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Healthcare professionals want participant-driven events too

May 2nd, 2016 by Adrian Segar

boring meeting 370268513_6c026f08e3_b

75% of healthcare professionals want to have input into the content of meetings they attend. Yet 36% have never been asked to provide input into any agenda or program. These disconcerting statistics are two of the research findings in a February 2016 report The Future of Meetings [free download] commissioned by Ashfield Meetings and Events.

Though healthcare meetings were ranked just behind professional journals (92%) as the second most popular (87%) regular channel for learning, the survey of 237 healthcare professionals from 11 countries across the Americas, Asia, and Europe found “nearly 40 per cent of those interviewed have not had a positive delegate experience at the meetings they have attended.”

I wouldn’t be surprised to find that these findings, from a meeting sector that is relatively well-funded and certainly capable of supporting high-quality meeting design, would be replicated at most conferences held today.

Meeting owners and planners: it’s time to supply what your attendees want!

A hat tip to MeetingsNet‘s Sue Pelletier for making me aware of the report via her article “Research Puts Some Science Behind Scientific Meetings“.

Photo attribution: Flickr user markhillary

Participatory voting at events: Part 1—Introduction

April 25th, 2016 by Adrian Segar

Choice- Red pill, blue pill

Look up “voting” on Google and the top search results are dominated by links about electoral voting. Making decisions (about elected leaders, opposing choices, and action plans, etc.) is the first function of voting that comes to mind for most people.

In a participatory meeting environment, however, rather than simply a means to make a decision, voting is most useful as a way to obtain information early in the process; a “straw poll” that provides public information about viewpoints in the room and paves the way for further discussion—a process I call participatory voting.

Ways to use participatory voting

Perhaps surprisingly, voting is not a simple, well-defined process. The International Society on Multiple Criteria Decision Making lists more than four thousand articles on decision theory in its bibliography. Voting, it turns out, can be a complex and subtle business.

For most of us, “group voting” brings up the concept of voting as decision-making. But voting can be used to test learning, and to elicit and share information. To guide your choice of the participatory voting techniques I’ll cover in later posts, here are short descriptions of various ways to use voting in meeting sessions.

Determining consensus
It’s often unclear whether a group has formed a consensus around a specific viewpoint or proposed action. Consensual participatory voting can quickly show whether a group has reached or is close to consensus, or wants to continue discussion. It can also pinpoint those who have significant objections to a majority position and give them the opportunity to clarify their reasons for opposition.

Making decisions
How people use voting techniques depends a lot on their presentation/facilitation/management style. If you are focusing on making a decision, voting is a tempting method to obtain an outcome. But if a vote is held prematurely, before adequate exploration of alternatives and associated discussion, the “decision” may have poor buy-in from those who voted in the minority or who feel they weren’t heard. People will rightly feel ambushed if they are asked to vote on a decision without adequate warning and opportunities for discussion.

Thus, if you plan to use voting for decision-making, explain up front the processes and time constraints you will be using prior to the vote. Unless the vote is purely advisory, give participants the chance to determine what they will be voting on, and how it will be framed. Such preparation lets people know their opportunities to shape discussion, and minimizes the likelihood that unexpected premature voting will cut off exploration of important creative or minority options.

Testing learning
Polling an audience is a time-tested technique, as old as teaching itself, for teachers to obtain feedback on student understanding. “Pop” quizzes, multiple-choice tests, and modern Audience Response Systems can be useful ways to test audience learning. But they have their limitations. As Jeff Hurt explains:

[Audience Response Systems] are good for immediate feedback. They are good for ‘knowledge learning.’ Studies show they increase engagement and let someone know whether their answer is right or wrong. In short, they are good for surface knowledge. They however do not promote deep learning…which leads to higher level thinking skills such as estimation, judgement, application, assessment and evaluation of topics.”
Facebook comment by Jeff Hurt

The participatory learning philosophy I espouse concentrates on these deeper learning skills. From this perspective, traditional voting supplies limited information when used as a testing tool.

Setting context
We know that small group discussion is key to effective learning during an event. But how do we set an initial context for discussion? Participatory voting techniques supply important information about the views, preferences, and experiences of participants, both as a group and as individuals. This information can then be used to set up appropriate discussions.

Eliciting information
Perhaps the most important benefit of participatory voting techniques is their ability to elicit important information about the people, needs, and ideas in a group and make it available to the entire group. Although some voting techniques can be used to provide anonymous or semi-anonymous information, I believe that sharing information provided by group members to group members is one of the most powerful ways to strengthen connection, openness, and a sense of community in a group.

