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Stop drive-by following on social media—you’re trashing your brand!

February 8th, 2016 by Adrian Segar

SM followers

If you are attempting to build social media followers by drive-by following—i.e. following a batch of new accounts every day, waiting a day or two, and then unfollowing the accounts that don’t follow you back—STOP THAT! You are trashing your brand.

I’m surprised that so many people with social media bios clearly designed to project a professional image destroy their credibility by using this “strategy”.

I suspect these are people that would never stoop to buying followers or likes. And yet ~30% of my daily new Twitter followers are drive-by followers.

Drive-by following backfires because it ensures that I’m extremely unlikely to want to have any kind of social media connection with you.

Here’s how it works on Twitter, my most important social media platform. I do my best to read the profile of every new follower. Rarely will I follow back right away unless you’re someone I know. Birdbrain, the excellent app I use to track Twitter followers, also shows anyone who’s unfollowed me. That’s where I get to notice that you’ve drive-by unfollowed me, typically within 48 hours of your initial follow. That’s when I get to make a mental note that you’re not a serious user of social media, just someone chasing a high follower count.

If you continue to follow for a bit and post interesting stuff (I admit that mentions and RTs of me are nice too!) I may well follow you back.

What’s worse than drive-by following? Repeated drive-by following! I routinely see accounts commit multiple drive-bys, usually a week or so apart. My conclusion:  either you are using a second-rate automated drive-by service, or you have a memory even worse than mine (which is saying something). Either way, your attempt to get me to follow you back is even less likely to succeed.

If you want to use social media as an effective marketing platform, don’t broadcast stuff about yourself all the time. Don’t implement elaborate plans solely designed to maximize your followers. Instead, post interesting stuff (both yours and others) and interact with people. Keep doing this, and over time, if you’re doing a good job, your followers will grow and be genuinely interested in your social media presence, and your brand recognition and value will increase.

Lessons from my association leadership transitions

February 1st, 2016 by Adrian Segar

transitions_4141130245_1b07542dfb_oIn June I’m stepping down as President and Executive Director of edACCESS, an association I co-founded 25 years ago. This is the third time I’ve left an association leadership position, and I’m going to share some valuable lessons learned from each transition. Read the rest of this entry »

How a fishbowl sandwich can really get your attendees talking

January 25th, 2016 by Adrian Segar

fishbowl_sandwichTen minutes after I’d finished facilitating a large national association meeting hour-long discussion on solutions for a persistent industry problem, the conference education director walked in. His jaw dropped. “The attendees are still here talking to each other! That never happens!” he exclaimed.

Well it happened this time. Many small groups had formed and people were chatting energetically. Business cards were being swapped. When I left to catch my flight home twenty minutes later, conversations were still going on all around the room.

How did I build and support this level of interaction and engagement? Read the rest of this entry »

The simple consensus process that saved international climate change conferences

January 18th, 2016 by Adrian Segar


A powerful yet little-known South African consensus process—indaba—has now been used twice to rescue foundering talks at international climate change conferences. Introduced at the 2011 Durban talks, the recently-concluded 2015 Paris talks also invoked indaba (pronounced “in-dar-bah”) to reduce “900 bracketed points of contention in the draft text to about 300 before the last session“—making it possible for the first time for all 195 countries present to agree to reduce carbon emissions.

Indaba has been used at Zulu, Xhosa, and Swazi tribal gatherings for two centuries or more.

“A message was therefore conveyed..to the King, inviting Umtassa to come in to an indaba at Umtali.”
The Pall Mall Gazette, London, December 26, 1894 (earliest documented written use)

What is indaba?
Indaba is not a clearly defined format. The term has been appropriated and adapted (example) and I’ve been unable to find detailed descriptions of the original South African process. I suspect that the form used by the Paris Climate Conference negotiators does not define indaba, and may distort or omit significant features. Here are the key ingredients from the Paris talks:

  • Indaba was used as a logjam-breaking technique after traditional negotiating process ground to a halt.
  • Participants with decision-making authority worked in small groups that included members from countries with seemingly incompatible goals.
  • Small group members shared verbally and face-to-face their “red lines”, i.e. specific “hard limits” issues they were not willing to compromise on.
  • Participants who shared hard limits were concomitantly responsible for proposing solutions to other group members, preventing the meeting from being merely a presentation of position statements.

