings, but when applied to other aspects of our meeting designs—little things like, oh, satisfying meeting objectives—we end up with meetings that are invariably safe at the expense of effectiveness.
Perfect is the ideal defense mechanism, the work of Pressfield’s Resistance, the lizard brain giving you an out. Perfect lets you stall, ask more questions, do more reviews, dumb it down, safe it up and generally avoid doing anything that might fail (or anything important). —Seth Godin, Abandoning perfection
We took a risk on a less-than-perfect outcome at our PCMA Education Conference crowdsourcing experiment. “What if hardly anyone suggests a topic?” “What if one or more of the participant-chosen sessions turns out be a dud, or nobody shows up?” “What if we underestimate the popularity of a session, and the scheduled space is too small to hold it?” (In fact, due to the limited locations available, we had to hold several sessions in one large room, and there was some auditory overlap that had to be minimized by a quick seating rearrangement. Lesson learned for next time!)
This is a superior kind of learning—risky learning. We try new things with the certainty that we will learn something different, perhaps something important that we would not have learned via a “safe” process, and we are prepared for the possibility to “fail” in ways that teach us something new and fresh about our process.
I’ve been running crowdsourcing of conference sessions for over twenty years, so I was confident that there would not be a shortage of session topic suggestions. But I had never before run crowdsourcing with 600+ participants. Could I get their input in 45 minutes? Would a small group be able to cluster all the suggestions in another 30 minutes, pick out juicy, popular topics, and then be able to find session leaders & facilitators and schedule all sessions before lunch? We took a risk trying new things, and I appreciate the conference committee’s support in letting me do so. The end result was a great learning experience for the participants, both in the individual sessions offered and the experience of the process used to create them. And we learned a few things about how to make the process better next time.
So how much risky learning should we incorporate into our events? There’s no one right answer to this question. Ultimately, you have to decide what level of risk you, your clients and your participants are willing to accept—and a healthy discussion with all stakeholders will help ensure that everyone’s on board with what you decide. But, whatever your situation, don’t aim for perfection, or playing it safe. Build as much risky learning as you can into your events, and I think you’ll find the resulting outcomes will surprise and satisfy you.
I’m happy to announce that my new book—The Power of Participation: Creating Conferences That Deliver Learning, Connection, Engagement, and Action—will be available for purchase in all formats and outlets on June 30. But you can save money by purchasing directly from me before July 1 at never-to-be-repeated prices.
“This is a book that should be OPEN on every meeting planner’s or event marketer’s desk, and used every day.” —Paul Salinger, VP of Marketing, Oracle(many more embarrassingly good reviews below)
Smart presenters and meeting organizers are integrating experiential learning and peer connection into their events. This book tells you how to do it. Buy The Power of Participation to learn why it’s so important to incorporate participant action into every aspect of your event, what you need to know to create a meeting environment that supports and encourages participation, and when and how to use this extensive compendium of specific, detailed techniques to radically improve your sessions and meetings.
The following prices for The Power of Participation are only available before July 1. On that date, this page will vanish like a dream.
Thirty minutes free consulting will be provided for any first-time purchase directly from this site.
Shipping paperbacks to U.S. addresses is included in these prices. Shipping paperbacks to addresses outside the United States will incur an additional cost, viewable for single copies once you have added items to your cart.
The Power of Participation: Creating Conferences That Deliver Learning, Connection, Engagement, and Action—pre-publication combo price (1 ebook license, 1 paperback) for only $24.99
Pre-order before June 30 to receive this special pre-publication price ($32.00 after June 30).
Your ebook, in PDF format stamped with your name and email address and readable on any device, will be made available via a download link emailed to you promptly upon receipt of payment.
Price includes U.S. shipping of paperback via USPS Media Mail on July 1. Shipping to addresses outside the United States will incur an additional cost, viewable for single copies once you have added this item to your cart. We will ship anywhere; please request quotes for shipping multiple copies to your location.
Paperback book will be signed—dedication requests welcome!
8½" x 11", 322 pages.
The Power of Participation: Creating Conferences That Deliver Learning, Connection, Engagement, and Action—pre-order paperback edition for just $19.99
Pre-order before June 30 to receive this special pre-publication price ($26.00 after June 30).
Price includes U.S. shipping via USPS Media Mail on July 1. Shipping to addresses outside the United States will incur an additional cost, viewable for single copies once you have added this item to your cart. We will ship anywhere; please request quotes for shipping multiple copies to your location.
Book will be signed—dedication requests welcome!
8½" x 11", 322 pages.
The Power of Participation: Creating Conferences That Deliver Learning, Connection, Engagement, and Action—special pre-publication ebook edition price $8.99
Purchase before June 30 to receive this special pre-publication price ($11.00 after June 30).
Your ebook, in PDF format stamped with your name and email address and readable on any device, will be made available via a download link emailed to you promptly upon receipt of payment.
