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To build connection and engagement at events — give up control!

January 16th, 2017 by Adrian Segar

How can we build connection and engagement with people with whom we work?

My wise consultant friend Naomi Karten tells a short story about a client’s unexpected reaction. Frank had a bad experience with an earlier information technology project, so Naomi’s team gave him three possible approaches to a major system design and a list of the pluses and minuses of each.

“The plan was to let him select the approach he preferred in hopes that he’d gain more trust in us as a result…”

“…Frank jumped up, shouted, ‘How dare you develop options without my input!’ and marched out of the room…”

“…Instead of his seeing the options as giving him a say in our efforts, he may have seen us as preventing his input into the very idea of options. We saw ourselves giving him some control. He may have seen us as taking it away.”
—Naomi Karten, The Importance of Giving Others a Sense of Control

At traditional conferences, attendees choose from predetermined sets of sessions chosen by conference organizers. Think about your experience of such events. Have you found that much of the time, none of the choices supply what you actually need and/or want? Sadly, we’re so used to this state of affairs, we accept it as normal.

Conferences don’t have to be designed this way. Over the last twenty-five years, I’ve discovered that peer conferences, where participants determine the choices, provide a much better fit between the wants/needs of the attendees and the conference program they construct on-the-fly. This leads to significantly greater connection, engagement, and satisfaction.

Sometimes, giving people a limited number of options is not enough. Giving up control over the choices at your conferences by handing it over to the participants — using proven process, of course —is one of the best ways to build trust, connection, and engagement at your events.

Photo attribution: Flickr user kt

Friends don’t let friends give away their content

January 9th, 2017 by Adrian Segar


Friends don’t let friends give away their original content to third-party platforms
I’ve been saying this for years, but do people listen? No they don’t.

Let me be clear, by all means share your content for free on any of the gazillion social media platforms available. And if you can get paid appropriately for creating content for others, good for you. Otherwise, make sure that your content remains under your control.

Why? Well, here are a few reminders:

  • Geocities was once the third most visited site on the internet. 38 million user-built pages! Nothing but a distant memory now, unless you live in Japan.
  • Remember when your friends saw everything you posted on Facebook? Not any more, unless you pay up.
  • Ah, those glorious days when you posted something in a LinkedIn group and a significant number of people would read it! Long gone.

Now the blog host site Medium announces a layoff of a third of its staff. There are millions of posts on the site. Will Evan Williams pull the plug some day?  Will social journalism survive? Who knows?

Get the picture? Posting your original content exclusively on someone else’s platform puts you at their mercy. Don’t do it!

Instead, invest in your own website
There are plenty of great platforms available, and lots of fine web hosting services to run them on. For example, this site uses WordPress on a Dreamhost VPS (Virtual Private Server).

Though this route involves more work and/or money than posting on a third-party platform, you:

  • Control your own content. You can add, edit, delete, and control comments on it at any time.
  • Determine how your content is presented. Want to insert an offer for your services or products in the middle of a blog post? No problem.
  • Retain full rights to your content. (One example: the rights to anything you post to Huffington Post belongs to them. And they don’t even pay you for the privilege of writing for them!)
  • Build your own brand, authority, and SEO, not that of a third-party site.
  • Maintain access to your content. If your web hosting service goes bankrupt or is unsatisfactory, you can transfer your content to a new host. As long as the internet is up and you pay your hosting service, your content will be available.

Seven years ago I started the website you’re reading. As expected, hardly anyone visited initially. As I steadily added content (at least once per week) viewership grew. According to my weblogs, this site is now one of the most popular websites on meeting design and related issues, with 31 million page views to date, 25 million of which were made in the last three years.

As a result, this website is now the largest source of client inquiries for my consulting and facilitating services — something I would never have predicted when it went live in 2009. And the ever-growing body of articles on this blog and the inbound links to them continue to build my brand, authority, and SEO.

This has been a PSA from Adrian Segar.

Why meetings are more important than you think

January 2nd, 2017 by Adrian Segar

As 2017 begins, take a moment to think about meetings in a wider context. OK, a very wide context.

