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Body voting 101 delightfully illustrated

August 27th, 2015 by Adrian Segar

The creative folks at Kinetech Arts in San Francisco published this delightful illustration of body voting, inspired by a short presentation I gave at their weekly media lab on August 4, 2015.

Kinetech Arts Physical Poll #1 (graphic) Kinetech Arts Physical Poll #1 (comments)

 

14 great iPhone/iPad apps for event planners—2015 update

August 24th, 2015 by Adrian Segar

App_Store

Two years have passed since I last updated my list of favorite iPad/iPhone apps for event planners. While I’m still a big fan of five of the original apps I chose just two weeks after receiving my original iPad back in 2010 (Simplenote, DropBox, Square, Evernote, and GoodReader), apps continue to be born, evolve, and, sometimes, die—so it’s time for an event planners’ great apps update!

I’m still using the iPhone 5S, iPad 3, and the Tumi Alpha “everything bag” I gushed over in my 2013 app update, though I’m coveting an iPhone 6S, a newer iPad, and, maybe, an Apple Watch.

Rather than listing additions and removals from my two previous posts, I’m presenting a complete alphabetized current list, including updated descriptions that incorporate any notable new features I use. An [!] next to an app indicates it’s stood the test of time, while an [N] means it’s a new addition since my 2013 update.

BirdbrainBirdbrain, [!] $2.99
If you are active on Twitter (and I’d argue that most event planners should be) Birdbrain is a fantastic way to manage your Twitter network. The app provides an excellent overview and management of your followers and those you follow. Birdbrain handles multiple accounts, makes it easy to investigate anyone on Twitter, allows you to track unfollows as they occur, list people you’re following who don’t follow you, display mentions and retweets, and provides informative statistics showing changes in your Twitter stats over time. The only feature I’d like to see added is the ability to show inactive accounts you’re following. Recommended!

Dropbox_IconDropbox, [!] free for 2 GB, Dropbox Pro $9.99/month or $99/year
I’ve been using Dropbox for years on my office Macs, iPad and iPhone.

Dropbox keeps your files safe, synced, and easy to share between multiple computers and devices. All contents of the Dropbox folder on all linked devices (Macintosh, Linux, Windows, IOS, Android; even Blackberry and Kindle Fire!) running Dropbox are automatically synced when new files or changes are detected. You don’t have to be continually online; all changes sync once your computer has an Internet connection again. You can create shared folders, allowing several people to collaborate on a set of files.

The free service gives you 2GB of space on Dropbox’s servers, which was plenty for me for many years (and Dropbox offers ways to increase the free limit) but last year I took the plunge and upgraded to Dropbox Pro (see below). A nice feature is that the server stores the last 30 days of versions of your files, so you can revert to an older version if needed. If you want more storage, you can upgrade to Dropbox Pro for $9.99/month or $99/year. This paid upgrade includes 1TB of storage plus unlimited older versions of your files, remote wipe, read-only shared folders, and password protected shared links. It’s worth every penny to me.

The Dropbox app allows you to access your Dropbox files on your iPhone or iPad. Image, music, movie, Word, PowerPoint, Excel, PDF, Keynote, Pages, Numbers, HTML, and text file formats can be displayed by the app. Unlike the desktop versions of Dropbox, files are not stored automatically on a mobile device but are uploaded on request by marking them as Favorites.

Dropbox also includes a web interface to your files, so you can access them (and older versions) from any Internet connected computer.

While I was writing my books, I stored all my important files on Dropbox. It gave me great peace of mind to know that up-to-date versions of my book’s many files were being automatically saved remotely and on all my office computers.

evernote_logoEvernote, [!] free, Plus $24.99/year, Premium $49.99/year
Evernote is my go-to application for capturing information I want to be able to find in the future. I use it mainly for web pages, but it will file text notes, pdfs, spreadsheets, photos, voice memos, and screenshots too. Evernote clients are available for most mobile and desktop operating systems. Everything captured is made searchable—you can add your own tags if you like—and can be stored in specific categories (“notebooks”) if desired. The iPad version takes full advantage of the large screen. Your notes are stored on Evernote’s servers and locally and are synced to your mobile device and to Mac OS X and Windows computers running an Evernote client.

