Conferences That Work http://www.conferencesthatwork.com Unconferences, peer conferences, participant-driven events, and facilitation Sat, 25 Mar 2017 14:32:38 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.7.3 Charles, Lawrence, David Bowie, and me http://www.conferencesthatwork.com/index.php/uncategorized/2017/03/charles-lawrence-david-bowie-and-me/ http://www.conferencesthatwork.com/index.php/uncategorized/2017/03/charles-lawrence-david-bowie-and-me/#comments Mon, 20 Mar 2017 10:53:18 +0000 http://www.conferencesthatwork.com/?p=9958

My first public gig as a musician was at David Bowie’s Beckenham Arts Lab.Read the full article at Conferences That Work

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Three ways to make it easier for attendees to participate http://www.conferencesthatwork.com/index.php/event-design/2017/03/three-ways-to-make-it-easier-for-attendees-to-participate/ http://www.conferencesthatwork.com/index.php/event-design/2017/03/three-ways-to-make-it-easier-for-attendees-to-participate/#respond Mon, 13 Mar 2017 10:21:00 +0000 http://www.conferencesthatwork.com/?p=9162 How do we get people to participate at meetings?

We know that participants — people who are active learners — learn more, retain more, and retain more accurately than passive attendees. They are also far more likely to make valuable connections with their peers during the event.

Seth Godin describes a desirable meeting mindset:

What would happen…

if we chose to:

…Sit in the front row

Ask a hard question every time we go to a meeting…

All of these are choices, choices that require no one to choose us or give us permission.

Every time I find myself wishing for an external event, I realize that I’m way better off focusing on something I can control instead.
—Seth Godin, What Would Happen

This is all very well, but it begs the question: what can meeting designers do to make it easier for attendees to participate more at meetings? Here are three things we can do.Read the full article at Conferences That Work

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“Less Meetings, More Doing?” Nope! http://www.conferencesthatwork.com/index.php/event-design/2017/03/less-meetings-more-doing-nope/ http://www.conferencesthatwork.com/index.php/event-design/2017/03/less-meetings-more-doing-nope/#respond Mon, 06 Mar 2017 11:10:24 +0000 http://www.conferencesthatwork.com/?p=9834

Many believe that meetings are an unpleasant evil that sucks time and energy away from getting things done.

That’s unfortunate, because meetings — when done right — are one of the most powerful business tools for creating the action outcomes that stakeholders and participants want and need.

Over the years I’ve learned through painful experience that blindly doing something, anything, before thinking through what I could be doing and how I might be doing it, was invariably a recipe for wasting a lot of time and energy. Such deliberation becomes even more important when we are working collectively with others on a common project. This is because today, 70 – 90% of what we learn is learned socially, and much of this learning occurs during formal and informal meetings.

Much has been written about how to run great business meetings (for example, this, this, and this.) Far less has been shared about how to create the right action outcomes at large meetings, aka conferences, that professionals attend. Perhaps that’s because the focus at conferences is typically on learning and connection, which hopefully lead to relevant personal outcomes rather than group outcomes.

Personal change at conferences is important. After all, if you attend a conference and nothing significant changes in your life, why did you go? Uncovering and working on group outcomes, however, is one of the best ways to build community at a conference, which increases the likelihood that participants will see the conference as professionally valuable and makes it more likely that they will attend future events.

So how do we uncover and work on personal and group outcomes at conferences? I’m so glad you asked! Check out the personal introspective and group spective (including the action outcome version) processes I’ve been designing and facilitating for years. For full details, see my book The Power of Participation: Creating Conferences That Deliver Learning, Connection, Engagement, and Action.

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How to live your life http://www.conferencesthatwork.com/index.php/life-lessons/2017/02/how-to-live-your-life/ http://www.conferencesthatwork.com/index.php/life-lessons/2017/02/how-to-live-your-life/#respond Mon, 27 Feb 2017 12:15:01 +0000 http://www.conferencesthatwork.com/?p=9615 Two important truths from Stephen Jenkinson:

“…it’s the awareness of death — and not happiness or positivity or stoicism — that allows us to live fully in the time that we have.”
—Stephen Jenkinson in the 2008 documentary Griefwalker

and

“…live your life as someone who has an enduring obligation to that which has kept you alive.”
—Stephen Jenkinson, in an interview in The Sun, August 2015