“Who am I?” We’ve all wondered about some form of this question. While the answer is left for an exercise for the reader (and this writer), Dan Siegel, clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine and a pioneer in the field of interpersonal neurobiology, argues that our identity is not contained so much within us, but between us.

As Dan puts it:

“The self has been falsely characterized as being embedded in your body … The self being embedded in your body is not only wrong, it is a destructive belief … We have an internal-self of a ‘me’, and we do have an interconnected-self of a ‘we’. Both are important.”
Dr Daniel Siegel, “Why Compassion is Necessary for Humanity

Here’s the two-minute conclusion of Dan’s video:

While our primary relationships are usually with family and friends, professional relationships are also important, and meetings are typically the most effective way to form and develop then.

If then — as interpersonal neurobiology would have it — we are ultimately who we are because of our relationships, it follows that meetings are central to our being, our understanding of ourselves.

Cool!

Meetings. They’re more important than you think.

[Hat tip to Bernie De Koven, who provided the inspiration for this post and the video clip.]

Photo attribution: Flickr user Craig Sunter

Replace “brain training” hype with something that works

December 26th, 2016 by Adrian Segar

Driving home from the post office today, I finally heard one too many promotions for Lumosity brain training on my local NPR station. Lumosity, in case you somehow haven’t heard, is a subscription to online games that claim to improve memory, attention, cognitive flexibility, speed of processing, problem solving, and, for all I know, world peace too.

Despite the Federal Trade Commission slapping Lumosity’s creator, Lumos Labs, with a $50 million judgment (reduced to a $2 million fine) in January to settle charges of deceptive advertising that claimed — with no “competent and reliable scientific evidence” — that the games could help users achieve their “full potential in every aspect of life”, the company continues to bombard consumers with ads. Meanwhile, research on the efficacy of such programs has found little or no evidence that they make any difference to global measures of intelligence or cognition.

“I think claims these companies have been making — and Lumosity is not alone — have been grossly exaggerated. They’re trying to argue that we’re going to take you out of [the] active world … that we’re going to put you in a room alone in front of a computer screen and you’ll play a game that will make you smarter.”
“There is no compelling evidence for that.”
Dr. Laura Carstensen, founding director of the Stanford Center on Longevity

At best, it turns out, these games somewhat improve the ability of players to … wait for it … play the games.

Which leads to a simple suggestion.

Instead of paying for programs that claim to “train your brain”, figure out what you want to do that actively engages your mind — and do it!

You’ll probably learn a thing or two about something that actually interests you. And, though I can’t guarantee that your mind will become healthier, your bank account definitely will be!

Illustration components from Flickr users isaacmao and gambort

 

Virtual Meetings Lower Costs … and Interaction

December 19th, 2016 by Adrian Segar

“Intel’s annual meeting was entirely virtual. There was no in-person gathering site, the questions were submitted in advance, and management and the board made all of their presentations online.”
Steven Davidoff Solomon, New York Times, Online Shareholders’ Meetings Lower Costs, but Also Interaction

I spent the summer of 1973 working for the Long-Range Studies Department of the British Post Office, a long-defunct group that attempted to predict the exciting future that new technologies would surely bring about. The Post Office had just built a few hideously expensive teleconferencing studios, connected by outrageously expensive telephone trunk lines, and one of our jobs was to find out what they could be used for. Could businesspeople be persuaded to stop traveling to meetings, to sit instead in comfortable local studios hundreds of miles apart, handsomely equipped with cameras, microphones, screens, and speakers that magically allowed them to meet as well as if they were all in the same room? Why yes, we concluded brightly in our final report:

“A substantial number of business meetings which now occur face-to-face could be conducted effectively by some kind of group telemedia.”

Forty years later, “group telemedia”, now known as virtual meetings, are firmly established and increasingly popular. Solomon’s New York Times article quoted above explores how some corporate shareholder meetings are now held virtually. The biggest advantages of virtual meetings are clearly convenience and much lower costs: no travel, venue, or F&B expenditures.

There are, however, some downsides.

Solomon points out that virtual shareholder meetings typically pre-empt meaningful shareholder interaction; convenient if management is facing awkward questions.