Praise for The Power of Participation: Creating Conferences That Deliver Learning, Connection, Engagement, and Action.
“It may be a radical idea to turn attendees into participants, but in an environment of information overload and disconnection, we need it more than ever. The Power of Participation can transform how we act as workers, learners, citizens and ‘participants’ in our globalized world. This is a book that should be OPEN on every meeting planners or event marketers desk, and used every day.” —Paul Salinger, VP of Marketing, Oracle
“This book is a must for anyone who needs guidance in modernizing meetings. Finally we are moving into a new stage of post industrial meetings where all participants are valued, not only those behind the microphone. Well designed participation is key, and Adrian shows us the way. Buy it, read it and do it!” —Eric de Groot, Meeting Designer and co-author of Into the Heart of Meetings
“No one should plan a conference without this book!” —Naomi Karten, Author of Managing Expectations
“We have to start meeting like this! A treasury of proven techniques, clearly written, based on first-person experience and deep insights.” —Bernie DeKoven, Author of The Well Played Game, game designer, and fun theorist at deepfun.com
“Too many conferences are top-down, over-caffeinated, information dumps. Adrian Segar has figured out a different model: a participatory, community-driven event that yields benefits that last far beyond the conference itself. If you want to make a lasting difference with your group today, you owe it to yourself to read this book.” —Dr. Nick Morgan, President of Public Words and author of Power Cues
“Love The Power of Participation! It’s a fabulous compilation of techniques to bring more interaction to your conferences. I’ll be keeping this reference book handy whenever I design a meeting for a client.” —Kristin J. Arnold, CPF, CSP, founder of Quality Process Consultants, and past president of the National Speakers Association
“A must read handbook of the what, why and how to move passive conference consumer-based attendees to active engaged participants.” —Jeff Hurt, Executive Vice President, Velvet Chainsaw Consulting
“Adrian Segar’s work is crucial for the evolution of the event industry. This book is a mandatory read for the modern event professional. Adrian shares a logical approach to changing our outdated event designs, and guides you with practical techniques towards a value centered model, where the clear winners are both the conference organizer and the attendee. It’s time to shake up our conferences and make them more relevant and attractive. The Power of Participation provides the first step towards achieving conference success.” —Julius Solaris, editor EventManagerBlog.com and author of The Event App Bible, Social Media for Events and The Good Event Registration Guide
“Adrian wants to transform attendees into participants. And in this book, he shows you how to do it. As an organizer of professional conferences for the past decade, I wish I had come across Adrian’s books earlier in my life. It would have made me more confident and competent.” —Sivasailam (Thiagi) Thiagarajan, Founder and Resident Mad Scientist, the Thiagi Group
“Adrian Segar’s The Power of Participation is a catalog of tools for designing meetings. If you want to improve your meetings, keep a copy right there on your desk, always ready for instant access. Better yet, study the tools in his catalog so they’re right there in your brain, always ready to build first-class meetings that everyone loves.” —Gerald M. Weinberg, The Consultants’ Consultant, author of over 40 books, including classics The Psychology of Computer Programming and An Introduction to General Systems Thinking
The Power of Participation: Creating Conferences That Deliver Learning, Connection, Engagement, and Action
Publisher: Segar Consulting
Release date: ebook: June 2015 | paper book: June 2015
Page count: 322
Size: 8½ x 11
List Price: $27.95 (Paperback book) | $13.95 (PDF ebook) | $33.95 (Paperback book and PDF ebook combo)
The ebook and paperback/ebook combo are available only directly from the author.
Raise your hand if every conference session you’ve ever attended was accurately described by its program blurb.
Bet your hand didn’t go up.
When we have to sit through a session that bears little resemblance to what was advertised, our time is invariably wasted and we tend to blame the presenter. But, in my experience, it’s often conference producers we should be holding responsible. Last week, Peggy Duncan sent me an example: Read the rest of this entry »
It continues to amaze me how few suppliers of products and services bother to attend educational sessions at conferences, restricting themselves to the associated trade show. Folks, you’re making a mistake! Peter Evans-Greenwood explains why:
“To sell to members of a tribe you must be part of the tribe. It’s not enough to be in conversation with the tribe, your identity needs to be interwoven with the tribe.” —Identity is a funny thing, Peter Evans-Greenwood
Is there a better place to join the tribe of the attendees to whom you’re selling than the conference sessions themselves?
I don’t think so.
Even if the sessions are lectures with time for Q&A at the end, you’ll get an opportunity to hear what someone—hopefully with expertise and experience—is sharing that’s relevant to your market, and the audience questions may supply useful clues on pain points and selling propositions that you can address (perhaps during the session, if it’s done without a crude pitch).