Photo attribution: Flickr user x1klima

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Lessons from Anguilla: What meeting designers can learn from religious services http://www.conferencesthatwork.com/index.php/event-design/2017/02/lessons-from-anguilla-what-meeting-designers-can-learn-from-religious-services/ http://www.conferencesthatwork.com/index.php/event-design/2017/02/lessons-from-anguilla-what-meeting-designers-can-learn-from-religious-services/#respond Mon, 20 Feb 2017 10:20:48 +0000 http://www.conferencesthatwork.com/?p=9855 On my daily vacation walk to Island Harbour, I hear singing. As I turn the corner onto Rose Hill Road, the sound swells. It’s 7:30 am, but the morning service at St. Andrew’s Anglican Church is in full swing and, as I pass, a familiar hymn from my youth washes over me, sung by a hundred enthusiastic voices. And yes, I admit it, during the second day of my vacation while enjoying the harmonies I hear, I’m jolted to think about religious meeting design…

Religious services are thought to be around 300,000 years old — by far the oldest form of organized meeting that humans have created. We know little about prehistory religious services, but the meeting designs used by the major world religions today date from the Middle Ages. Over the last thousand years, religious meetings developed a number of important features in order to maximize the likelihood that people would attend.

What’s interesting is that these features are largely absent from modern secular meetings!

So what can we learn from religious meeting design? I confine my observations to Christian and Jewish services, as they are the faiths familiar to me.

Don’t let any one person talk too long
The most frequent preaching length in Christian churches is 20 to 28 minutes. Although some pastors take more time, their number is decreasing. And in 2014, the Vatican recommended that sermons be limited to eight minutes or less!

While people joke about the length of boring sermons, contrast this relative brevity to modern conferences, where speakers typically speak for an hour. We know that listener attention drops sharply after ten minutes unless a speaker does specific things to maintain it. Religious institutions know this, and deliver short bursts of emotional content. Most meetings don’t, and attendee learning suffers as a consequence.

Include lots of communal activities
Singing is one of the most powerful fundamental, communal human activities; right up there with eating together. The oldest written music is a song, the Sumerian Hymn to Creation, dated before 800 B.C., and communal singing likely predates this by tens or hundreds of thousands of years.

Jewish and Christian religious services are filled with singing and praying. These are communal activities — each congregant contributes to a common endeavor. Some people have good voices, sing in harmony, and add pleasure to everyone’s experience. Even those who can’t carry a tune very well become part of something, a common endeavor, while they are singing a familiar and often beautiful hymn or prayer.

Communal activities are powerful because they align participants in a common experience: creating something beautiful and uplifting together. When was the last time you did something like that in a meeting?

Breaks aren’t communal activities
Most meeting organizers assume that the human interaction they’ve been told should be incorporated into their meetings is provided by breaks and socials. But breaks and socials aren’t communal activities — everyone is doing something different! The post-service Church Suppers and Jewish Kiddish give congregants time to meet socially, thus strengthening the communal experience provided by the service. In contrast, modern conferences expect attendees to bond after having primarily listened to lectures.

Keep ’em moving!
People don’t sit still at most religious services. They stand to sing and pray. In some congregations, dance is a normal component of the service. Physical movement during events is important because blood flow to the brain starts to decline within ten minutes of sitting still, leading to decreased attention. Sadly, it’s rare for meeting sessions to include any kind of body movement.

Provide an emotional experience
Whatever opinions you hold about religious services, it’s clear that they are designed to create an emotional experience. Given a choice between emotional and “book learning” experiences, people will invariably choose the former. Religious services offer the kinds of experiences that people prefer, served up in a safe and familiar way. Most conferences offer little emotional experience directly related to their content and purpose; instead such experiences — entertainment and socials — are glued onto the program as unintegrated extras.

Conclusions
I’m not suggesting that we turn all our meetings into gospel revivals. But think about it — how would your meetings be improved if they incorporated some of the religious services features I’ve shared here?

Church service photograph courtesy of The Anguillan

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The two must-do steps to hire the best professional help http://www.conferencesthatwork.com/index.php/tip-2/2017/02/the-two-must-do-steps-to-hire-the-best-professional-help/ http://www.conferencesthatwork.com/index.php/tip-2/2017/02/the-two-must-do-steps-to-hire-the-best-professional-help/#comments Mon, 13 Feb 2017 13:04:26 +0000 http://www.conferencesthatwork.com/?p=9796 When you need professional help, how do you select the best professionals?