“It was no coincidence that the CSX Corporation held its 2008 meeting at a remote rail yard in New Orleans, the same year it was the focus of a shareholder activist putting up a proxy fight. In previous years, it had held those meetings at the luxurious Greenbrier resort in West Virginia, which the railroad owned at the time. A virtual meeting eliminates the potential for a public relations disaster.”

He contrasts such approaches with what some companies do:

“Think about the extravaganza that is the Berkshire Hathaway meeting. Days of talking and showing off the company’s products, including copious amounts of treats from Dairy Queen, a Berkshire Hathaway subsidiary. The Walt Disney Company’s meeting is also known for highlighting the company’s latest movie or ride. Even children can ask questions; one recent interaction led Disney’s chief executive, Robert A. Iger, to give a private tour of Pixar to a child. Some companies are local legends where the entire town will gather. It is at these meetings that connections are made between the company and its shareholders.

Solomon concludes:

“By forcing everything onto the web, we lose the personal interaction. Everyone logs in and watches a preprogrammed set of questions and answers. And then everyone goes away. Management’s worldview is reaffirmed in the 10 or so minutes it allows for questioning, and there is no engagement except with those investors who own a portion of shares large enough to personally meet with management. It’s a modern world that is frightening in its disengagement.”

Online meetings offer a convenient and low-cost way to receive content, and they can provide limited interactivity. Yet you can also abandon one with the click of a mouse. Such meetings require little commitment, so it is harder to successfully engage participants when the cost of leaving is so low.

If you think of a meeting primarily as a way of transferring content, then online meetings seem attractive, inexpensive alternatives to face-to-face events. If, however, you value meetings as opportunities to make meaningful connections with others, face-to-face meetings offer significant advantages.

I believe that the unique benefits of face-to-face meetings will continue to be valued. The advantages of being physically present with other people, dining and socializing together, the serendipity of human contact, the opportunity to meet new people in person rather than hear a voice on the phone or see an image on a screen, the magic that can occur when a group of people coalesces; all these combine into more than the sum of their parts, building the potential to gain and grow long-term relationships and friendships. Anyone who has been to a good face-to-face conference knows that these things can happen, and that, either in the moment or in retrospect, they may even be seen as pivotal times in one’s life.

 

U.S. and Europe Power of Participation Workshops registration opens!

December 12th, 2016 by Adrian Segar

“Adrian Segar is so good at what he does, once you go to a conference that uses his methods, you never want to go to a regular conference again.”
— Traci Browne

Whether you’re in the U.S. or Europe, I’ve got a POPWORKS workshop for you! Every workshop is a unique opportunity for event owners, planners, moderators, designers, and presenters to:

  • learn experientially how to make your conferences and conference sessions far more engaging and effective;
  • gain powerful meeting design insights that will allow you to maximize learning, connection, engagement, and action outcomes; and
  • significantly increase owner and attendee satisfaction and participation at your sessions and events.

February 2-3, 2017: RAI Amsterdam, The Netherlands 1½-day workshop, registration now open — €895. The first ten registrants will receive a signed paperback copy of The Power of Participation (€25 value).

March 20-21, 2017: Catalyst RanchChicago 1½-day workshop, registration now open —$599 if you register by January 7, $699 afterwards. The first ten registrants will receive a signed paperback copy of The Power of Participation ($26 value). The Convention Industry Council’s CMP Preferred Provider Program has approved this workshop for 16.00 CE hours.

The POPWORKS format focuses on active learning through direct experience of a multitude of participatory meeting techniques. We’ll use cycles of experiences followed by debriefs, interspersed with short “theory bites” that cover important background knowledge and concepts. Techniques will be introduced in approximately the order they might appear during a typical participation-rich event. The syllabus below gives more detail on what will be covered.


I’ll lead the workshop (with the help of participants from time to time). I’ve been convening, designing, and facilitating conferences for over 35 years, concentrating on participant-driven and participation-rich event facilitation and design since 1992.

Watch this short video to learn more about POPWORKS.

Learn more about Adrian and his books.

