Conferences That Work http://www.conferencesthatwork.com Unconferences, peer conferences, participant-driven events, and facilitation Mon, 17 Apr 2017 11:30:37 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.7.4 Children shouldn’t sit still in class — and neither should adults http://www.conferencesthatwork.com/index.php/learning/2017/04/children-shouldnt-sit-still-in-class-and-neither-should-adults/ http://www.conferencesthatwork.com/index.php/learning/2017/04/children-shouldnt-sit-still-in-class-and-neither-should-adults/#comments Mon, 17 Apr 2017 11:30:37 +0000 http://www.conferencesthatwork.com/?p=10015

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It’s amazing that established research on ways to improve children’s learning is ignored when designing adult learning environments.

Some examples. We know that kids shouldn’t sit still in class. Short bursts in physical activity are positively linked to increased levels of attention and performance. Watch Mike Kuczala’s TEDx talk “The Kinesthetic Classroom: Teaching and Learning through Movement.” Michelle Obama’s 2010 “Let’s Move” initiative works to increase movement and healthy eating in schools. Classroom movement programs like GoNoodle are now used in more than 60,000 elementary schools in the United States. [More links to research can be found in Dr Ash Routen’s and Dr Lauren Sherar’s article “Active lessons can boost children’s learning and health“.]Read the full article at Conferences That Work

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Associations exist only in the mind http://www.conferencesthatwork.com/index.php/associations-2/2017/04/associations-exist-only-in-the-mind/ http://www.conferencesthatwork.com/index.php/associations-2/2017/04/associations-exist-only-in-the-mind/#respond Mon, 10 Apr 2017 10:21:06 +0000 http://www.conferencesthatwork.com/?p=10119 No related posts. ]]>

Professional, trade, and public interest associations are significant businesses. In the United States alone, associations employ more than 1.6 million people, and generate an annual payroll of ~$50 billion.

Yet, ultimately, associations exist only in the mind.

Stay with me, and I’ll tell you a story that may convince you of the value of this strange point of view.

Fifty years ago, every business that wanted to offer credit to its customers had to have its own independent system to do so. Individual banks were trying to encourage merchants and customers to adopt newfangled things called “credit cards”, but they failed to solve the chicken-and-egg problem that consumers did not want to use a card that few merchants would accept and merchants did not want to accept a card that few consumers used.

Then in 1966, a man named Dee Hock had the vision, determination, resources, and a little luck to break this logjam. Dee described his journey in a fascinating book he wrote after his retirement in 1984, intriguingly titled: Birth of The Chaordic AgeDee was the first CEO of what became the mammoth multinational financial services corporation VISA, a company with a current market capitalization of over $200B.

What has this to do with associations? Well, you may be surprised to learn that VISA has never issued cards, extended credit or set rates and fees for consumers. The company is, in structure if not in capitalist terms, an association of tens of thousands of member banks who offer VISA-branded credit, debit, prepaid and cash-access programs to their hundreds of millions of customers. These banks, while competing with each other for customers, agree to honor each other’s trillions of dollars in transactions annually across borders and currencies.

At its core, VISA is a set of agreements between its members. The company’s value to its owners and customers is created from the mutual agreements its members have made. Without those agreements, VISA would not exist and we would return to the pre-VISA world when every financial entity had to have its own independent system of offering credit to its customers.

Although VISA is an atypical kind of for-profit organization, its core purpose is essentially identical to that of trade and professional associations. Associations are society’s instantiations of communities of practice, groups of people who share a common interest, profession, or passion and agree to actively engage around what they have in common. That leads us to Dee Hock’s (and my) view of organizations like VISA and associations:

“…organizations exist only in the mind; they are no more than the conceptual embodiments of the ancient idea of community.”
—Dee Hock, Birth of The Chaordic Age

This perspective is extremely important because it’s easy for associations to forget their initial and continued reasons for existence. Every association is created when at some moment in time a group of people with something in common wants to further a particular profession and/or the interests of those engaged in a profession and/or the public interest. Typically, the community already exists informally, and its “members” want to create a formal, legal structure to support, deepen, and widen its reach.

Associations can, however, lose sight of this primal and ongoing purpose. When this happens, they concentrate on self-perpetuation and/or expansion at the expense of supporting the community of practice for which they were created. Remembering that an association is, at its core, a set of agreements in people’s minds about the instantiation of a community that is important to them is key to keeping the association relevant to the community it serves.

Read the full article at Conferences That Work ]]>
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The architecture of assembly http://www.conferencesthatwork.com/index.php/event-design/2017/04/the-architecture-of-assembly/ http://www.conferencesthatwork.com/index.php/event-design/2017/04/the-architecture-of-assembly/#respond Mon, 03 Apr 2017 10:49:20 +0000 http://www.conferencesthatwork.com/?p=10038

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“Architecture sets the stage for our lives; it creates the world we inhabit and shapes how we relate to one another. In a time in which democracy is under increasing pressure in different parts of the world, it is time to rethink the architecture of assembly.”
Max Cohen de Lara and David Mulder van der Vegt, “These 5 architectural designs influence every legislature in the world — and tell you how each governs, The Washington Post, March 4, 2017

How do room sets imply and influence what happens at meetings? Can room sets affect the quality of democracy, sharing, and equality experienced by participants?Read the full article at Conferences That Work

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Dealing successfully with event complexity http://www.conferencesthatwork.com/index.php/event-design/2017/03/dealing-successfully-with-event-complexity/ http://www.conferencesthatwork.com/index.php/event-design/2017/03/dealing-successfully-with-event-complexity/#respond Mon, 27 Mar 2017 10:45:43 +0000 http://www.conferencesthatwork.com/?p=9194

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In 1975, I was stricken with viral meningitis while attending a conference in the former Yugoslavia. While spending ten unexpected days recovering flat on my back in a Split hospital, my only reading matter was an English translation of Lao Tsu’s Tao Te Ching. Perhaps it’s not surprising, considering the circumstances, that Taoism stealthily and permanently insinuated itself into my psyche.

Reading Atul Gawande‘s unexpectedly excellent book The Checklist Manifesto recently, reminded me of Lao Tsu’s advice on dealing with complex issues:Read the full article at Conferences That Work

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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 No related posts. ]]>

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

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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

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  2. Participation techniques you can use in conference sessions Here’s the summary handout for my workshop on participation techniques you can use in conference sessions that I’ll be leading at MPI’s World Education Congress 2011. Sources for additional information...
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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.

Read the full article at Conferences That Work ]]>
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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 No related posts. ]]> 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

Read the full article at Conferences That Work ]]>
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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 No related posts. ]]> 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

Read the full article at Conferences That Work ]]>
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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

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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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