"I realized this morning that your event content is the only event related 'stuff' I still read. I think that's because it's not about events, but about the coming together of people to exchange ideas and learn from one another and that's valuable information for anyone." — Traci Browne

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Zoom avatars—some thoughts

Zoom avatarsIn 2022, Zoom added avatars to their Meetings and Webinars products. Initially, Zoom only offered animal avatars, but custom human avatars were added in 2023.

Zoom avatars have received mixed reviews (1, 2), including this reaction from Miguel Neves, Editor-in-chief at Skift Meetings, on LinkedIn:

“Why but why has Zoom created an avatars feature?

They recently announced a bunch of really interesting features. I’m entirely not sold on their feature, this looks like some sort of strange meme.

Say no to , really.

According to their blog you can ‘choose from extended Animal Avatars, Human Avatars, and even Meta Avatars to help you customize how “virtual you” shows up in meetings’.

Who asked for this?”

My thoughts on Zoom avatars

Some people may just find it fun to meet via avatar, perhaps on an occasional basis to surprise others or shake things up. Though, in general, I don’t recommend doing this for a business meeting unless you know the other participants fairly well, I’m a fan of fun.

More seriously, I think there is a good case for making avatars available for the neurodivergent and folks who are—for whatever reason—feeling that they’re not going to be looking good on camera for a meeting. Let’s support the “I” in .

Supporting a culture where camera-off is not an unusual occurrence is an alternative. I’ve often seen this when working with students, who may be in challenging living spaces. I generally have no problem being on camera. But there have been times when it makes sense for me to turn it off. I suspect that’s true for most people.

And remember it wasn’t so long ago when no one had cameras streaming self-video over the net. We did fine back then. In fact, all cameras-off meetings can be quite refreshing!

So, though I’m not in favor of forcing everyone to display avatars, I don’t have a problem if some people want to use them.

Other perspectives

Nancy Snowden shared a detailed neurodivergent perspective in the comments on Miguel’s post:

“For many neurologically diverse folks, seeing themselves on screen causes a lot of anxiety and distraction. If I were to consider this with a growth mindset I wonder if this is an excellent way to increase an employee’s sense of belonging, maybe help them to be more productive, or hell, maybe make exhaustingly tedious and mundane experience of zoom calls even just a little more bearable.

When I consider my own neurodivergence this feels like a great opportunity- being on camera is distracting, taxing and exhausting for me. It’s harder for me to manage impulse control such as interrupting people, I’m often distracted by something in the background of my screen, but being off camera is seen as being distant or disengaged. When I was in the throes of severe postpartum depression and back to work after 6 short weeks, I could barely manage to shower or brush my hair, the anxiety of having to be on camera felt unbearable, but it felt so expected of me.

Also, being wary and judgmental of something new is exactly why many fumbled the “pivot to virtual” just three years ago. And for some, the outcome was devastating for their business. You don’t have to love something to learn it, bookmark it & have it in your toolbox 🤷🏻‍♀️”

Joan Eisenstodt reminded us about the past—and the present:

“Years ago, using a few AOL chat rooms, the ability to engage with someone based on content of posts v. their looks all to reconsider the biases in judgement based on someone’s appearance.”

And Jan-Jaap In der Maur had a positive spin:

“This is the first step into the future of us all having one steady digital identity that we ourselves fully own.”

[IMO, I’m skeptical that a) Zoom is interested in putting energy into this, and b) that it’s likely to occur.]


To summarize, I’m fine with Zoom adding avatars. However, I hope the company doesn’t put too much time into tweaking this feature at the expense of developing functionality that I think is more important, such as improved tools for meeting facilitation.

Image courtesy of Zoom

Assholes, potholes, and black holes

holesHere are my suggestions on how to handle three kinds of metaphorical holes.


We’ll begin with assholes. They are people (usually men in my experience) who reliably exhibit mean, uncaring, selfish, disrespectful, and contemptible behaviors. Most of the time, they are pretty easy to spot.

The best way to deal with assholes is to avoid them whenever possible. If you can’t, then don’t confront them; assholes love that. Instead, ignore them. If you have to interact with an asshole, set boundaries on the time you’ll be with them and what you will tolerate. This can be tough, so remember that their assholeness is their problem, not yours.

A couple more points.

First, everyone acts like an asshole sometimes. While waiting to pick up a prescription in a pharmacy the other day, I talked for five minutes to a clearly stressed woman in the line. As the pharmacist filled my order, I heard screaming and turned to see the woman smashing the credit card terminal next to me. Based on our conversation, I’m pretty sure this woman was behaving as a temporary asshole due to circumstances, and I was happy to see staff and customers give her some slack and support.