Evernote supplies web clipping functionality for all major desktop and mobile browsers, so, with a few clicks, it’s easy to safely capture that article you think could be really useful one day.

You can upload up to 60MB per month (with a maximum single note size of 25MB) using the free Evernote service, and this has always been adequate for me. The Plus version raises the upload maximum to 1GB/month with a maximum single note size of 50MB, the Premium service to 10GB/month with a maximum single note size of 200MB. Plus and Premium include some additional benefits, none of which have tempted me to pay for them. Yet.

GateGurugateguru, [!] free
GateGuru is an airport information app that was purchased by TripAdvisor in June 2013. While it attempts to replicate some of Tripit‘s functionality, I use it to scope out the places to eat (aka amenities) at airports. The traveler’s reviews, while sometimes spotty, usually allow you to pick out the best place to satisfy your current gustatory desires, and I’ve occasionally found a real gem tucked away on Concourse C that I’d otherwise have missed.

goodreader-logoGoodReader, [!] $4.99
GoodReader is an inexpensive app that allows you to transfer files to your mobile device, by Wifi or from an Internet cloud server, and reliably view them. Like the Dropbox viewer, it supports a huge range of file formats. Unlike other mobile file readers, GoodReader has no problem rapidly opening, displaying, and responsively scrolling through the 350-page ebook version of Conferences That Work and other large files I’ve thrown at it.

GoodReader syncs beautifully with Dropbox, allowing me to work on files on any computing device and then upload them to a GoodReader folder for convenient viewing. When I’m facilitating or presenting at an event, I’ll typically use GoodReader to display all relevant files in a multi-tabbed app window, allowing me to quickly refer to them when needed.

googlevoiceGoogle Voice, [!] free app, most but not all services are free
Google Voice has been around for years and has a bazillion options, many of which I don’t really understand. But that’s OK, because I find it very useful for three things: a) transferring calls made to my cell to my office phone when I’m at home where my cell phone doesn’t work (ah, the joys of living in rural Vermont),  b) replacing my cell phone provider’s voice mail and sending me an email and a noble attempt at transcription when I don’t answer my mobile, and c) texting. Now let’s be clear: I hate texting and refuse to pay the inflated rates that carriers charge for it on my cell phone, but sometimes it’s the only way to communicate with some people. Google Voice to the rescue! I can text for free from my free Google Voice number, which works with strangers as long as I let them know in the message that it’s me, Adrian Segar, texting them.

Incidentally, though I haven’t yet used this feature, calls made using Google Voice from outside the U.S. to U.S. numbers cost just 1¢/minute; a pretty good rate!

imessageMessages, [N] free
This is a no-brainer, especially if you’re a cheapskate like me that won’t pay more for texting. If someone has an iDevice, I can message them without paying for texts. Unlike texting, you get to discover whether your message/photo/movie was actually delivered or not. (If Messages could tell me the recipient saw my message, that would be even better, but I guess we’ll have to wait until brain monitor functionality is built into IOS 42.) Works well for me. I’ve heard there can be glitches if you abandon your iDevice and go over to The Dark Android Side, but you’d never do that would you? Would you?

opentableOpenTable, [!] free
OpenTable allows you to make free reservations at ~32,000 restaurants in the United States, Canada, Germany, Japan, Mexico, and the UK. No more phone calls to a restaurant only to get an answering machine, having to leave a message, and wondering whether you’ll get the reservation you wanted or not. The app works quickly and many reservations give you OpenTable points which can eventually (you’d have to use it a lot) be redeemed for a discount off your meal.

Post-It PlusPost-it® Plus, [N] free
I’ve written in detail about this little gem here. Suffice it to say that if you do any kind of group work with sticky notes, this is a great tool for capturing, organizing, and sharing multitudes of these colorful little rectangles. Since I wrote the linked review, 3M has continued to add new features: you can now edit notes and add additional digital notes to existing boards.

square-logo

Register, [!, formerly Square] app free, card transaction fees extra
Square’s Register app provides a neat inexpensive way to easily accept card payments. You can create lists of the items or services you sell. It took me just a few minutes to set up Register for selling my first book three ways—paperback, ebook, or combo—at a presentation or trade show. When you sign up for the service, Square sends you a free swipe card reader that plugs into your iPad or iPhone. They have a free contactless (NFC) and chip card reader shipping soon, in time for the new EMV chip credit card merchant obligations that will be in force in the U.S. later this year. You can also process cash sales and send receipts to a buyer’s email address. Square provides a complete downloadable record of all your sales.