The Durban climate change conference implemented a more open process where diplomats representing the main countries formed a standing circle in the middle of hundreds of delegates and talked directly to each other. John Vidal reported: “By including everyone and allowing often hostile countries to speak in earshot of observers, it achieved a remarkable breakthrough within 30 minutes.”

The third and fourth covenants listed above distinguish indaba from other forms of group consensus and negotiation process: explicit sharing of what is not acceptable, coupled with commitment to propose and explore solutions for supposedly intractable differences.

Similar consensus processes
Indaba principles have been reinvented and/or rediscovered in a couple of parallel formats that I’m aware of.

One is concordance, developed by Will Schutz (here’s an introduction). Robert McNeil summarizes as follows: “Everyone who has a stake is in. Anyone can veto. If you veto you have to explain why (openly and honestly). We explore the vetoes openly and do the work necessary for all to agree.”

Another is the “two circles” couples work technique for finding common ground popularized by John M. Gottman & Nan Silver in The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, in which you draw two circles, one inside the other, using the inner circle to list aspects you can’t give in on and the outer circle for aspects you can compromise over.

[Know any others? Add them in the comments below!]

The overlooked importance of good group process
It’s remarkable that such an elementary consensus process proved to be key to creating a meeting agreement that will likely profoundly shape the future of our planet.

Perhaps what is most incredible is that such a powerful process is virtually unknown to most meeting designers, negotiators, and facilitators!

As the outcome-changing application of indaba at the United Nations Conference on Climate Change demonstrates, there is an urgent need for all of us to become familiar with and use good group process when we meet to learn, connect, engage, and decide. The world will be a better place when we do.


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

Image “COP21 participants – 30 Nov 2015 (23430273715)” courtesy of Presidencia de la República Mexicana

Shut up and listen

January 11th, 2016 by Adrian Segar

Shut up and listenOne of the hardest things for me to do is to shut up and listen.

“If I could give just one piece of advice to all medical students, I would say, ‘Show up completely, and then shut up for at least two minutes while the miracle in front of you tells you who they are and how you can help them.’ If every doctor did just that one thing, it would change medicine.”
Raymond Barfield, Professor of Medicine and Divinity, Duke University, from “The Miracle in Front of You”, January 2016 interview in The Sun

It’s hard for me to shut up and listen because I get sparked by what people say and I want to respond.

It’s hard for me to shut up and listen because people often talk about their problems, and I love solving problems—even when I haven’t been asked to solve them.

It’s hard for me to shut up and listen because I have a need for connection with others and want to share who I am, sometimes more than is best for our relationship.

Yet, when I am able to shut up and give the gift of listening, the odds that the person speaking feels heard increases.

And, when I am able to shut up and give someone sharing a problem the space to say fully what’s on her mind, it’s more likely she’ll ask me what I think, and then, perhaps, I can help her.

And, when I am able to shut up and connect with someone through listening well, I’ll usually end up connecting with him more deeply.

Finally, of course, when I shut up and listen well, I’m less likely to miss important information that I need or want to hear.

We can all—especially me—benefit from shutting up and listening.

I’m working on it.

Why we shouldn’t (but do) play music at conference socials

January 4th, 2016 by Adrian Segar

Can't hear you!Even though socials aren’t the best ways to meet new people at conferences, strong cultural pressure makes socials mandatory for most events. And if you want to make socials a maximally effective opportunity for interaction and engagement keep them music free.

Why? Well, you’d be horrified if loud construction noise invaded the ballroom at the beginning of your elegant pre-dinner mixer. Any kind of competing sound makes it harder for people to hear each other, reducing the quantity and quality of interaction. Yet plenty of meeting planners seem to believe that music acts as a kind of obligatory social lubricant when people get together. Jackhammers are not OK, but “background” music is, somehow, mysteriously exempt.

Why is music often inflicted on us during socials? While I don’t know for sure, here are a couple of misconceptions that may be to blame.

 — Music can improve creativity and enjoyment, so doesn’t it improve social situations?
Research indicates that the right kind of music can improve creativity when working and improve efficiency when performing repetitive tasks. For example, I find that listening to certain music helps me write, and improves my mood while stacking wood. So, some might conclude that playing music at socials could benefit the quality of interaction and engagement.