And if you’re participating in interactive peer-to-peer sessions (like the sessions I’m facilitating at PCMA EduCon 2015 this week) you are bound to meet and connect with potential clients. Smart suppliers and vendors know the value of building these kinds of relationships, and spend time cultivating them. Paying for a trade show booth but skipping the associated conference sessions is simply throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
Instead of marketing to the conference tribe, why not join the conference tribe?
Making deliberate and constructive connections amongst participants is a core goal of peer conferences, so I’m delighted to see that techniques with the same outcome in mind are beginning to be adopted at traditional events. For example, the March 2015 issue of the Harvard Business Review includes an excellent article “Leadership Summits That Work” by Bob Frisch and Cary Greene that focuses on creating effective conversations and outcomes at large and midsize company summits.
In particular, Frisch & Greene describe an exercise, Give and Get, for making the most of internal organizational resources : Read the rest of this entry »
In Part 1, I introduced three distinct categories of learning: factual information acquisition, problem solving, and building a process toolkit, and gave examples of how typical desired meeting outcomes involve different mixtures of each category. Here’s a final example of the complex ways that learning and learning approaches can be affected by multiple factors, specifically the differences between how children and adults typically learn.
Pedagogy and Andragogy
In the 2014 post Meetings are a mess—and how they got that way I explained how we typically extend into adulthood the pedagogy we’re all exposed to as kids. The word pedagogy comes from the Greek paid, meaning “child” and ago meaning “lead.” So pedagogy literally means “to lead the child.”
The much less familiar term andragogy, first coined in the 1830s, has had multiple definitions over the years, but its modern meaning was shaped by Malcolm Knowles in his 1980 book The Modern Practice of Adult Education: From Pedagogy to Andragogy, based on the Greek word aner with the stem andra meaning “man, not boy” (i.e. adult), and agogus meaning “leader of.” Knowles defined the term as “the art and science of adult learning” and argued that we need to take into account differences between child and adult learners. Specifically, he posited the following changes as individuals mature:
Personality moves from dependent to self-directed.
Learning focus moves from content acquisition to problem solving.
Experience provides a growing resource for their learning activity.
Readiness to learn becomes increasingly aligned with their life roles.
Motivation to learn is more likely to be generated internally than externally.
My professional life journey illustrates all these transformations. At school I was force-fed a concentrated diet of science and mathematics. Besides making a broad decision to study the sciences rather than the arts, I had very little say in what classes I was expected to take. Since then:
My subsequent career path—elementary particle physics research, running a solar manufacturing business, teaching computer science, IT consulting, and, most recently, meeting design—displays a steady movement from doing what I was told I was able to do to what I chose to pursue for my own reasons.
As a physicist, much of my work depended on what I learned at school, university, and academic conferences. As my experience grew, my professional work became increasingly centered on creative problem solving for clients.
In academia, I relied chiefly on classroom learning. Over time, my 30+ years experience has become key to my effectiveness as a meeting designer and convener.
Discovering that I love bringing people together motivates the work of learning what I need to know to perform my work well.
Although financial factors now play a smaller role in determining how much I work, my mission to share what I think is of value drives my desire to learn how to improve my effectiveness and scope.
Take a moment to review your own professional life and see if Knowles’s maturation concepts reflect differences in how you learned in school and now learn as an adult.
Of course, just as there isn’t a clear boundary between childlike and adult behaviors, there’s no clear-cut distinction between pedagogy and andragogy. Both terms encompass motivations and contexts for learning, and it’s most accurate to view them as endpoints on a spectrum of learning behaviors. Nevertheless, Knowles’s five assertions, each positing progression from passivity to action, provide critical insight into why active learning becomes an increasingly important learning modality as we mature.
Too many events still use child-based pedagogical instead of adult-centered andragogical modalities. By concentrating on the latter, we can improve the effectiveness and relevance of the learning we desire and require from our face-to-face meetings.
The day we’d hoped would never come is finally here.
The Internet is running out of…stuff.
After years of not turning off the Internet when you shower and Internetting a little too long when you brush your teeth, we’re now at something of a crossroads.
Data reservoirs are at record lows, and we’ve already dipped into our emergency meme supply. I’m not sure how much more plainly I can say this, but there are dark days ahead for the information superhighway.
It’s not too late to change things – but we must take measures to protect what little remains of this precious resource.
If your street address ends in an even number, try to use the Internet only on Sundays and Thursdays. If it ends in an odd number, try Tuesdays and Saturdays.
When you’re connected to the Internet, try to limit your use to 15 minutes per site, per day.
The sad truth is – these measures may not be enough. If we don’t get more Internet soon, guess what’s going to come out of your Internet tubes when you turn on the power?
Nothing. Absolutely nothing.
Let’s do what we can now to ensure an Internet full of stuff for our children and our children’s children.
[No, I didn’t write this but I feel it deserves a wider audience than just the readers of the Dreamhost newsletter, which I only receive because this very website is hosted on Dreamhost’s fine sturdy shoulders. Or head. Forearms? Whatever.]