Square charges reasonable card fees: 2.75% for a swiped card and 3.5% + $0.15 for a keyed-in card. These are the only charges for the service; there’s no monthly fee or minimum and no contract or merchant account required. This is a great app for selling promotional items at events.

simplenoteSimplenote, [!] free
I rarely need elaborately formatted documents. What I do need is a simple text editor that imports ASCII, RTF or HTML files, backs up my writing safely, and synchronizes it across my mobile and office computers.

That’s exactly what Simplenote, combined with copies of Notational Velocity (free, open source) on my office computers do. Anything I write in Simplenote on my iPad (I rarely use it on my iPhone, though it works there) gets saved and backed up to the Internet cloud (on a free account at Simplenote). When I open Notational Velocity on an office computer, my notes there are synchronized. Similarly, any notes updated on my office machines are synchronized to the iPad when I open Simplenote. All communications are encrypted.

Both Simplenote and Notational Velocity offer blazing fast search and support thousands of notes.

While Simplenote now sports a Mac desktop version, I prefer to stick with Notational Velocity there because the former doesn’t support styled text (bold, italic, etc.)

For just pure writing, safely backed up and synchronized, you can’t beat the combination of these two free apps!

Swarmfoursquare [formerly Foursquare], [! & N] free
Foursquare, started as a game (be the mayor of places, win badges, and have more points than your friends) and a way to see where your friends are and what they’re doing. I live mostly in a rural area and, while I have occasionally discovered and met up with friends I didn’t know were near me, my main use of this service is to store a searchable history of where I’ve been. When did I drop off that luggage to be repaired? What was the name of that great place I ate dinner with Susie in Atlanta? When exactly was I in Anguilla in 2009? Foursquare’s history of my check-ins is often useful in unexpected ways.

In 2014, Foursquare tried to reposition their app by splitting it into two: Foursquare, a Yelp look-alike competitor, and Swarm, which would remain the “check-in” app. The move did not go well, especially after Foursquare removed the mayor feature in Swarm which took out some of the fun of checking-in. The company’s missteps cost it popularity—a lot less people seem to be checking in recently. Recently, they added back mayorships. Yes, I admit it, it’s fun to triumphantly win back the mayorship of my favorite local restaurant once in a while, but the history feature is the main reason I use Swarm these days.

WazeWaze, [!] free
Waze is my favorite traffic and navigation app of the many that I’ve tried (though some Uber drivers have told me that Google Maps now has more helpful junction navigation in big cities). Unlike traditional GPS units with traffic updates that are often found to be woefully out of date, Waze uses information from its own users to detect traffic snarls and reroutes you on the fly when necessary to avoid that accident that happened up ahead five minutes ago or the rush hour traffic jam building up on the interstate you normally drive on to get home. Its estimates of arrival time, even on long trips, are astonishingly accurate. Owned by Google, my only concern is that the company will start using my location in nefarious ways. If I start seeing too many annoying ads promoting the tattoo parlor I’m passing by I’ll reconsider. Until then, this is an amazing app that has saved me hours of driving and frustration, and shown me countless new neighborhoods as I bypass traffic where other drivers sit fuming.

wundergroundWunderground, [N] free
Goodbye Weatherbug Elite, Yahoo Weather (still think of you fondly, loved your simplicity), and all the other weather apps I’ve dated the last few years. I’m going steady with Wunderground now. Darling W (yes, we’re on first initial terms), your gorgeous graph interface makes it easy to get a quick big picture of the next ten days, your hour by hour forecasts are so handy for deciding whether to move the social indoors, and your weather map predictions load so fast. I’d be a fool to look at anyone else. Sure, W, I admit to a fickle past with weather apps, but now I’m seriously thinking about settling down for good. With you, always by my side…So, what’s it going to be like in Maine next week?

So event professionals, what have I missed? Do you have a favorite app I haven’t mentioned here? Let the world know in the comments!

My father’s death—should we force the terminally ill to accept sustenance?

