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Boredom is just a state of mind

May 18th, 2015 by Adrian Segar

bored 14154838845_eccf26546c_h1969: I am a nineteen year old college student, talking with friends in my 500 year old room above the entrance to Merton College, Oxford. The world up to this point has been a fascinating place, full of interesting things to learn, and new experiences to have. But today, something feels different.

“I’m bored,” I announce.

Cathy, a first-year history student from St. Hilda’s, looks at me.

“I think boredom is just a state of mind,” she says.

And, immediately, I know she’s right. Read the rest of this entry »

Trapped in a giant trash compactor? You always have a choice.

May 11th, 2015 by Adrian Segar

star-wars-garbage-chute-1024x684So we’ve just broken Princess Leia out of the holding cell but we’re trapped in the detention corridor under heavy fire. The Princess (gosh, she’s beautiful) gets it into her head to escape through a garbage chute, and we end up in a large room full of—what else?—garbage. The smell is terrible. There’s a sudden ghastly moan, and a huge tentacle grabs my leg and drags me under the muck! I’m just about to drown when a loud grinding sound scares the monster away. That’s the good news. The bad news is: There’s no way out, and the room just got a whole lot smaller!

Most people would be panicking at this point. Let me put it this way; I’m only spared embarrassing myself in front of The Princess because the room already stinks to high heaven. And that’s when Han demonstrates that you always have a choice in how you look at life’s problems.

Read the rest of this entry »

Why traditional conferences are dying like music albums

May 4th, 2015 by Adrian Segar

Record albums 8447794421_fdfda28f9f_kRemember the Compact Disc [CD]? (Or, if you’re old enough, like me, the long playing record [LP], aka “vinyl” records?)

For many years, the music industry primarily sold “popular” (i.e. short form) music as rigid collections of individual tracks. If you liked something you heard on the radio and wanted to buy it, you were forced to buy the artist’s “album”, which often contained many other pieces of music you didn’t care for. Unless the track you liked was released as a “single” (for which you paid a premium) you couldn’t buy it by itself.

We all know what happened. CD ripping, and, later, the internet, made it possible for the music lover to pick and choose her music purchases one track at a time. Adore four tracks on a Manu Chao album? Just buy those four!

Why did this happen? Because great music albums that tell a compelling musical story from one track to the next are the exception rather than the rule. Most albums are disembodied collections that, apart from perhaps the artist’s and producer’s minds, have no perceivable flow from one track to the next.

Traditional meetings are also collections of disembodied sessions. But they have not changed in the same way. Read the rest of this entry »

Can we do better than novelty at our meetings?

April 27th, 2015 by Adrian Segar

image

Novelty has its place in meetings. The latest cocktail. The hot new band. The color of the year. But novelty doesn’t have lasting impact. The first time, it’s an enjoyable transient experience. The next time it’s old.

Better however is a whole different kettle of fish. Better lasts. Better has long-term value.

So don’t fob off your meeting attendees event after event with an ever-changing stream of “new” or “different”. Go for better. You can reuse better over and over again—and your attendees will appreciate it every single time!

Makes sense, right? So why do we rarely shoot for better? Apple’s Jony Ive explains:

“‘Different’ and ‘new’ is relatively easy. Doing something that’s genuinely better is very hard.”
—Sir Jony Ive, Apple Senior Vice President of Design, quoted in Business Week in 2009

Yes, better is very hard. But it’s worth it.

Image attribution: Flickr user dopey

The advantages of supporting connection during meeting sessions

April 20th, 2015 by Adrian Segar

 In 2011 I ran a two and a half hour participative techniques workshop on the last afternoon of a four-day conference. After we ended, a participating supplier came up to me and told me that he had made many more useful connections in that one workshop than during the 3 days preceding it.

