Meeting participants deserve real choices, not just window dressing

by Adrian Segar

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My daughter Cara and her kids joined us last week at our home in Vermont. We ended up spending most of our time goofing around:

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July 4 fireworks

Bellows Falls station

Bellows Falls station

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How we decide is important because it greatly determines what we decide. Last week we made superficial decisions. That’s a recipe for relaxation and fun—and who doesn’t need some of that!

When it comes to making decisions about meetings, however, many meeting professionals stick with old familiar formats. Keynote, plenary, panel, breakout, social; rinse and repeat. That decided, they concentrate on the logistics: F&B, decor, etc.

Here’s Seth Godin’s take on this approach:

Sometimes, it seems like all we do is make decisions.

Most of those decisions, though, are merely window dressing. This color couch vs. that one? Ketchup or Mayo? This famous college vs. that one? This nice restaurant vs. that one? This logo vs. that one?

Genuine choice involves whole new categories, or “none of the above.” Genuine choice is difficult to embrace, because it puts so many options and so many assumptions on the table with it.

There’s nothing wrong with avoiding significant choices most of the time. Life (and an organization) is difficult to manage if everything is at stake, all the time.

The trap is believing that the superficial choices are the essential part of our work. They’re not. They’re mostly an easy way to avoid the much more frightening job of changing everything when it matters.
Seth Godin, The Illusion of Choice

We have known for a while now that traditional formats are not the best ways for attendees to engage, learn, and connect. The increasing popularity and success of social production (e.g. Wikipedia, Linux, Kickstarter, etc.) parallels the growing adoption of innovative participant-driven and participation-rich meeting formats. Meeting planners now need to take on the “frightening job” of changing conference models to those that give participants real choices about what, how, and with whom they engage, learn, and connect.

There’s a time and place for making superficial decisions. (Like last week!) But when we concentrate on the superficial at the expense of the important when planning our meetings we are doing a disservice to those who spend significant resources of time and money to attend.

We can do better. Yes, it’s scary. But we owe it to our clients.

Shop window photo attribution: Flickr user orinrobertjohn

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