August 22nd, 2015 by Adrian Segar

In 2007 my father was slowly and painfully dying from side-effects of Parkinson’s disease. I am sharing here an astonishing newspaper article—written by columnist and registered nurse Richard Davis—on my dad’s and family’s experience. The article was widely distributed around the world and I still occasionally receive requests for a copy, so I am reposting it here.

April 27, 2008

THE DEATH OF JOSHUA SEGAR

By
Richard Davis, © 2008
Brattleboro Reformer: May 23

BRATTLEBORO- Newspaper obituaries provide a few glimpses into the lives of people. They serve to provide friends and relatives with news of a death and the details of plans for funerals and memorial services. Rarely, if ever, do obituaries describe the way a person died. Perhaps it is too morbid for most people to contemplate, but how we die is just as important as how we live.

“Joshua Mark Segar, 84, died peacefully at his home on Tuesday, December 11, 2007. Mr. Segar (a.k.a. Josh, Joshie, Jeff, Joe or Mark) was born in London, England on Dec. 21, 1922. At the age of 13, in order to help support his family, he was forced to leave school and was apprenticed as a barber.

During World War II he served in the Rifle Brigade for five years without a break, fighting in North Africa, Italy and Germany. On his return to London, he was able to open his first barber shop. On weekends he played drums in a dance band and as a session musician for Stephane Grappelli, among others.

In 1948 he married Lilly Solley, the love of his life. Segar became a successful small business man, eventually owning a chain of hairdressing salons and a flourishing electric shaver supply and repair business.

He was the president of the British National Hairdressing Federation and the Hairdressing Council for many years. He loved opera, traveled extensively and was a lifelong learner of art and art history. He was kind, thoughtful, humorous, hard working, loving and generous, a devoted husband and loving father, grandfather and great-grandfather.

In 2004 he moved from England to Brattleboro in order to be closer to his children. During three years of declining health, he showed great fortitude along with his ever-present wit.”

Reading Segar’s obituary, we can get a sense of what kind of life he led. But in order to understand this complex man it is just as important to understand how he died. That part of his life began with the onset of symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease.

Parkinson’s Disease is a progressive degenerative neurological condition that results in a wide variety of symptoms which can vary in severity among individuals. It is not considered a life-threatening disease in the strictest sense. Segar coped with the disease for a few years, but in 2007 the symptoms became severe and the quality of his life was deteriorating.

His wife of 55 years had been dead for two years and he told his family that he always thought he would die before his wife. Segar enjoyed a loving relationship with his family in the U.S. His 56 year old son Adrian and his family in the Brattleboro area and his 47 year old daughter Alison and her family in Burlington stayed close to their father.

His greatest pleasure came from his family and perhaps that is why Thanksgiving marked a turning point for him. According to Adrian, “We spent this Thanksgiving at our home—my wife, my dad, my older daughter and her family. Thanksgiving is our favorite family holiday, but this Thanksgiving was different. Now dad could barely swallow, he was in serious pain much of the time, and was worried about his incontinence. His fear of choking was too much for him to enjoy eating his food, cut up as it was into tiny, almost indistinguishable bits, and his other Parkinson’s symptoms overwhelmed his ability to delight in his two adorable great-granddaughters. After five hours, miserable, he asked me to drive him back to his apartment.”

“The next morning he called me. In a trembling voice, he told me that ‘he didn’t want to continue like this’, and that he wanted to stop eating and drinking.”

This was not a quick decision on the part of Joshua Segar. He was losing the pleasure of being alive and he wanted to be able to have control over the manner and time of his death. He did some research and found a method to end his suffering that he believed would cause the least amount of pain for his family while allowing him to end his suffering in a perfectly legal way.

It’s called terminal dehydration or “patient refusal of nutrition and hydration” (PRNH) and is believed to be a commonly used method for a person to end their life. Statistics are nearly impossible to find, but there is a great deal of anecdotal evidence from health care professionals that terminal dehydration is relatively common.

This writer, a registered nurse, has cared for a number of people over the past 30 years who have chosen this way to end their lives. The public perception of withdrawing food and water is one of great suffering. The reality is quite different. Most people who stop eating and drinking in an effort to end their lives die peacefully and are given the time to say goodbye to friends and family.