Allowing participants to discover those who agree or disagree with them or share their experience efficiently facilitates valuable connections between participants in ways unlikely to occur during traditional meetings. Giving group members opportunities to harness these techniques for their own discoveries about the group can further increase engagement in the group’s purpose.

Determining the flow of group conversation and action
Participatory voting techniques such as card voting provide large groups the real-time feedback required to productively steer a complex conversation to best meet the needs of the group.

Planning action
Finally, we can use participatory voting to uncover group resources, interest, and commitment on specific action items from individual participants.

Some concluding observations about voting

If you’re using voting to test understanding of a concept or explore a group’s knowledge of a topic, include time for small group discussion before the vote. Pair share is a great technique for this. Provide enough time for each participant to think about their answer and then have them pair share their understanding. After the vote, you can facilitate a discussion with the entire group about the differences uncovered.

To avoid making premature decisions, use consensual voting to uncover significant alternative viewpoints and test the depth of agreement before confirming that you have substantial agreement through decision-oriented voting.

Think about when and how you use voting. Voting on alternatives that have been inadequately explored or discussed is counterproductive.

Use public voting methods whenever appropriate—which is, in my experience, most of the time.

If people wish to “sit out” their vote when using participatory voting, support their right to do so unless you are testing for consensus, in which case it’s reasonable to ask for their feedback. Consider using anonymous voting if people seem reluctant to express an opinion.

[This post is adapted from a (longer) chapter on participatory voting in The Power of Participation: Creating Conferences That Deliver Learning, Connection, Engagement, and Action.]

Red pill blue pill image modified by yours truly, attribution W.carter under CC BY-SA 4.0 license

A request for workshop help

April 21st, 2016 by Adrian Segar

Help request for workshopsI am looking for your help to hold workshops that I believe will significantly improve the quality of meetings.

Since 1992 I’ve been developing participation techniques that radically improve conference sessions and entire meetings. Over the last five years I have run a variety of 3 – 8 hour workshops where participants learn to facilitate and appreciate some of these techniques through direct experience. These meeting industry workshops have been very well received (references are available if you don’t know my work).

I believe there’s a real need for extended versions of these workshops — lasting 1½ – 2½ days — to give meeting planners, facilitators, and presenters a comprehensive interactive learning experience of these simple, yet powerful and effective ways to improve learning, connection, engagement, and action outcomes at our events.

I love designing and running these workshops, and I would like to offer them anywhere in the world there’s sufficient interest. They will typically be small, between 15 to 50 people.

I am not interested in making a ton of money doing this, just covering expenses and my standard fees. The more people who attend a workshop, the less it should cost them.

So I’m looking for partners and volunteers: people and organizations who are interested and willing to help make these workshops happen.

Perhaps:

  • You know people and/or groups who would want to attend and are willing to solicit them?
  • Such a workshop would fit into and complement one of your events?
  • You own a venue that could be used to host the workshop?
  • You, and perhaps others you know, want to attend one and have ideas about holding it at your location or for your community?
  • You can help in some other way?

I’m open to any kind of workable relationships (yes, you can be reimbursed/paid for your contributions) that make these workshops possible. Although my books continue to sell well and influence event design all over the world, after 25 years I’ve learned that most people only fully understand the value of these eye-opening ways to transform meetings by experiencing them, rather than reading about them.

Would you like to make these workshops possible? Can you help? Then I’d love to work with you. Please contact me at adrian@segar.com.

Improve your events in 5 minutes with covenants

April 18th, 2016 by Adrian Segar

You can spend 5 minutes at the start of your events doing something that will significantly improve them. Something I bet you don’t currently do. To understand why including group covenants will make your meetings better, let’s eavesdrop on what’s going on in your attendees’ heads…

Common thoughts during meetings
“I didn’t understand that; should I ask her to explain?”
“I disagree, and I’m going to interrupt!”
“I’m not going to say a word in this session.”
“Why aren’t we discussing what I think’s important?”
“That makes me angry; guess I’ll just sit here and stew!”

It doesn’t have to be this way
Elementary school classrooms have ground rules posted on the walls. At the start of the school year, good teachers share the behaviors they expect from their students. Yet, apparently, in the adult world we’re magically supposed to know how to behave when we enter a meeting room.

When no explicit agreements about behavior are made at the start of a meeting, no one benefits. Most attendees default to passive behavior: not contributing or asking questions. Confident extraverts (including most “speakers”) monopolize group time, never taking advantage of the considerable experience and expertise in the room.

The power of events is weakened by the simple reality that without group agreements, each of us makes different assumptions about how we should behave at meetings.