And second, remember that assholes are not happy people. Though it’s hard to do, if you can feel compassion for an asshole you’re with it will help you deal with their behavior better. And it may (don’t count on it) help them be slightly less asshole-like with you.


holes A large pot hole on Second Avenue in the East Village of New York City, deep enough to contain a traffic pylon and several bags of garbage. As of August 16, 2008, it had been there for around two weeks.
A physical pothole.

Everyone experiences metaphorical potholes—setbacks, disappointments, bumps on the road of life—once in a while. They are always unwelcome and usually unexpected. A pothole is your problem to deal with, but don’t take it personally as it may be nothing you could have done anything about. When you encounter a pothole, try not to get stuck. And be open to asking for help if and when you do.

Remember that you’ll almost always be able to get out of a pothole. As Sufis say, “This too shall pass.”

Sometimes, anticipating a potential upcoming pothole will help you avoid it. The trick is to anticipate potentially serious potholes while not trying to plan for every possible eventuality, which leads to analysis paralysis. (Meeting designers and facilitators like me get plenty of practice at this balancing act.)

Finally, learn from your pothole experiences so you are less likely to fall into the same pothole again. If you do, there’s more learning needed.

Black holes

holesThankfully, unless faster-than-light travel becomes possible, you’ll never have to interact with a physical black hole. They’re too far away. But metaphorical black holes exist, and they can seriously affect your well-being. They are about unhealthy attraction to other people, whether it’s romantic, physical, sexual, emotional, intellectual, platonic, aesthetic, or sensual. These kinds of attraction intersect and overlap, and each of us experiences and prioritizes them to varying degrees. Additionally, attraction can be fluid and can change over time or in different circumstances.

There are, of course, many positive aspects to attraction. It fosters one of our most important needs: connection and intimacy with others. Attraction elicits positive emotions which can contribute to overall well-being and satisfaction. And it can be a powerful motivator, driving us to pursue our goals and aspirations, and increase self-confidence.

Mutual attraction is usually a positive experience. But metaphorical black holes only involve one-way attraction. They attract so strongly there is no escape. You become obsessed and besotted with another person, causing distress and interfering with other areas of life. Such extreme attraction is rarely reciprocated, typically leading to feelings of rejection, sadness, and heartbreak. Black hole attraction may also trigger feelings of jealousy or insecurity and provoke biases or prejudices.

Avoiding black holes

So, like assholes, you should avoid black holes. This is especially challenging because black holes attract no matter how far you’re from them, while assholes are generally only a problem when you’re with them. It’s also often difficult to determine whether the attraction we initially feel is or will become obsessive. As a result, you may not realize you are too close to a black hole before it’s too late.

To avoid being sucked into a metaphorical black hole, you first have to notice you’re in danger. One warning sign is becoming aware that an attraction to someone has become a constant obsession to the extent it’s significantly affecting your other relationships. Romantic obsessions of this kind are called obsessive love disorder.

A mild obsession with someone can often be lessened by choosing to spend more time doing things you like, focusing on other relationships, practicing mindfulness, and meditating regularly. Mental health counseling is recommended when these approaches aren’t working, especially if you notice a pattern in your life of obsessive relationships.

The Law of Holes

Finally, there are other kinds of holes you may find yourself in from time to time, such as foxholes and rabbit holes. Whatever kind of hole you might encounter, the following two Laws of Holes can be useful:

“If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.”
—The First Law of Holes

“When you stop digging, you are still in a hole.”
—The Second Law of Holes

I wish you good luck dealing with all the metaphorical holes in your life!

Pothole image is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

All my ebooks are now available on VitalSource!

Hey everyone, especially educators who teach courses on meetings and hospitality. My ebooks are now available on VitalSource, the largest global supplier of digital course materials to higher education!

I’m confident that this new channel will be a valuable addition to your curriculum. Check to see if your school already makes books available via VitalSource Campus Retailers.

It is critical to understand how to design conferences and events effectively. My books offer practical advice and best practices for designing and executing successful participant-driven and participation-rich meetings, whether they are virtual or in-person, and they are used by numerous meeting and hospitality education programs.

Now, you and your students can easily access my books from anywhere in the world, at any time, both online and offline. VitalSource’s platform, BookShelf, is user-friendly and intuitive, making it easy for you to incorporate my books into your coursework.

In addition to providing access to my books, VitalSource also offers valuable tools for instructors. These include a platform for creating and sharing course materials, customizable content, and analytics to track student engagement and progress. In addition, VitalSource’s Faculty Sampling Portal allows instructors or faculty members currently teaching at a school or institution to review my books for free before adding them to your curriculum.

I am happy to partner with VitalSource to make my books on meeting design more widely available to students and faculty members around the world. I look forward to hearing your feedback on how my books have helped to enhance your students’ learning experiences.

