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Meetings in Day Million

March 30th, 2015 by Adrian Segar

“On this day I want to tell you about, which will be about a thousand years from now, there were a boy, a girl and a love story…”

From my earliest days as a reader I have loved science fiction. I think this is because good science fiction is the literature of ideas, as Pamela Sargent described it: a fascinating place where the consequences of making different assumptions about the world can be explored and expanded on in a myriad ways creatively tied to our human experience.

One evening in 1966, Frederik Pohl wrote Day Million: a classic science fiction short story that starts with the sentence above, and paints—in two thousand words—an ordinary yet unbelievable day in the future.

Take three minutes to read the story here.

The story ends with one of the most perfect final paragraphs I’ve ever read:
Read the rest of this entry »

How to convert a traditional conference into a connection-rich conference

March 23rd, 2015 by Adrian Segar

When people are asked why they go to meetings, the top two reasons they consistently give are to learn and to connect with others. Both reasons are rated of similar importance (although there’s some evidence that connection is becoming more important than learning recently.)

So why do we structure traditional conferences like this?
Conference connection.001
Conference lectures only focus on learning (that is, of course, assuming people are learning from the lecture, which is by no means certain.) No connection between attendees occurs during a lecture. Connection at a traditional conference is, therefore, supposed to happen somehow outside the sessions, in the breaks and socials. Unfortunately, breaks and socials aren’t great ways to connect with people at conferences.

So traditional conferences are heavy on lecture-style learning and light on the connection that attendees desire!

Luckily, there’s a simple way to redress the balance between connection and learning at meetings.
Read the rest of this entry »

Ground rules at the Lost Levels unconference

March 16th, 2015 by Adrian Segar

REMINDERS at lostlevels

“Game makers find inspiration at Lost Levels, an intimate and involving gathering where anything seems possible”
Laura Hudson, The radical games event where the next speaker is you

The Lost Levels four-hour gaming unconference incorporates these ground rules:

  • Make space for others!
  • Watch out for blocking views
  • Be an active listener

There’s a lot to be said for incorporating them into your events.

Image attribution: Laura Hudson, boingboing

Is your conference more like a pharmacy or a bookstore?

March 9th, 2015 by Adrian Segar


A traditional conference is like a pharmacy. Content is prescribed, and you pick it up in a session. Hopefully it will fix what ails you. Have you met anyone interesting in a pharmacy? Did you create one of the drugs sold there? Probably not.

A peer conference is like a friendly bookstore. Browse the shelves looking for what interests you, satisfies your wants and needs. Relax on a comfy sofa, and check out anything that looks interesting. Fall into conversation with other folks nearby. Yes, you can be guided by those little “staff picks” notices, but perhaps the guy sitting opposite you has some suggestions. And perhaps, one day, you’ll write a book of your own…

Cartoon by Harry Bliss

Produce for a micro conference market

February 23rd, 2015 by Adrian Segar

Lego_Dreamforce_02

Fifty years ago, producers and marketers got smart. They saw the miracle of mass marketing and they adopted it as their own. They amped up mass production and bet on the masses.
The smart creators today are seeing the shift and doing precisely the opposite:
Produce for a micro market.
Market to a micro market.
—Seth Godin, Mass production and mass media

Despite the status associated with big conferences, most meetings are small meetings. Whether by accident or design, in today’s world this is a good thing. The heyday of the large amorphous conference—where plenaries consist of well-known people trying to entertain or inspire you, meeting important people by chance is unlikely, and you’re uninterested in most of the sessions—is past.

Read the rest of this entry »

38 conference participation techniques

February 16th, 2015 by Adrian Segar

Jazz dance 1804807649_075a097c67_oI can guarantee there will be at least a few unfamiliar terms in this glossary, given that I invented some of them myself. This glossary contains brief definitions; see my upcoming book for more information.

Affinity Grouping: This technique allows a group to discover and share ideas that arise at a session or conference and group them into categories, so they can be organized and discussed. Sometimes called “cards on the wall.”

Anonymous Voting: Any voting method that preserves the anonymity of those voting.

Badge It!: Using participant badges to share useful personal information besides the traditional elements like name, company, etc.

Body Voting: See Human Spectrograms.

Card Voting: Provides each participant with an identical set of colored cards that can be used in flexible ways: typically for voting on multiple-choice questions, consensus voting, and guiding discussion.