According to Ira Byock, M.D., one of the most respected experts in hospice and palliative care, writing in a 1995 article in the “American Journal of Hospice and Palliative Care”, “The general impression among hospice clinicians that starvation and dehydration do not contribute to suffering among the dying and might actually contribute to a comfortable passage from life. In contrast the general impression among the public and non-hospice medical professionals is that starvation and dehydration are terrible ways to die.”

Byock goes on to explain, “A more extensive review of the scientific literature relevant to starvation and dehydration appears in an article by Sullivan entitled, ‘Accepting Death without Artificial Nutrition or Hydration’. Published studies of healthy volunteers report that total fasting causes hunger for less than 24 hours. Ketonemia (the burning of the body’s fat stores) occurs and is associated with relief of hunger and an accompanying mild euphoria. When ketonemia is prevented by small feedings hunger persists, explaining the obsession with food commonly observed during semi-starvation occurring in times of famine or war. Animal studies also suggest that ketonemia may have a mild systemic analgesic effect. Experimentally induced dehydration in normal volunteers may report thirst, yet this sensation is consistently relieved by ad lib sips of fluid in cumulative volumes insufficient to restore physiologic fluid balance. One study of healthy subjects suggests there is a decrease in the severity of experienced thirst associated with older age.”

Another critically important aspect of terminal dehydration is that it does not require professional help and it does not trigger any legal issues. As Byock explains, “Unlike physician-assisted suicide, refusing to eat or drink is a purely personal act. While it may require information, the decision obviates the need for physicians, nurses or other agents of society to participate. After adequate discussion, and in the context of continued caring, at some point the patient’s choice becomes ‘none of our business’.”

Adrian collected his thoughts after hearing his father’s desire to end his life and wrote, “When dad told me of his desire to die by stopping eating and drinking I was shocked, but I knew I had to take him seriously and I knew right away that he must have been thinking about this for a long time. Although his Parkinson’s had caused several short-term memory issues, his ‘big picture’ thinking had always been and was still in superb shape. I told him that I took his desire very seriously, but we needed time to understand the implications, and we wanted to support him to the best of our ability, and we needed to learn what that support might entail. I asked him to wait while we did this research, and he agreed. He asked me to work as quickly as possible.”

“For the next two weeks my wife and I worked hard. We discovered that dad’s desire is called Voluntary Terminal Dehydration (VTD), that it is legal throughout the U.S., and, provided that the requestor is competent to freely make the decision and is not clinically depressed, VTD is medically ethical and should be supported with appropriate palliative care. We also learned that VTD, when supported with palliative care, seems to involve minimal discomfort.”

“After discussion, including a session with dad alone, Dad’s GP, neurologist, and cardiologist all supported his decision, and his GP
authorized hospice care through the Visiting Nurse Association and Hospice of Vermont and New Hampshire.”

Adrian’s sister Alison reacted differently to her father’s decision. She is a social worker and said that her father’s decision was ethically problematic for her as a daughter and a social worker.

Alison also believed that there was a high probability that her father may have been depressed and she felt he should have been treated for depression before carrying out his plan. She wrote a letter to her father asking him to try anti-depressants and to see Parkinson Disease experts before going through with his plans for death.

She may have never fully come to terms with the plan for terminal dehydration but she respected her father’s courage saying, “I think my dad was incredibly brave to do what he did, whether he was depressed or not.”

In response to her letter to her father he wrote back,

“Dear Alison,
   Thank you for your nice letter.
   I do not want to take anti depressants.
   I want to carry on with my plan to end my life soon.
   I love you deeply with all my heart.
Love, Dad”

Joshua Segar’s last meal was his favorite, calves liver. His own personal last supper was the last time he ate or drank and he died one week later. His family was comforted by the care they all received from the local hospice, visiting nurses and private caregivers.
Alison noted that when her father made his final decision, “… he became animated, as if he was going on a trip. He called friends and relatives of his decision.” Joshua received necessary comfort care with low doses of morphine and ice chips to soothe his dry lips and mouth.

Byock has had many years of experience with death and dying and his perspective is particularly relevant in the Segar family’s situation. “Clinically, for a number of people at the very end of life, the decision to refuse food and fluid may not arise from depression or emotional denial as much as from a felt sense of ‘being done’. Most such persons I have encountered one way or another expressed a sense that eating or drinking were no longer relevant to their situation. They were far along in a process of withdrawal, having turned their attention inward or ‘beyond’. Even here the option of PRNH has important advantages over complying with a patient’s request to be killed, for it allows the clinician’s attention to remain focused on relief of suffering — physical, psychosocial and spiritual. It requires — or frees — the clinician to remain vigilant for treatable depression and to remain, in humility, open to the possibility of unexpected opportunities for the person to again discover value in the life that is waning.”