Countless experts — such as accountants, plumbers, doctors, lawyers, and meeting planners — will take your money in exchange for advice or services. So, when it’s time to minimize your taxes, modernize the bathroom, diagnose that stabbing stomach pain, draft a complex contract, or organize multiple regional conferences — in short, get help with something you can’t do yourself — how do you choose great help?

It isn’t easy. If it was, we wouldn’t hear horror stories about accountants who can’t file a correct tax return, builders who make costly (and hilarious) mistakes, serious cases of medical malpractice, million dollar errors made by attorneys, and mistakes that meeting planners continue to make.

Why it’s hard to choose the right help
If you’ve never plumbed a kitchen sink in your life, how can you determine whether someone who says they’re a plumber really knows what they’re doing?

There’s a simple reason why it’s tricky to pick great professionals. If you need help, obviously you lack crucial knowledge or experience. So when you seek help, you don’t know if someone who claims to be able to help really can!

Don’t despair! Here are the two essential steps for hiring great professional help.

Ask for and check references
Everyone knows that you should ask for references for a professional who’s going to do work for you. Unfortunately, knowing you should do something doesn’t mean you will actually do it. How often do you ask for references from a professional you’re planning to hire? Do you ask a potential builder? An accountant? A doctor? In my experience, I am rarely asked for references.

In addition, many people ask for references but don’t check them! You may think that professionals are only going to give you the names of people who are satisfied with their services. While that’s usually true, talking to references will invariably turn up useful information. For example, you may discover that a plumber does good work but doesn’t finish in a timely fashion. Or an attorney writes competent contracts but his drafts need to be carefully checked to make sure that changes you request are actually incorporated. It’s not uncommon to hear information from a reference that immediately makes you decide not to employ the professional.

So getting and checking references before hiring is an essential step if you want to minimize unpleasant surprises. These days, crowd-vetted online sites like Angie’s List and houzz provide a helpful starting place, but you can’t beat talking directly to clients of professionals you’re considering.

See if they’ll say, “I don’t know”
My mother had an unusual set of medical symptoms, and had the misfortune to pick a doctor who was unable to admit that he didn’t know what was wrong with her. Instead, he told her that she had multiple sclerosis, which caused her much emotional upset. Years went by without the relapses or progressions normal to her illness, but she refused to believe that his diagnosis was wrong. Finally I called him up and confronted him, and he admitted that she did not have the disease. Years of suffering could have been avoided if we had ascertained at the outset that he was incapable of admitting that he didn’t have all the answers.

Checking to see if a professional will say they don’t know when they actually don’t is an important hiring step that is rarely performed. Interview the professional and ask them questions about the work you want them to do. Listen carefully to how they respond to your questions. You are looking for them to show that they know the limits of their abilities, and that they are willing to share their limits with you.

If necessary, ask whether they can do something that is a little outside their stated expertise and listen carefully to how they respond. If you hear an unwillingness to admit that they are not able to fulfill your request, you are receiving an important warning. Ignore it at your peril!

Choosing professionals who are aware of and clear and honest about their own limits ensures not only that they can actually do the work you need, but also that they will let you know when they are unequipped to handle any that problems. These are the people you want to work for you.

That’s it!
Faithfully execute these two simple steps when choosing professionals and you’ll avoid the common problems that occur when obtaining help with life’s challenges. These must-do steps have made it possible for me to pick competent, trustworthy help for years. I hope they help you too.

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Reasons to leave a job http://www.conferencesthatwork.com/index.php/consulting-2/2017/02/reasons-to-leave-a-job/ http://www.conferencesthatwork.com/index.php/consulting-2/2017/02/reasons-to-leave-a-job/#respond Mon, 06 Feb 2017 10:05:03 +0000 http://www.conferencesthatwork.com/?p=9784 My mentor Jerry Weinberg, consultant extraordinaire, has written an excellent list of reasons to leave a job.