Unfortunately, there’s no evidence that social interaction is improved when music is introduced. Research findings of creativity improvements are confined to solo work. In addition, research suggests that positive effects of music depend on familiarity—i.e. music heard for the first time is not helpful—so it’s not possible to play one piece of music to a crowd of people and obtain uniformly positive results. Finally, music with lyrics is especially distracting to people trying to converse, and should be avoided.

 — Bars and restaurants play music while we drink and eat, so shouldn’t we have music during our event socials too?
Have you ever been to a bar where there wasn’t music playing or a TV on? Me neither. In my experience, the majority of restaurants play background music. Bars and restaurants are in business for people to meet socially, so surely they must have found that playing music improves customers’ social experience, or they wouldn’t do it!

Well, actually, no. Bars and restaurants play music, not for their patrons’ benefit but for their own! Background music that’s loud enough to make it challenging to talk to a friend but not loud enough to drive you out of the establishment has been shown to increase sales. From a 2008 French study“high level [sound] volume led to increase alcohol consumption and reduced the average amount of time spent by the patrons to drink their glass”. And 2008 British research concludes that “people do, at least partly, drink because they can’t talk to each other”. So the reason we’re surrounded by music in commercial social spaces is not to increase social interaction, it’s to decrease it and have consumers buy more!

We also need to bear in mind people—typically older folks like me—who have hearing loss that impedes their comprehension of conversations. Anything we can do to provide a better acoustical environment at our events will help the auditory challenged to have a better experience.

When is it OK to play music at events?
Are there times when it’s appropriate to use music during conferences? Sure. Here are some examples, feel free to add more in the comments:

  • Sessions where music is used as an important sensory, emotional, or learning component.
  • Parties! (But be sure to provide alternative quiet spaces for folks who don’t like the loud music and/or just want to talk.)
  • Corporate social responsibility and sustainability activities, especially if they involve repetitive activities—e.g. packing toys for needy kids.

In conclusion, avoid reflexively ordering music background for your events. It’s a fundamental distraction that, apart from a few specific situations, reduces communication, connection, and engagement. And, according to the above research, if you cut out the house music during the mixer, your food and beverage bill may be reduced a little too!

Venues on notice: meeting planners are demanding flexible meeting space!

December 29th, 2015 by Adrian Segar

Apple campusTwo-thirds of meeting planners now rank flexible meeting space as a top priority when choosing a venue, according to Destination Hotels’ fourth annual State of the Meetings Industry survey.

“Among the nearly 68 percent of respondents who said that flexible meeting spaces rated an 8, 9 or 10 in importance when choosing a meeting site, two factors are driving this need. First, the objective of in-person meetings is to deliver information and insight at a level that tech-based meetings cannot; second, today’s attendees require variety in their learning environment to remain stimulated, attentive and receptive to information and different perspectives.”
—The fourth annual State of the Meetings Industry survey (October 2015), conducted by Destination Hotels

In 2011, at a webinar I gave for the International Association of Conference Centres I recommended that venues develop and feature flexible meeting space, to prepare for the growth of Conference 2.0 formats. Four years have passed, and meeting planners are now demanding these spaces.

Venues, are you ready?

Image of Apple Campus II floor plan courtesy of Office Snapshots

Dear Adrian—How can we incorporate exercise into event programs?

December 28th, 2015 by Adrian Segar

walking 21933280563_e08d835b7d_kSue Walton, MeCo co-founder, asks on the long-running MeetingsCommunity (registration may be needed):

Q: How do you incorporate exercise into your (event) programs?

A: Exercise during events is important because blood flow to our brains starts to decline within ten minutes of sitting still. Any kind of movement incorporated into sessions helps to boost alertness back to the level when people first sat down.

Adding early morning running or yoga sessions into conference schedules is becoming increasingly common. That’s great, but providing opportunities to exercise between and during conference sessions is also possible. Interpreting “exercise” loosely, here are four additional ways to incorporate exercise into an event.

Walking maps
Before the event, prepare and distribute maps showing walking and/or jogging routes that start and end at the venue. Include time estimates for each route, so participants can see options for exercise that will fit into their schedule. Make it easy for participants to incorporate healthy movement into their conference experience.

Short standing-in-place exercise
If people have been sitting for a while, face the group and lead them in a minute of standing-in-place exercise. You might say “We’ve been sitting for a while, so I’d like to lead you through a minute of gentle exercise. Please avoid anything that is uncomfortable for you. Please stand [PAUSE].”