I believe that the great majority of people hunger for connection with others. Without it, our lives suffer. Indeed, Robert Putnam in Bowling Alone, his sobering opus on social change in America, states that about half the observed decline in life satisfaction among adult Americans over the last 50 years “is associated with declines in social capital: lower marriage rates and decreasing connectedness to friends and community.” And the sociologist James House tells us that “the magnitude of risk associated with social isolation is comparable with that of cigarette smoking and other major biomedical and psychosocial risk factors.”

And yet, when we hold a conference in our culture—an occasion when we bring together people with a common interest in a subject—we give low priority to the potential for connection with our fellow conferees. Our sessions are mostly broadcast, with little or no opportunity for attendees to connect with each other. This is so even though we have an ideal requisite for directly enjoying each other’s company—sharing a common interest!

The need for connection with others is becoming increasingly important as we move to a world where people’s knowledge and expertise are a function of the networks—both face-to-face and online—they possess rather than the contents of their heads. If in our work lives we are spending more time learning socially than being trained in the classroom, our meetings must provide the same relative opportunities.

Traditional conferences leave connection time to the breaks, meals, and socials. This is why so many people report that hallway conversations during breaks are the best parts of such meetings. When sessions fail to meet our connection needs, we connect outside the official schedule. The broadcast design of most meeting sessions relegates connection with peers to an afterthought, as something you’re supposed to do on your own. And this is not easy. Even if you somehow know exactly the new people and old friends you want to meet, arranging to do so is hard enough without also competing with loud dance music, fixed meal seating, and lunchtime entertainment or talks. And if you expect to readily meet the most interesting people (to you) at such events by chance from a crowd of hundreds or even thousands, then you have not been to many conferences.

Our consistent demotion of connection to second-class status must be reversed if meetings are to effectively support the social learning that’s now essential for performing our jobs well. We need to provide opportunities for participants to connect and share in the sessions themselves. This doesn’t mean turning sessions into speed-dating or adding irritating “icebreakers.” Instead, it means taking advantage of:

  • Improvements in learning that result from actively engaging with others around content rather than listening to it or watching it.
  • The rich and extensive knowledge and experience of participants in the room.
  • Increased opportunities to meet like-minded peers via discussion of session content, ideas, and questions.

Active learning increases the quantity, quality, accuracy, and retention of knowledge. Active learning is inextricably entangled with connection; you can’t really learn from your peers without simultaneously learning about them. Because making connections is a powerful and important motivation for attending events, providing appropriate opportunities to connect during sessions is attractive, smoothing the way for the active learning that follows.

Connecting with peers during a session allows participants to access expertise and experience beyond what an expert at the front of the room can provide. Using participative techniques that uncover and develop useful connections to those with relevant knowledge, participants can discover and take full advantage of the collective wisdom in the room.

Image attribution: recode.net

Do you review event evaluations like a Chinese censor?

April 13th, 2015 by Adrian Segar

101807127_2f67f9f623_ofascinating piece of research published in Science concludes that the Chinese government allows people to say whatever they like about the state, its leaders, or their policies—except for posts with collective action potential, which are far more likely to be censored.

Which reminds me of the meetings industry’s common response to event evaluations. Read the rest of this entry »

Promise engagement at your meetings, not perfection

April 6th, 2015 by Adrian Segar

Man & woman dancing

To dance with customers in an act of co-creation: This is part of 37Signals’ secret. From their book to their blog to their clearly stated point of view about platforms and the way they do business, they invite customers to debug with them in an ongoing dialogue about finding a platonic ideal of utility software. They don’t promise perfect, they promise engagement.
—Seth Godin, What is customer service for?

Sometimes you go to a meeting where not screwing anything up seems to be more important than anything else. Such meetings often execute impeccably—and yet something is missing. Read the rest of this entry »

Everyone I know who is changing the world…

March 31st, 2015 by Adrian Segar


The always thoughtful Sasha Dichter writes about “modern, techno-optimistic” solutions to important problems, as characterized by the quick-fix phrase “I’ve just heard about a great new ______ that will solve the ______ problem!”
Read the rest of this entry »

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 »

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