The Segar family said they never noticed that their father experienced discomfort as he died. He became weaker and after three days he drifted into his final sleep. Alison was with him when he died and she said, “It was peaceful and it was beautiful.”

Look back to look forward

August 17th, 2015 by Adrian Segar

Janus-VaticanFrom September 2002 through November 2009 I kept a journal, writing each day before going to bed. Every once in a while I’ll pick one of the five thick notebooks I filled during those seven years and read some entries at random.

Why do I do this?

Read the rest of this entry »

Thoughts on participation from the mouths of babes…

August 10th, 2015 by Adrian Segar

MarlboroMusicAs my wife was leaving to attend a Marlboro Music Festival performance, our five-year-old grandson asked her where she was going.

“To a concert.”

“I know what that is,” he exclaimed. “It’s a stage. Are you going to be on it?”

“No,” she said, amused.

“Then why are you going?”

Image from the Marlboro Music Festival archive

Can meeting professionals enjoy the meetings they create?

August 3rd, 2015 by Adrian Segar

Stress 4011704777_bbb90e6fd3_bCareercast.com rates “Event Coordinator” the 8th most stressful job of 2015. While we can take this precise ranking with a large grain of salt, it’s true that meeting tight deadlines, paying careful attention to a myriad of crucial details, handling in real-time everything that doesn’t go according to plan, and—despite all this pressure—satisfying clients & attendees are tasks at which relatively few souls excel.

Even when we give up being event organizers and go as attendees to our own profession’s meetings, they’re invariably scheduled during regional off-peak seasons, when venues don’t have bigger fish to fry (or freeze). So we roast outside in the summer and shiver in the winter.

And yet many of us love this profession. Read the rest of this entry »

Are you waiting for permission for your mission?

July 27th, 2015 by Adrian Segar
Stephen Jenkinson

Stephen Jenkinson

On Mission

“You exist as a consequence of people seven generations ago who were willing to proceed as if a day would come when you and yours would be in the world and they’d be long gone, and you somehow picked up an ember of that and safeguarded it until it caught a spark. And maybe that turned into your life’s work, but you can’t claim to be the author of it. You’re on the receiving end, and your job is to have the humility of a broken-down jalopy. So you’re not going to make a lot of claims for yourself, but you can say you have a sneaking suspicion this has been around before, and you’re a part of some kind of tradition.”

On Permission

“…when I was working in palliative care…I realized that if I was going to serve these dying people well, then I couldn’t wait for anyone to ask me to do it.”

Both quotes are from an interview with Stephen Jenkinson, in The Sun, August 2015.

Are you waiting for permission for your mission?

How I got on my feet and danced again

July 13th, 2015 by Adrian Segar

On the stage at PCMA ECHere’s a story I told at the opening of the 2015 PCMA Education Conference:

“The EduCon organizers asked me to say a little about the conference format, and I thought about when I was a teenager, and loved to go to parties and dance. Then something happened, I don’t remember what it was—probably something incredibly embarrassing involving a girl I liked—and I became self-conscious and stopped dancing.

I stopped dancing for 40 years.

In 2003 I go to a workshop, and if you had told me beforehand that I would dress up in costume there and dance, solo, in front of an audience I would have a) said you were crazy and b) skipped the workshop.

I’m very glad I wasn’t warned, because at that workshop, when I experienced dancing again, I remembered that I love to dance—and I’ve been dancing ever since.

If I had been reminded at the workshop that I used to like to dance, it wouldn’t have made any difference.

All the lecturing in the world wouldn’t have shifted my belief that I really didn’t like to dance any more.

I had to experience dancing again.

I had to get on my feet and dance!

Now, we’re not going to ask you to dress up and dance at this conference—unless you like doing that, in which case we’ve got the Fort Lauderdale Pool and Beach Party tomorrow night!

But what we are going to do at this conference is to give you plenty of opportunities for participative engagement—to experience things that we think may be useful for you in your lives and work.