Then demonstrate and lead participants through the following:

  • “Rotate your shoulders by slowly raising them up, back and down. Continue for around twenty seconds.”
  • “Bring palms together in front of chest. Slowly raise arms straight above the head, with hands apart or together. While keeping arms raised, slowly swivel hips for twenty seconds.”
  • “Slowly turn your head to the right until you feel a slight stretch. Be careful not to tip or tilt your head forward or backward, but hold it in a comfortable position. Hold for ten seconds, and then return to facing forward. Repeat, turning to the left.”

Walking sessions
Schedule sessions where participants are walking and talking together. Intersperse them in the schedule, so no one is sitting for an entire morning or afternoon. Event producers might include a pertinent facility or nearby resource tour, but also consider holding small discussion breakouts while people walk—ideally in interesting or beautiful surroundings, though that’s not necessary.

Make sure that the activity you propose is accessible to those who can’t walk easily; scooter or golf-cart access might be needed.

Just the act of walking while thinking and talking will elevate the quality of the discussion.

Grab!
For a quick energy boost, play Grab! Have people stand and pair up with someone they don’t know. (Another option is to have them find someone with the same color eyes.)

Ask each pair to decide who’s A and who’s B. Then have the A’s hold one hand out, palm and fingers flat and facing B at a comfortable height.

B then points her index finger at A’s palm at the same height. B’s task is then to rapidly touch the center of A’s palm with her index finger and pull it away before A can grab it.

Giggles will ensue! Give each pair around sixty to ninety seconds to play and then have them switch roles.

How have you incorporated exercise into your events? Share your ideas in the comments below.

Photo attribution: Flickr user taedc


Adrian & KaylaAnother issue of an occasional series—Dear Adrian—in which I answer questions sent to me about event design, elementary particle physics, solar hot water systems, and anything else I might conceivably know something about. If you have a question you’d like me to answer, please write to me (don’t worry, I won’t publish anything without your permission).

Dear Adrian—More questions about event process design

December 21st, 2015 by Adrian Segar

Event Design MagicDipesh Mody, writing from Mumbai, India, asks five great questions about event process design. I’ve interspersed my answers after each question.

Q. Dear Adrian,

I have now read both your books and have truly enjoyed reading them. Your work has been very inspiring to many; and I am certainly one of them.

While your book is very well written and structured, I had a few questions for you and I am hoping that you will find the time to respond.

1. After the peer group session sign-up and once the time and space is allocated, who decides which technique to use? Is it the volunteer facilitator of the peer group? If yes, what if the volunteer is not familiar with these techniques? Will he invariably choose a roundtable technique?

Yes, the volunteer facilitator(s) of a peer session is/are responsible for determining the format used in the session, and, as covered in The Power of Participation, there are a number of basic formats that can be used. For many years, I’ve given every attendee a one-page peer session facilitation handout (free download) at the start of the event. This short document explains what’s involved in facilitating, offers a suggested step-by-step process, and includes some tips for effective facilitation.

Analyzing thousands of evaluations of Conferences That Work format events, it’s very rare to see a complaint about the quality of peer session facilitation. So I believe this simple handout is an effective tool for volunteer facilitators to do a decent-to-good job at facilitating a peer session. While I could include some additional opening techniques such as Post It, described in The Power of Participation, it’s possible that making the handout longer might reduce its overall effectiveness.

In India, and other regions where organizational cultures tend to be more hierarchical than those in North America and Europe, participants may be less comfortable taking responsibility for leading a session. Under such circumstances, taking twenty minutes at the opening of a peer conference to explain basic peer session leadership techniques can be helpful.

2. From what I understand that certain sessions only a trained facilitator can run them such as world café, fishbowl or a human spectrogram? Is my understanding correct? If yes, then such techniques can only be used involving the entire group. For e,g, if the conference size is 50 people then all 50 people need to be in that one session when a human spectrogram technique is being used? Is my understanding correct?

I think it depends on what “trained” means. I have not received any “formal” facilitation training, but I experienced World Café, fishbowl, and human spectrogram process run by others before I attempted to facilitate them myself. I think many people who have experienced a human spectrogram once could successfully facilitate it under similar circumstances, and there are plenty of good resources (including The Power of Participation😄) for other group work techniques.

As participative techniques become more frequently used at conferences, attendees are increasingly likely to be capable of facilitating them, and I expect the requirement for a “trained” facilitator will decrease over time.