And, of course, if you or your students prefer, my ebooks are still available for purchase directly from this website.

Thank you for your ongoing support of my work and your commitment to advancing the field of meeting design!


Adrian Segar

Life can only be understood by looking backward

The philosopher Søren Kierkegaard once said that life can only be understood by looking backward, but it must be lived looking forward.

looking backward
The musings of Kierkegaard, by @tomgauld, New Scientist November 19, 2022

I agree!

Understanding by looking backward

In my 7th decade, I think I better understand some of the mysteries of my youth.


Paradoxically, one of the things I now understand better is the importance and influence of my feelings. Growing up, no one talked about feelings in my family. I got the message that feelings, especially uncomfortable ones, were taboo to discuss and best suppressed. So, I focused on understanding the world and my life by developing my rational understanding and knowledge of the world as a physicist. I had little understanding of how my feelings were influencing my life and decisions.

Over the years, I’ve realized that how I feel determines what I do far more than what I think. Though it’s still a struggle at times, I work to be more aware of how I’m feeling and how it is affecting my behavior. Doing this helps me to minimize being “stuck” in feelings that are associated with my recent or distant past. This leads to another understanding…

This too shall pass

These days, I find myself better able to deal with life’s ups and downs. I wouldn’t say my life feels easier overall. Increased financial security comes hand in hand with the infirmities of old(er) age. But over time I’ve internalized my understanding that “this too shall pass”.

Perhaps this is because I have more experience knowing that bad or good times don’t last forever. Perhaps I have become more resilient, or more accepting of the reality that some things are beyond my control. Or, maybe, it’s simply that my short-term memory is worse so it’s easier for me to live in the present!


As I age, I’ve become more tolerant of imperfections in myself, others, and the world. I am better able to forgive myself and others, having learned that everyone makes mistakes and that it’s not fair to hold anyone to impossibly high standards. I’m more empathetic, tolerant, and understanding than I used to be.

Many of the certainties of my youth have given way to respect for diverse opinions and a greater acceptance of imperfections in the world around us.

One specific example of this is forgiving the flaws and limitations of my parents, of whom I was so intolerant in my youth. I now see them as imperfect people rather than the all-knowing, all-powerful figures they appeared to me as a child. As a parent and grandparent myself now, I recognize the sacrifices and efforts they made on my behalf. I’ve gained a deeper appreciation for their love and support, despite their imperfections.

Everything else

The older I get, the more I realize how little I know compared to what there is to know. Paradoxically, I’m increasingly surprised by what I do know when circumstances bring it to mind. Most of my knowledge is tacit. Though my slowly deteriorating memory bugs me at times, I’m fundamentally at peace with remembering and understanding stuff that I used to know. Coming (mostly) to terms with my frailties as I age is a blessing.

Living looking forward

Until I die, there’s always the future—which hasn’t happened yet! I think the trick of experiencing the future as fully as possible is to work on minimizing the effects of past experiences that get in the way of being in the present. I’ll never completely succeed in this, of course, but it’s a worthy goal. Living looking forward is tough because…

…looking backward evokes feelings

Looking backward helps us to understand our past in ways that were previously hidden from us. In addition, thinking about the past often reinvokes feelings associated with that time. Sometimes this is a positive or healing experience. But sometimes it leads us to wallow in the past, stuck in unresolved trauma. That’s why looking backward with therapeutic support is often useful. It’s something I’ve done numerous times over the years which has paid rich dividends.

Living in the present

Here’s a final thought about living in the present by a meditation teacher:

“Let thoughts about the past be known for what they are: thoughts about the past. Let thoughts about the future be known for what they are: thoughts about the future.”

Using pair share for group work practice

group work practiceI’m a big fan of the core facilitation technique pair share. After pairing up participants and providing a short time for thinking about a topic or question, each pair member takes a minute or so, in turn, to share their thoughts with their partner. I use pair share regularly to move participants’ brains into active learning, introduce them to someone new, and share relevant ideas and information about what we’re currently exploring together. But there’s always more for me to learn. Last week, a client pointed out that we can use pair share for group work practice too!

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Can Broadcast be Personal? Exploring New Ways to Connect with Others

broadcast personalWe prize personal moments of connection, moments when we are moved. But today, broadcast messages bombard us. This leads to the question: Can broadcast be personal?

Occasionally, the answer is “yes”.

  • A paragraph in a novel unexpectedly hooks your heart.
  • An inspirational speaker says something that totally resonates with an audience member.
  • The meditation teacher on Zoom looks right at you as they deliver a perfect piece of wisdom.
  • A political slogan captures your imagination at the right moment.

And yet, broadcast being personal happens relatively rarely.

