Inspiring conference attendees to take action

by Adrian Segar

How do you inspire conference attendees to take action?

This question arose a few weeks ago when I was facilitating Vermont Vision for a Multicultural Future, a conference addressing the challenges and opportunities of a more multiracial, multi-ethnic, and multicultural Vermont. Conferences that tackle wide-scope topics like multiculturalism or sustainable business practices are not going to come up with definitive comprehensive solutions to the countless problems discussed, and this can demoralize participants who are hungry for change or filled with a desire to “do something”.

One of the two Conferences That Work closing sessions, the personal introspective, gives attendees a chance to explore changes they may want to make in their life and work as a result of their experiences during the conference. To address the desire for big-picture change, we pointed out at the start of the introspective at Vermont Vision that many of the participants had influence in their professional life (state government, education, law enforcement, faith community, etc.) and we asked each person to focus on what they wanted to work on in their sphere of influence.

Having supported and emphasized the need for personal change during the introspective, we moved to the group spective, the final Conferences That Work session. I often start a group spective by using plus/delta to quickly evaluate a conference. For plus/delta, participants first publicly share their positive experiences of the conference (listed in the plus column of a flipchart or projected Google Doc).

When all positive comments have been aired, participants then list what they would like to see changed in the delta column. This simple technique provides a quick basis for participants to share experiences and move into a discussion about what the group wants to do next.

To transform plus/delta into a tool for action at Vermont Vision, I redefined the two columns as follows:

Plus ==> actions I/we want to work on

Delta ==> issues that concern me but that I don’t know how to address

This allowed us to move from the personal decisions made at the introspective into sharing, discussion, and support of initiatives to which individuals had committed (the plus column). The delta column then allowed us to explore other ideas and who might be able to work on them.

We were encouraged to find that the plus column was much longer than the delta column. Even though significant issues in the delta column remain to be tackled, participants came away from the session knowing that many concrete plans had been generated through our time together. Unlike the outcomes of many conferences that work on problems that seem overwhelming, participants left Vermont Vision feeling that we had built momentum around specific objectives that we had a realistic chance of achieving. Perhaps that why every single conference evaluation asked us to hold this first-time conference again next year!

How do you inspire conference attendees to take action? Share your thoughts!

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  • Sue Pelletier

    I love this idea. Is it also a useful way to encourage participants in other sorts of conferences, say an association annual meeting, to take action with what they learn?

    • Hi Sue! The personal introspective (the penultimate session in all Conferences That Work) is what I use to move attendees to personal action from what they’ve learned and experienced at the conference. There’s an overview of the process at the link in the post. From many evaluations over the years, the majority of participants find the session “highly useful”.

      You don’t have to use the Conferences That Work design to incorporate a personal introspective; it can be used a a stand-alone closing session at any event where learning (hopefully) occurs, including association annual meetings. For example, I’ll be running a personal introspective at the end of MPI’s Chapter Business Summit in Dallas in September.

  • Kenny

    Great post Adrian!  It’s not what we liked or learned, but what we will use or change that is the key.

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This was a particularly powerful weekend for me and the format was especially conducive to allowing us to focus on self-identified areas of interest and the expertise we each already bring to the table.

— Monica Hutt, Conference evaluation
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