In addition, this conference is full of experiments with a variety of learning environments and methods. We are proponents of risky learning—Sarah Lewis & Mel Robbins—will be exploring this in their sessions.

And, in our crowdsourcing experiment tomorrow, you’ll get to choose what you want to learn about, discuss, share, and connect about.

So our hope and desire is that, at EduCon, you will:
engage;
be open to your experience, with a willingness to learn from each other; and
be a resource to your peers.”

It was my hope that sharing a revealing story in front of a thousand people at the start of this conference would model openness amongst attendees for what followed. Based on the feedback I received during the event and my observations of the level of interaction and intimacy that ensued, I think my hope was realized.

Recipe for better meetings: less perfection, more risky learning

July 6th, 2015 by Adrian Segar
London Underground sign

London Underground sign

Right after the 2015 PCMA Education Conference Tuesday breakfast, I facilitated an experiment that allowed 675 meeting planners to choose sessions they would like to hold. In 45 minutes, hundreds of suggestions were offered on sticky notes A small team of volunteers then quickly clustered the topics on a wall, picked a dozen, found leaders, and scheduled them in various locations around the Broward County Convention Center during a 90 minute time slot after the lunch the same day. The experiment was a great success; all the sessions were well attended, and, from the feedback I heard, greatly enjoyed and appreciated. Many people came up to me afterwards and told me how surprised they were that such a simple process could speedily add 50% more excellent sessions to the 21 pre-scheduled sessions.

All of us who plan meetings have an understandable desire for everything to be perfect. We strive mightily to not run out of coffee, comprehensively rehearse the show flow, allow for rush hour traffic between the day and evening venues, devise in advance alternative plans B -> Z, and anticipate a thousand other logistical concerns. And every planner knows that, during every event, some things will not go according to plan, and we pride ourselves on dealing with the unexpected and coming up with creative solutions on the fly. That’s our job, and we (mostly) love doing it—otherwise we’d probably be doing something less stressful, e.g. open-heart surgery.

Aiming for perfection is totally appropriate for the logistical aspects of our meetings, but when applied to other aspects of our meeting designs—little things like, oh, satisfying meeting objectives—we end up with meetings that are invariably safe at the expense of effectiveness.

Here’s what the guy I quote more than anyone else in this blog has to say on the topic of perfection:

Perfect is the ideal defense mechanism, the work of Pressfield’s Resistance, the lizard brain giving you an out. Perfect lets you stall, ask more questions, do more reviews, dumb it down, safe it up and generally avoid doing anything that might fail (or anything important).
—Seth Godin, Abandoning perfection

We took a risk on a less-than-perfect outcome at our PCMA Education Conference crowdsourcing experiment. “What if hardly anyone suggests a topic?” “What if one or more of the participant-chosen sessions turns out be a dud, or nobody shows up?” “What if we underestimate the popularity of a session, and the scheduled space is too small to hold it?” (In fact, due to the limited locations available, we had to hold several sessions in one large room, and there was some auditory overlap that had to be minimized by a quick seating rearrangement. Lesson learned for next time!)

This is a superior kind of learning—risky learning. We try new things with the certainty that we will learn something different, perhaps something important that we would not have learned via a “safe” process, and we are prepared for the possibility to “fail” in ways that teach us something new and fresh about our process.

I’ve been running crowdsourcing of conference sessions for over twenty years, so I was confident that there would not be a shortage of session topic suggestions. But I had never before run crowdsourcing with 600+ participants. Could I get their input in 45 minutes? Would a small group be able to cluster all the suggestions in another 30 minutes, pick out juicy, popular topics, and then be able to find session leaders & facilitators and schedule all sessions before lunch? We took a risk trying new things, and I appreciate the conference committee’s support in letting me do so. The end result was a great learning experience for the participants, both in the individual sessions offered and the experience of the process used to create them. And we learned a few things about how to make the process better next time.

So how much risky learning should we incorporate into our events? There’s no one right answer to this question. Ultimately, you have to decide what level of risk you, your clients and your participants are willing to accept—and a healthy discussion with all stakeholders will help ensure that everyone’s on board with what you decide. But, whatever your situation, don’t aim for perfection,  or playing it safe. Build as much risky learning as you can into your events, and I think you’ll find the resulting outcomes will surprise and satisfy you.

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