In my career, I have left jobs when:

  • The job I was hired to do was finished.
  • The job I was hired to do could not be finished.
  • The job I was hired to do would be finished just fine without me.
  • I was not able to do the job I was hired to do.
  • The job I was hired to do wasn’t worth doing.
  • I was no longer learning new things (that’s my most frequent reason for leaving).
  • They told me that my pay was going to be “temporarily” delayed.
  • They asked me to do something illegal or unethical.

—Jerry Weinberg, What is the right reason to leave a job?

I’d like to add one more reason for leaving a job:

The pain of the job isn’t worth the gain.

Though this is related to Jerry’s 5th reason, I think it’s worth being explicit about the effect of a job on your mental, physical, or spiritual being. Many years ago I took on a client where every interaction was unpleasant. The owner argued with me about my recommendations, groused about my bills, and repeatedly implemented something different from what I had proposed and complained about the results. It took me a while, but one day I sat down and wrote him a letter that said I was unable to work for him anymore. It was the right decision, it felt good, and since then I’ve been better able to disengage in a timely fashion from work that isn’t working for me.

Sometimes you have no choice but to continue with a job you’d leave if circumstances were different. Sometimes you have no choice but to leave a job. But when you have a choice, don’t overlook your own needs because of a commendable but perhaps now misguided loyalty to the commitment you made when you began.

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The dark side of stories at events http://www.conferencesthatwork.com/index.php/event-design/2017/01/the-dark-side-of-stories-at-events/ http://www.conferencesthatwork.com/index.php/event-design/2017/01/the-dark-side-of-stories-at-events/#respond Mon, 30 Jan 2017 11:43:55 +0000 http://www.conferencesthatwork.com/?p=9744

Hans Bleiker tells a story about a group of scientists who spent several years carefully researching how to maintain the health of a deer herd, and determined that some minor changes in state hunting regulations would be very effective. At a public hearing, their entire case was undermined in 15 minutes by the testimony of a guy who loudly protested that his great-grandfather had helped his father shoot his first deer, his father had gone with him to shoot his first deer, and he’d be damned if some bunch of scientists were going to stop him help his son to shoot his first deer.

It’s been hard to miss the deluge of books and articles pointing out (correctly) that presenters who tell relevant, well-told stories have far more impact on listeners than those who recite a litany of facts. It’s not surprising that the most popular and highly paid professional speakers are those with a vivid story to tell — one that often follows some variant of the hero’s journey

Stories have great power to change our minds. They can do wonderful things: challenge our ingrained beliefs, make us aware of injustice, inspire us to be better human beings, and motivate us to act for the greater good.

Unfortunately, such power can also be used for evil. Stories can be used to inflict great damage.

Examples abound. Ronald Reagan’s mythical “welfare queen” has shaped U.S. welfare policy for 40 years. Chimamanda Adichie tells how childhood reading warps our view of the world. Stories of parents whose children developed the symptoms of autism soon after vaccination have led many people to not vaccinate their children, leading to the resurgence of preventable diseases even though scientific research has shown no connection between vaccination and autism.

Stories are dangerous, because, even with good intentions, stories can be wrong. And, more dangerously, they can be purposefully misleading. A child’s default belief is that stories they hear are true, and we tend to carry that belief into adulthood despite increasing experience that stories can be seriously biased and deceptive. The terrible way in which it has recently become routine for authority figures to publicly lie in order to achieve their own objectives is leading to a world where “alternative facts” are becoming the norm.

As event planners, we are often involved in selecting and supporting presenters who are given a platform to tell their stories to an audience, hopefully for good but possibly for nefarious reasons. While acknowledging the power of stories, let’s not forget that they can evoke dark passions in those who hear them. As people who make events happen, we bear a responsibility to decide whether we want to tacitly support those storytellers among us who use stories for immoral and unethical ends.

Photo attribution: Flickr user campascca

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Avoid this PayPal refund gotcha! http://www.conferencesthatwork.com/index.php/technology/2017/01/avoid-this-paypal-refund-gotcha/ http://www.conferencesthatwork.com/index.php/technology/2017/01/avoid-this-paypal-refund-gotcha/#respond Mon, 23 Jan 2017 11:38:18 +0000 http://www.conferencesthatwork.com/?p=9734

I’ve been an active and satisfied PayPal user for fifteen years and [crosses fingers] have not yet had any problems with the service. But I just experienced a gotcha! that could have easily overdrawn my PayPal-tied bank account. Luckily, I had a large enough balance at the time and no harm resulted, but I’m sharing what happened and how you can prevent the same thing happening to you.