Google, Carnegie Mellon University, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology do research
Since 2012, Google’s Project Aristotle has been researching the factors that made teams successful. In his 2016 New York Times articleCharles Duhigg describes a key finding:

“…on the good teams, members spoke in roughly the same proportion, a phenomenon the researchers referred to as ‘equality in distribution of conversational turn-taking.’ On some teams, everyone spoke during each task; on others, leadership shifted among teammates from assignment to assignment. But in each case, by the end of the day, everyone had spoken roughly the same amount. ‘As long as everyone got a chance to talk, the team did well,’ Woolley said. ‘But if only one person or a small group spoke all the time, the collective intelligence declined.’
What Google Learned From Its Quest to Build the Perfect Team

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology came up with similar conclusions:

“In two studies with 699 people, working in groups of two to five, we find converging evidence of a general collective intelligence factor that explains a group’s performance on a wide variety of tasks. This “c factor” is not strongly correlated with the average or maximum individual intelligence of group members but is correlated with the average social sensitivity of group members, the equality in distribution of conversational turn-taking, and the proportion of females in the group.”
Evidence for a Collective Intelligence Factor in the Performance of Human Groups, Science 29 October 2010 Vol 330, Anita Williams Woolley et al

Well, well, well. “Collective intelligence” improves if everyone gets a chance to talk! And it also improves by increasing the proportion of females in the group — which, for what it’s worth, has been my personal experience for years.

We can’t usually do much about increasing the number of females at an event (though improving the gender balance of invited presenters wouldn’t hurt). But, in my fifteen years experience, I can report that using good covenants at the start of an event makes it far more likely that everyone will contribute appropriately.

[What are “good covenants”? Learn more about the ones I use here.]

When good covenants equalize the distribution of conversational turn-taking at a meeting, the collective intelligence of the meeting group increases. That translates to a better overall conference experience, as experienced collectively and reported individually.

Although skilled facilitators know how to help level the distribution of attendee contributions by explicitly inviting those who have not yet spoken to contribute, I’ve found that spending just 5 minutes at the start of an event explaining and getting group agreement on explicit covenants that give attendees the freedom, the right, and the support to share appropriately is a much more effective and efficient approach that democratizes conversations throughout the event. Try it—you’ll like it, and your event and participants will reap the benefits.

If you want passion and engagement, don’t lecture or test

April 11th, 2016 by Adrian Segar

love of the sea_17456817331_f99805ce3c_h
Magical events change peoples’ lives. Great events foster passion by providing well-designed opportunities for significant engagement with peers. For passion and engagement, you need a tribe—be it two or a hundred other people—with whom you relate and connect while you’re together at the event, and, hopefully, afterwards too.

For passion and engagement to be possible, what should we avoid?

“If you want people to become passionate, engaged in a field, transformed by an experience — you don’t test them, you don’t lecture them and you don’t force them. Instead, you create an environment where willing, caring individuals can find an experience that changes them.”
—Seth Godin, “Will this be on the test?”

Hmm…don’t test, or lecture, or force people to do what they really don’t want to do.

As Antoine de Saint-Exupéry said, seventy years ago:

“Building a boat isn’t about weaving canvas, forging nails, or reading the sky. It’s about giving a shared taste for the sea, by the light of which you will see nothing contradictory but rather a community of love.”
—Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, “Citadel”, 1948, translated from the French

Photo attribution: Flickr user 98810885@N07

Briefer Madness

April 4th, 2016 by Adrian Segar

Briefer madness
This is a Public Service Announcement for meeting stakeholders everywhere.

When conferences focus on content-delivery, there’s no downside to making sessions shorter. Program organizers of such conferences think like this:

“Let’s include more speakers than we originally planned. There’s no problem. We’ll just shorten presenter time and add more sessions. After all, if our speakers are given half the time, they’ll cover half their original content. Simple!”

Now it’s true that if your conference speakers are going to lecture, a larger number of short sessions may actually work better than a smaller number of long ones. That’s because our brains and bodies are not equipped to maintain full attention to any speaker for more than a few minutes. If you’ve got interesting content to share, I’m a fan of short presentation formats such as Pecha Kucha & Ignite. (TED? Not so much.)

However, in my experience, if you want to create conferences that blow attendees minds, you need to replace traditional brain-dump session formats.

Lectures rarely create significant change.

Instead, you have to use participation-rich session formats that actively involve participants in learning and facilitate relevant connections during the session.

And here’s where the old idea of shortening sessions to cram more into the program breaks down, and Briefer Madness raises its ugly head.