Testimonials from earlier workshops

  • “I saw Adrian facilitating today, he’s a wizard, amazing :-).” — Thorben Grosser, General Manager, Europe, EventMobi
  • “ I have heard nothing but glowing reviews about your workshop with GaMPI. I am sick that I missed it. You left a lasting impression and helped our group a lot.” — Stephanie Henriksen, former Director of Curriculum, Georgia MPI Chapter
  • “ Your workshop was a breath of fresh air.” — Participant at Adrian’s 2012 EIBTM Participation Techniques Workshop
  • “ I’ve been sending e-mails to clients apologizing for NOT coming by their offices and taking them to Adrian’s presentation. I am so ashamed! I kept THEM from experiencing one of the most productive and informative workshops I have ever attended. It was great networking too!” — Kevin Priger
  • “Just came back from @AffordableMTGS in Chicago. @ASegar was the best facilitator/presenter…by far!” — De-de Mulligan, CMP, CMM, former Director of Education, Ohio MPI Chapter
  • “The attendees are still here talking to each other! That never happens!”  — Association education director, ten minutes after Adrian finished facilitating a national forum
  • “Events need engagement and participation, and Adrian Segar is the lead authority on the subject.” —  Julius Solaris, Editor of Event Manager Blog
  • “…one of the very best facilitators I’ve ever worked with onsite.”  — Mitchell Beer, President, Smarter Shift

Syllabus

Workshops start after lunch on Day 1 and continue into the evening (includes dinner). On Day 2, workshops run for approximately eight hours (includes lunch and, at Catalyst Ranch, breakfast). Participants must be present at the start of the workshop, and full attendance is strongly recommended for the best possible experience.

During each workshop you’ll get to know and connect with the other participants around common interests, share your own useful experience and expertise, and, guided by Adrian, learn what you want and need to know from everyone present. Because the agenda is somewhat flexible, a precise schedule is not given here, but the following techniques, theory bites, and much more will be covered over the 1½ days.

Techniques covered

Some techniques will be experienced as components of others. This will help develop participants’ tool chests of techniques that can be brought into service when needed.

  • The Three Questions
  • Roundtable
  • Human spectrograms
  • Crowdsourcing techniques
  • Anonymous, semi-anonymous, and public voting techniques
  • The Solution Room
  • Peer sessions
  • Fishbowls
  • Small group work
  • Personal introspective
  • Plus/Delta
  • Group spective

Theory bites

  • How covenants transform your event
  • Why incorporating participation is important
  • Why participation works
  • Environments that support participation (several sessions)
  • Experience versus listening
  • Emotion versus thinking
  • The gifts of listening and capture
  • Maintaining attention
  • Effective short form formats
  • Using white space at events
  • Planning versus improv
  • What you need to know about technology that you don’t
  • Encouraging connections outside sessions
  • Finding and working with peer facilitators
  • Evaluation traps

Stay informed about workshops or help Adrian hold one!
Can’t attend one of these workshops but want to be informed of future workshops in your preferred workshop region(s)? Want to discuss partnering on a local workshop, or suggest a suitable venue? Have questions? Please fill out the form below. All information collected will be kept strictly confidential and will not be sold, rented, loaned, or otherwise disclosed.

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Should presenter contracts include a no brown M&Ms rider?

December 5th, 2016 by Adrian Segar

vanhalenriderVan Halen‘s 1982 World Tour performance contract contained a provision calling for them to be provided backstage with a bowl of M&Ms from which all the brown candies had been removed. Although this sounds like a self-indulgent rock-group’s outrageous whim, there was a sound business reason for inserting this peculiar request in the depths of a 53-page contract:

“The M&Ms provision was included in Van Halen’s contracts not as an act of caprice, but because it served a practical purpose: to provide a simple way of determining whether the technical specifications of the contract had been thoroughly read and complied with.”
Brown Out, snopes.com

If the group arrived at a venue and discovered brown M&Ms present, they knew they needed to immediately check all contract stipulations — including important matters like whether the stage could actually handle the massive weight of the band’s equipment. Apparently, David Lee Roth would also trash the band’s dressing room to drive home the point.