3. About the beginning and the end sessions, I am quite clear but for the middle sessions is there a particular sequence (s) that works best based on your experience? For e.g. use fishbowl to gain a deeper understanding of top six issues and then follow it up with world café to discuss solutions to these issues (assuming we have 6 tables with five people on each table: Conference size 30 people). Then use a human spectrogram to vote on the proposed solutions and to select the most plausible ones.

Again, the answer to your question depends on the circumstances—in this case a session’s desired outcomes. It sounds like you are asking about process to explore and choose solutions to problems. Because meetings are held for many different reasons, there’s no single process sequence that’s appropriate for every situation.

The Conferences That Work format, for example, works very well for a group of peers who are meeting to learn and connect for individual reasons, determine common ground, and discover and act on opportunities available to the group.

If, as per your example, the meeting is to learn and discuss six pre-determined important issues, you might well use techniques like fishbowl and World Café as opening and mid-course process. If attendees don’t know each other well, an opening roundtable would be useful. Or if the important issues were unknown or unclear at the start of a meeting, introductory educational sessions plus affinity grouping might be appropriate.

As far as discussing solutions is concerned, while human spectrograms are a useful tool to gauge sentiment, outcomes are more typically determined by process prescribed by the norms of the group, organization, association, or corporation stakeholders.

4. About world café or human spectrogram or voting, while a volunteer team can assist in framing the right questions as pre-work but my experience shows that getting them to contribute on the questions is difficult as they don’t have time to devote on such pre-work activities due to work related and other commitments. Further, on page 222 of Power of Participation, you have identified questions for collective attention, for finding deeper insights, for forward movement etc. In light of this, would it be a good idea for the attendees to frame the questions during the conference beginning? In your experience would this work?

In my experience, if you are going to use World Café at an event, pre-work defining good table questions is essential. While there are frameworks that can be helpful in devising Café question rounds (e.g. those for sense-making by Chris Corrigan and strategic planning by John Inman), I think it’s very hard to build consensually-good questions on the fly at the event unless participants are patient and willing enough to spend a significant amount of time. It’s akin to bringing a large group of people to a building site and asking them to collectively design and erect a building from scratch. Not impossible, but difficult!

5. While your book does provide model conference schedule but it falls a bit short of getting a real sense of what a real schedule looks like. It would be really great if you could add a few real examples of conferences you facilitated. It would indeed be useful to get a sense of how you mixed and matched various techniques (fishbowl, world café, spectrograms etc.) during a lets say three day conference around a particular theme. It would be a great addition to what a truly amazing book it already is.

Dipesh, I think that’s a good idea in principle. However, I’m wary supplying such examples unless they include extensive background on why the specific types and flow of process techniques were used. The danger of providing condensed examples is that some readers will be tempted to copy them verbatim for events that involve participants, logistical constraints, and desired outcomes that are significantly different from those that generated the example design. End result—a design that doesn’t satisfy stakeholder needs, leading to poor evaluations and, perhaps, the conclusion that these new-fangled event designs “don’t work.”

There are so many factors involved in creating a good event design that I estimate a useful case study of a single event design, one that comprehensively covers the reasons for the design choices made, might require 10,000+ words and many days of work! A worthy project, but one that may have to wait a while…

Best regards,

Dipesh Mody, India

Thanks for your thoughtful questions, Dipesh. I hope these answers help a little in your quest to produce fine events in India!

Best wishes,

Adrian Segar


Adrian & KaylaAnother issue of an occasional series—Dear Adrian—in which I answer questions sent to me about event design, elementary particle physics, solar hot water systems, and anything else I might conceivably know something about. If you have a question you’d like me to answer, please write to me (don’t worry, I won’t publish anything without your permission).

Please remember what you were about to forget

December 16th, 2015 by Adrian Segar

Japanese busNot long ago, my friend Jeremy Birch told me about the recorded announcement you hear—in English—when Japanese buses approach a bus stop:

“Please remember what you were about to forget.”

No, Japanese bus companies are not promoting distributed practice, where learning activity is spread out over time to improve overall learning (chapter 4 of The Power of Participation has more on this).

Instead, they are merely reminding people who are getting off the bus to check for anything they may be leaving behind.

Nevertheless, I like the (probably unintended) playful construction of “Please remember what you were about to forget”.

And perhaps, having typed it a few times here, I’m a little more likely to carry it out…

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