Participatory formats are necessarily messy. Active learning, in pairs or small groups, takes time because everyone needs relevant opportunities to think and speak and share and respond, not just a single presenter. Consequently, participatory formats do not scale like broadcast-style formats!

I like how Johnnie Moore expresses this:

…reveal[ing] the rich, messy complexity of the real world…takes time and often feels like a diversion from what we might think is the real work. People default to workaholic notions of what meetings should achieve; they should be efficient, follow an agenda, achieve set outcomes…but all of these pressures tend to keep us locked in stereotypes and assumptions.

Choosing to disrupt this can be risky. Proposing a playful approach, or suggesting a reflective walk, will sound crazy to some participants. Surely that would be a waste of time? I increasingly find the opposite is the case; the more disruptive approaches can dislodge fixed ideas that are really holding us all back.
Stereotypes—Johnnie Moore

Give skilled meeting designers or facilitators enough time to work with during your meetings, and they can design or facilitate sessions that are highly likely to generate powerful individual and group change and outcomes.

If you succumb to Briefer Madness by cutting that time in half, then, at best, a whole redesign will be needed. At worst, you’ll be asking for something that’s impossible to do well.

Yes, meeting times are never unlimited. Yes, vital content needs need to be addressed.

But rather than constraining designers and facilitators to time periods that guarantee mediocre outcomes, try asking them how much time they’ll require to be truly effective in achieving the outcomes you desire and need. Respect their answers, and don’t treat what they suggest in the same way you’d treat a program of lectures that can be sliced and diced to satisfy diversity of content needs without any ill effects.

Resist the seduction of Briefer Madness!

This has been a Public Service Announcement for meeting stakeholders everywhere. My apologies to devotees of the cult classic film Reefer Madness.

Does your org chart guarantee stagnation?

April 3rd, 2016 by Adrian Segar

Pharma org chart

Sometimes, an organization’s culture guarantees that productive change will never occur. Organizational culture unfailingly generates organizational structure that mirrors and maintains the culture.

Want to learn a lot about an organization’s potential for change? Check out the org chart.

Photo attribution: cartoon by the always wonderful Tom Fishburne, but it’s not apparently available on his website. HT to John Nosta who may have shared it at a pharma conference.


How do you facilitate change? In this occasional series, we explore various aspects of facilitating individual and group change.

Scenes from a peer conference—part 2

March 28th, 2016 by Adrian Segar

Since 2012, I’ve had the privilege of designing and facilitating the annual Vermont Vision for a Multicultural Future Peer Conference. It’s an honor to work on a classic Conferences That Work-style peer conference that’s turned out to be one of the most powerful tools for building inclusive, equitable, and sustainable communities in my home state.

Experience a taste in this two-minute conference video, made by the staff at the Vermont Partnership for Fairness & Diversity. Watch carefully for my cameo appearances!

Watch scenes from a peer conference—part 1 here.

Two ways to take a hard look at conference evaluations

March 21st, 2016 by Adrian Segar

evaluationSeth Godin wrote a great blog post about survey questions—and applying two of his insights will make any conference evaluation better.

First, ask yourself the following about every question you ask:

Are you asking questions capable of making change happen?
After the survey is over, can you say to the bosses, “83% of our customer base agrees with answer A, which means we should change our policy on this issue.”

It feels like it’s cheap to add one more question, easy to make the question a bit banal, simple to cover one more issue. But, if the answers aren’t going to make a difference internally, what is the question for?
—Seth Godin

In other words, if any question you ask doesn’t have the potential to lead you to change anything, leave it out!)

Second, think about Seth’s sobering experience on responding to “Any other comments?” style questions:

Here’s a simple test I do, something that has never once led to action: In the last question of a sloppy, census-style customer service survey, when they ask, “anything else?” I put my name and phone number and ask them to call me. They haven’t, never once, not in more than fifty brand experiences.

Gulp. Would your evaluation process fare any better? As Seth concludes:

If you’re not going to read the answers and take action, why are you asking?

Design conferences for a connection economy

March 14th, 2016 by Adrian Segar

Connections_17204781164_e80dd1bc82_k
Useful knowledge increasingly resides in our social networks, not in our individual heads. Consequently, we are moving from an industrial economy to a connection economy: one which creates value by concentrating on building relationships rather than stuff.

In the connection economy, there’s a dividing line between two kinds of projects: those that exist to create connections, and those that don’t.
—Seth Godin, First, connect

Are your conferences designed for a connection economy or an industrial economy?

Photo attribution: Flickr user ch-weidinger

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