Over the years I’ve contracted with hundreds of organizations for meeting facilitation and design consulting, and I’m starting to wonder if I need to adopt Van Halen’s approach.

For example, I have arrived at presentation venues to find, despite a written contract agreement to the contrary:

  • The room is full of furniture that prevents participants from moving around. “We didn’t realize it was important, and we need this room set for the session after yours.”
  • I can’t post materials on the walls. “Can’t you use some tables instead?”
  • Requested audio equipment isn’t available. “We couldn’t get you a Countryman/lav, but here’s a hand mike.”
  • The unobstructed free space is far smaller than what I requested or was told. “We needed a stage for the afternoon keynote.“/ “We decided to hold the buffet in the room.”
  • Fine-point Sharpies have been replaced by ballpoint pens. “Oh I see, yes, I guess no one will be able to read all the participant Post-Its at a distance. We’ll just have to make do.”
  • Projector resolution is not what I was told or requested. “Your slides will be a bit distorted, but I’m sure people will still be able to read them.”
  • Tables that were supposed to be covered with taped down white paper for participant drawings are still bare. “Kevin said he’d cover them, but we don’t know where he is. Surely it won’t take long; can you help us?”
  • Carefully diagrammed room sets have been replaced with something different. “Well, our staff have never set up curved theater seating before — it’s not on their standard charts — so they set the rows straight.”

It’s true that I’m not the standard-presenter-talking-from-a-podium-at-the-front-of-the-room — i.e. “Give me a room full of chairs and my PowerPoint and I’m all set!” Yet there are sound reasons for my, apparently to some, strange-seeming requests. Those contract provisions are not about making my life easier or more luxurious — they are needed to provide participants with the best possible learning, connection, and overall experience during my time with them.

I am well aware of the incredible demands made on meeting planners before and during events. I’ve had that role for hundreds of events, and know what it’s like. Things rarely go according to plan, and creative solutions need to be invented on the spot. No matter what happens, I always work with planners to the best of my ability to ensure that the show goes on and it’s the best that it can be under the circumstances.

What’s frustrating is that complications like the examples above can almost always be avoided with a modicum of planning — if meeting planners read and take seriously the contract terms to which they’ve agreed. I will bend over backwards to resolve pre-event concerns, but being hit with last-minute surprises is, at best, annoying, and, at worst, can significantly reduce the effectiveness of what I have been paid and contracted to do.

No, I’m not going to start trashing dressing rooms like David Lee Roth. (Full disclosure: nobody’s ever even offered me a dressing room.) But, folks, if you hire me, don’t spoil the ship for a ha’p’orth of tar. Please read the contract before signing it, ask me about anything you don’t understand or are concerned about so we’re clear about my needs and your ability to fulfill them, take my requests seriously, and, as the event approaches, keep in mind your commitments so they don’t get overlooked. I will appreciate your professionalism, and everyone — your attendees, you, and I — will reap the benefits.

Three prerequisites for lifelong learning

November 28th, 2016 by Adrian Segar

pablo_casals_in_buenos_aires_1937When the renown cellist Pablo Casals was asked why, at 81, he continued to practice four or five hours a day he answered: “Because I think I am making progress.

Like Casals, I want to keep living lifelong learning by:

As an example, here’s what I recently learned while leading a workshop.

Trying new things and noticing what happens
During the workshop:

  • I used a projected countdown timer and a 90-second piece of music to get participants back in their seats on time at the end of a short mid-workshop break. Outcome? It worked really well!
  • While facilitating body voting (aka human spectrograms) I verbally stated each question we were exploring. Outcome? It seemed like a few participants didn’t hear or understand what I’d said until I repeated myself. Verbal communication didn’t work so well.
  • I wore a red hat when I was explaining/debriefing, and took it off when I was facilitating experiences. Outcome? This was the second time I’ve tried this approach, and I’m still not sure whether it’s effective/useful or not.

When you pursue risky learning, some things work while some don’t — and for some, the jury is still out. Whatever happens, you can learn something!