Case Studies and Simulations: Ways to create a classroom or conference environment where participants can create and explore in a semi-realistic way alternative roles, points of view, puzzles, and positions. Case studies use a story as a jumping-off place for group analysis and discussion, while simulations immerse participants into an experiential situation.

Conference Arc: An approach to design that concentrates on event chronological parts—openers, middles, and endings—and the consequential progressive experience of participants.

Consensus voting: Voting techniques that gauge the degree of group consensus on a point of view or course of action.

Continuum Voting: See Human Spectrograms.

Dot Voting: A technique for public semi-anonymous voting where participants are given identical sets of one or more colored paper dots which they stick onto paper voting sheets to indicate preferences.

Fishbowls: Group process that facilitates focused discussion, either by assuring that the conversation at any moment is restricted to a few clearly defined people or by allowing representatives of both sides of a point of view time in turn to listen to and question representatives of the opposing viewpoint.

Group Spectives: Closing conference sessions that provide time for attendees to collectively take stock, reflecting on where they started, the path traveled, and the journey yet to come.

Guided Discussions: Guided small discussion groups used regularly during a session to expose different answers, viewpoints, and levels of understanding and create multiple simultaneous rich customized learning environments in the room.

Hand/Stand Voting: In hand voting, participants raise their hands to indicate their answer to a question with two or more possible answers. Stand voting replaces hand raising with standing.

Human Graphs: See Human Spectrograms.

Human Spectrograms: Also known as body voting, continuum voting, and human graphs. A form of public voting that has participants move in the room to a place that represents their answer to a question. Human spectrograms can be categorized as one-dimensional, two-dimensional, or state-change.

One-dimensional Human Spectrograms: Human Spectrograms where participants position themselves along a line in a room to portray their level of agreement/disagreement with a statement or a numeric response (e.g. the number of years they’ve been in their current profession.)

Open Space: Open Space is a simple method for participants to create their own meetings.

Openers: Participation techniques that are especially useful during the early stages of a group’s time together.

Pair Share: Develops and reinforces learning via discussion of a topic or question with a partner during a session.

Participatory Voting: Any form of voting that provides public information about viewpoints in the room and paves the way for further discussion

Personal Introspectives: Two-part closing conference sessions that guide participants through a review of what they have learned and a determination of what they want to consequently change in their lives.

Plus/Delta: A review tool that enables participants to quickly identify what went well at a session or event and what could be improved.

Post It!: A simple technique that employs participant-written sticky notes to uncover topics and issues that a group wants to discuss.

Pro Action Café: Pro Action Café is a blend of World Café and Open Space that facilitates reflection, discussion and consolidation of ideas, and moving to action.

Public Voting: Voting methods that allow a group to see the individuals who have voted and how they voted.

Roman Voting: Roman Voting is a public voting technique for gauging the strength of consensus.

Roundtables: Structured conference openers that employ The Three Questions to 1) define and model an active, interactive, and safe conference environment; 2) provide a structured forum for attendees to meet and learn about each others’ affiliations, interests, experience, and expertise and 3) uncover the topics that people want to discuss and share.

Seat Swap: Seat Swap increases conversational partners at seated meals through having diners switch seats at appointed times.

Semi-anonymous voting: Voting techniques where others can only determine how individuals vote by watching them closely during the voting process.

Short Form Presentations Pecha Kucha and Ignite: Very short stylized presentations that offer a rapid introduction to a topic, an idea, or an experience and that act as a jumping off place for stimulated viewers to start learning more via engagement afterwards.

Small Group Discussions: Techniques that use small groups to improve learning, connection, interaction, and engagement.

State-change Human Spectrograms: Human Spectrograms where participants move en masse from one point to another to display a change of some quantity (e.g. opinion, geographical location, etc.) over time.

Table Voting: A technique used for polling attendees on their choice from pre-determined answers to a multiple-choice question, and/or for dividing participants into preference groups for further discussions or activities.

The Solution Room: An opening or closing conference session which engages and connects attendees and provides peer-supported advice on their most pressing problems.

The Three Questions: Supports and encourages a group of people in learning about each other, their wishes for the time they are together, and their relevant experience and expertise.

Two-dimensional Human Spectrograms: Human Spectrograms where participants position themselves in a two-dimensional room space to display relative two-dimensional information (e.g. where they live with reference to a projected map.)

World Café: Provides a format for dialogue in small groups around questions that have been determined in advance.