A client had paid for his spot in one of my upcoming workshops, but needed to cancel shortly afterwards. He had paid me 900 euros (almost a thousand dollars) so I issued him a full PayPal refund from my euro balance. (Yes, PayPal accounts can work with multiple currencies, which is convenient when you are providing services internationally and your clients want to pay in local currencies.)

When you issue a full refund in PayPal, the company refunds your full variable transaction fee, but not the fixed portion of the fee. For transactions in the US, that’s a mere $0.30. For refunds on international transactions it’s higher, due to currency conversion issues. But the gotcha! I’m about to share is not restricted to international transactions; it can occur for any kind of refund.

Here’s the gotcha! My euro PayPal balance wasn’t quite large enough to cover the refund. I assumed that PayPal would zero out my euro balance and then take their small fixed fee out of my US dollar balance or my bank account.

Wrong! A few days later I scanned my online bank statement and discovered that PayPal had taken the entire refund out of my bank account, which now had a thousand dollars less in it than I’d thought! The euro balance was untouched.

Why did this happen? Here’s a PayPal FAQ on refunds with the crucial paragraph outlined:

{If you can’t read this, it says “If your PayPal account balance does not have enough money in it, the entire refund will be issued from the primary bank account linked to your PayPal account — here’s a link to the FAQ How do I issue a full or partial refund?}

Before I found this FAQ, I thought PayPal had made a mistake. I opened a case at the Resolution Center, which, to make a long story short, was a complete waste of time. So I called PayPal (888-221-1161), something I’ve never done before. It took about 25 minutes on hold, which is apparently not unusual, but the service rep I eventually spoke to explained what had happened and, unexpectedly, said she would issue a refund to make up the difference in the currency loss I would incur in turning my euros back into dollars. Sure enough, a ~$50 credit quickly appeared in my account once I’d zeroed out my euro balance — good service!

So how can you prevent this from happening to you? Simply, before making a refund ensure that your PayPal balance is large enough to completely cover it! This may require you to add a relatively small amount to the balance to cover the non-refundable fixed fee. Do this and you’ll avoid the possible financial consequences of an unexpectedly overdrawn bank account.

Hope this helps some folks. I’ve heard plenty of angry stories about PayPal over the years but have been fortunate to have none of my own. Feel free to share your own experience in the comments below.

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To build connection and engagement at events — give up control! http://www.conferencesthatwork.com/index.php/event-design/2017/01/to-build-connection-and-engagement-at-events-give-up-control/ http://www.conferencesthatwork.com/index.php/event-design/2017/01/to-build-connection-and-engagement-at-events-give-up-control/#respond Mon, 16 Jan 2017 11:30:57 +0000 http://www.conferencesthatwork.com/?p=9651 How can we build connection and engagement with people with whom we work?

My wise consultant friend Naomi Karten tells a short story about a client’s unexpected reaction. Frank had a bad experience with an earlier information technology project, so Naomi’s team gave him three possible approaches to a major system design and a list of the pluses and minuses of each.

“The plan was to let him select the approach he preferred in hopes that he’d gain more trust in us as a result…”

“…Frank jumped up, shouted, ‘How dare you develop options without my input!’ and marched out of the room…”

“…Instead of his seeing the options as giving him a say in our efforts, he may have seen us as preventing his input into the very idea of options. We saw ourselves giving him some control. He may have seen us as taking it away.”
—Naomi Karten, The Importance of Giving Others a Sense of Control

At traditional conferences, attendees choose from predetermined sets of sessions chosen by conference organizers. Think about your experience of such events. Have you found that much of the time, none of the choices supply what you actually need and/or want? Sadly, we’re so used to this state of affairs, we accept it as normal.

Conferences don’t have to be designed this way. Over the last twenty-five years, I’ve discovered that peer conferences, where participants determine the choices, provide a much better fit between the wants/needs of the attendees and the conference program they construct on-the-fly. This leads to significantly greater connection, engagement, and satisfaction.

Sometimes, giving people a limited number of options is not enough. Giving up control over the choices at your conferences by handing it over to the participants — using proven process, of course —is one of the best ways to build trust, connection, and engagement at your events.

Photo attribution: Flickr user kt

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