Soliciting and being open to observations and feedback
During the workshop:

  • Some of the questions I asked during body voting asked individuals to come up with a numeric answer, and then join a group line in numerical order. Someone had the bright idea of showing their answer with fingers raised above their head, so it was easy for others to see where to go in the line. Many participants copied the idea, which sped up forming the human spectrograms. I’d never seen this done before, and will adopt this simple and effective improvement.
  • I love to use a geographic two-dimensional human spectrogram to allow participants to quickly discover others who lives/work near them. The wide U.S. map I projected did not correspond to the skinny width of the room. A participant suggested that we rotate where we stood by 90º. I tried her suggestion and found that it was easy for people to move to their correct positions. Duly noted!
  • At the end of the workshop, I solicited public feedback at a group spective. One participant shared frustration with my verbal statements of the body voting questions, and suggested that the questions also be projected simultaneously. An excellent refinement that I will incorporate in future.

Notice how participants were able to point out deficiencies in processes I used, and simultaneously came up with some fine solutions. Peer learning in action!

Final thoughts
I’ve been designing and facilitating participant-driven and participation-rich meetings for 25 years, and many participants have been kind enough to share that I’m good at what I do (check out the sidebar testimonials).

But I don’t want to rest on my laurels. I’m no Casals, but, like him, I keep practicing, learning, and — hopefully — making progress.

Photo attribution: Gus Ruelas

Guaranteeing audience engagement at your events

November 21st, 2016 by Adrian Segar

engagementMost people won’t ask questions at meetings. So how can you get authentic audience engagement at your events?

In a thoughtful article “Audience Engagement – at the Heart of Meetings“, Pádraic Gilligan writes:

“…We all want audience engagement so why doesn’t it take place?…While the speaker can be to blame for lack of audience engagement, in my experience, it’s usually the fault of the audience!”

I disagree.

I’ve found that lack of audience engagement is due to the generally poor process used during most meeting sessions.

A different workshop
Last Wednesday I led a two-hour workshop in Boston for 160 members of a national education association. Every participant was active during ~80% of the workshop: discovering the concerns and experience of other participants, moving around the room while forming human spectrograms to learn about each other and the group (I used three participant-created chair sets during the session) and learning and connecting around issues and topics relevant to them throughout.

The hardest task of the workshop was getting people to stop talking with each other so we could move to the next part!

Pádraic suggests that hi-tech polling methods can be used to increase engagement. I agree that such technology can help engagement, but it’s not necessary. During my workshop, I showed 12 slides, but would have been fine without them. Other technology I used included 5″x8″ cards, pens, and large post-it notes. No high tech was needed with one optional exception — we projected a Google Doc at the end, to capture and display all the group feedback during the closing public workshop evaluation.

In 25 years of experience, I’ve found that most people have a fundamental need and desire to connect with others with whom they share something in common. When you use good group process to safely facilitate appropriate connection, ~98% embrace the opportunity and learn, connect, and engage effectively with their peers. Anonymity, if needed, can be readily supplied by no-tech/low-tech process, but it turns out that it’s needed a lot less than people think.

Every person in the workshop received a copy of my book The Power of Participation, which explains why participant-driven and participation-rich sessions are so important, how to create an environment for this kind of learning, connection, engagement, and resulting action, and how and when to use a large organized compendium of appropriate process tools. The participants I spoke with after the workshop told me how excited they were: planning to read the book and start putting what they had experienced into improving their professional development work in education.

It’s possible to create amazing learning and connection though approaches I’ve outlined above. When I facilitate longer conferences I can assure you that almost everyone will ask questions in public at some point during the event.

Conclusion
If you aren’t getting excellent audience engagement, don’t blame the audience! Change the processes you use in your sessions, and engagement will be guaranteed!

You can experience how to use process tools to significantly improve the effectiveness of your sessions and events at one of my 1½-day workshops in North America and Europe. If you can’t participate in a workshop, buy a copy of The Power of Participation to learn the why, what, and how of building better learning, connection, engagement, and action outcomes into your events.

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Thirty minutes free consulting included with book purchase on this site!

Download five free chapters here!

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Purchase eBook ($11), paperback ($26) or both ($32) at lowest available prices via PayPal on this site. Signing and U.S. shipping included. Paperback versions are also available from online bookstores everywhere.

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