  • As George Orwell remarked, “In much more than nine cases out of ten the only objectively truthful criticism would be ‘This book is worthless …'”.
  • I once heard a motivational speaker whom I found inspirational at the time. Three months later, I couldn’t remember a thing he said.
  • The meditation teacher was looking at their camera, not you—and there were 500 other people listening too.
  • Millions of people heard the slogan that high-priced consultants crafted to appeal to them.

When people come together at a meeting, an event, or a social, we usually default to broadcast-style experiences. We listen to speakers. We’re assigned to large tables where we can’t quite hear the individuals three chairs away from us. We use formats like theater seating that minimize interpersonal contact. Broadcast modalities like these breed a passive experience. And they are so engrained that we default to them unconsciously.

Which leads to a better question.

Are there better ways of creating personal moments of connection?

Yes, there are. We can gently steer people into opportunities to connect one-to-one, or in small groups. And it’s easy to do. Here are three examples:

David Adler’s Jeffersonian dinner

David Adler, the founder of BizBash, loves to connect people. One of his favorite approaches is to host a Jeffersonian dinner, where guests take turns sharing their answers to a question the host offers.

David often uses the question: What was your first job, and what did you learn from it? Each participant broadcasts their answer to everyone, but only for a few minutes, and the sharing moves around the group. Each story provides opportunities for personal connection, as many of the stories involve common threads and learnings.

Pair share

Pair share (or trio share) is such a simple and effective way to create personal moments of connection I don’t understand why it’s not more widely used. Announce a topic or question to a group, ask people to find a partner, provide a little time for everyone to think of their response, and then give each pair member a minute or so to broadcast/share their thoughts with their partner. Maybe add another minute for the pairs to talk to each other about what they just shared.

Voila! You’ve created an opportunity for everyone in the room to have a short, focused conversation, and maybe a moment of connection with another person (whom they may have never met before). Pair share is quick, so you can run it multiple times while people are together, each time with different partners to create new connections.

The Three Questions

I often use The Three Questions to open a peer conference. (See Chapter 18 of my Event Crowdsourcing book for a full description of this core meeting format.) Like the Jeffersonian dinner, each participant has a short-broadcast time to share their answer to a question—in this case three questions—with an entire group.

There are three things meeting participants really want to know about each other. These three questions allow each person to share their past, present, and future in a way that is appropriate and safe for them with everyone in the group. This sharing provides the foundation for connections to deepen during the conference that follows.

Can broadcast be personal?

Traditional broadcast formats are rarely personal because one person dominates the time. But by breaking broadcast into small segments where many people get to talk, broadcast can become personal, while also fostering multiple moments of new connection.

Try it, you—and the people in the room—will like it!

The ultimate in social listening

social listeningSince 2004, social listening—the practice of monitoring and analyzing online conversations and social media mentions related to brands, products, services, events, or industries—has evolved significantly and grown in popularity.

social listening
Popularity for the search term “social listening” over time, via Google Trends.

Initially confined to sentiment analysissocial listening tools can now identify trends, analyze competitors, track influencers, identify crises and potential issues, and monitor reputations.

A wider perspective on social listening

With this recent emphasis on thinking of social listening as something done on social media, it’s easy to forget what it was for all of human history prior to 2004. Just because we now have tools that quantify awareness and sentiment doesn’t mean that we should discard older methods of finding out what audiences think and feel.

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My biggest consulting mistake and the systematic development of informed consent

biggest consulting mistakeAt edACCESS 2008 I gave a 90-minute presentation entitled “Learning from the biggest consulting mistake I’ve made — and that you probably have too”.

OK, the formal title was “The Systematic Development of Informed Consent“, which sounds much fancier but requires explanation.

15 years have passed, yet I think the blunders I made while working with a client during one of my past careers—IT consulting—are still relevant and instructive. So, I’m going to ‘fess up to the world. And as a bonus, I’ll introduce you to the people who taught me the biggest reason worthy projects don’t get implemented, and what you can do about it.

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You’re right! (About trade show appointments.)

Reading two recent MeetingsNet articles about the value of trade show appointments reminds me of a story attributed to the wry 13th-century Sufi philosopher Nasreddin.

trade show appointments
American Sign Language for “You’re right!”

Two men who were quarreling came to Nasreddin and asked him to adjudicate their argument. The first man presented his case, and when he was done, Nasreddin exclaimed, “You’re right!” The second man shouted, “You haven’t even listened to my side of the story!” He then presented his case and when he was done, Nasreddin exclaimed again, “You’re right!”

Nasreddin’s wife, who had listened to the whole thing, remarked, “They can’t both be right.”

Nasreddin looked at his wife and exclaimed with a smile, “You’re right too!”

Yes, although the articles express seemingly very different points of view, I think they’re both right!

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