Photo attribution: Flickr user teo_ladodicivideo

It’s not about me

February 9th, 2015 by Adrian Segar

DSC_1546

Yes, I like to talk. But when I’m facilitating well, that’s the last thing you’re aware of.
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You can always be open to change

February 2nd, 2015 by Adrian Segar

Open To ChangeTowards the end of my participative techniques workshop at RCMA EMERGE 2015, I ran a plus/delta evaluation of the entire workshop. Here, as best as I can reconstruct it, is one man’s feedback: Read the rest of this entry »

We can talk about it

January 26th, 2015 by Adrian Segar

We can't talk about it 4015519496_e9515f879b_b

We can’t talk about how we could do things better around here
We can’t talk about what isn’t working
We can’t talk about the countless opportunities we ignore
We can’t talk about what hurts
We can’t talk about dignity
We can’t talk about how to make magic happen
We can’t talk to our boss, our employees, our board, our investors
We can’t talk about the things we can’t talk about

That’s a shame.
—Seth Godin, We can’t talk about it

One of the reasons we feel we can’t talk about things is that we are scared about who might hear—people who have, or might have, power or influence of some kind over us, like our boss (“You’re fired!”) or colleagues (“He’s weird!”)

Read the rest of this entry »

Mom killed that idea: One way that kids are smarter than adults—and the implications for events

January 19th, 2015 by Adrian Segar

lemonade stand — 516578887_edf3a51ccf_oIn his fascinating and thought-provoking book The Educated Mind, professor of education Kieran Egan tells the story of kids at a lemonade stand where a customer jokingly asked if they had any beer or scotch. The five-year-old proprietor went into the house and asked Mom “whether he could could have some beer and scotch for the stand. He emerged a minute of so later, shrugged, and told his siblings, ‘Mom killed that idea.'” His three and four-year-old siblings had no difficulty interpreting this sentence.

Egan emphasizes the important role of metaphor in learning. Studies have shown that very young children are capable of “prodigal production” of metaphors, that such metaphorical capacity declines as children become older, and “younger children’s production and grasp of metaphor are commonly superior to that of older children and adults.” We are amused by young childrens’ effortless invention of wonderful words to describe objects in their lives. My grandchildrens’ lovely constructions passerports (passports) and glovins (gloves) come to mind—these are delightful reflections of their minds’ ability to conjure up melanges of ideas and words that express their reality.

We often assume that we get smarter as we get older. By “smarter” I mean our abilities are superior and the likelihood we’ll use them higher. While this is true in many respects, our demonstrated decline in metaphorical capacity means that we are less likely and less able to use metaphors as adults.

This is a loss for event education, as metaphor is one of the most powerful methods for extending learning. The philosopher Max Black said “it would be more illuminating…to say that metaphor creates the similarity than to say it formulates some similarity antecedently existing.” Metaphor then, Egan says, “becomes a key tool in aiding flexible, productive learning.”  It “helps us to acquire knowledge about new domains, and also has the effect of restructuring our organization of knowledge.”

When I describe my recent experience of trying to get internet service restored at my home by comparing it to being stuck on an airplane for days waiting for it to take off without any announcements about what’s going on or when we might leave (if ever), or when my mentor Jerry Weinberg publishes a book about writing employing a single metaphor—building a fieldstone wall—to illustrate every stage of the process, we are harnessing a metaphoric plow to prepare the ground for seeds of learning [oops, I did it again.]

I wish more attention had been paid to metaphoric fluency in my early education, as I find it hard to summon up useful metaphors for ideas I’m trying to get across. For this we can perhaps blame Plato and his successors who insisted that the “poetic” be eliminated from intellectual inquiry. Consequently, literacy education discourages our use of metaphor.

Some people seem to have a natural ability to dream up apt metaphors, and they are usually engaging and memorable presenters (great comedians frequently share this gift too.) Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” and Reagan’s “break down this wall” speeches obtain much of their power from metaphor.

How does all this this relate to event design? Eric de Groot & Mike van der Vijver‘s techniques for formulating meeting objectives and their Elementary Meetings model rely on the power of metaphor to create stakeholder buy-in for meeting objectives and design. And good production designers know the importance of choosing event themes that connect at a metaphorical level with underlying goals for the associated meeting.

I believe it’s worth cultivating our skill at employing metaphor, or seeking out those who are good at it. Better events may well be the result.

Photo attribution: Flickr user adwriter

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