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"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

Welcome to the Conferences That Work blog. You're in the right place for the latest posts on conference design, facilitation, and peer conferences—or sign up for our RSS feed so you never miss another post.

Creating Conferences That Work with Adrian Segar

For an excellent summary of the work I do, check out this interview and podcast, Creating Conferences That Work by Celisa Steele of Leading Learning. The podcast recording is nicely summarized in the show notes, so you can just read about what interests you, and then listen to any or all of the interview sections from the links on the page.

Here’s an overview:

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How to fix Apple Watch heart rate monitor not working

fix Apple Watch heart rate monitor
Figure 1 — no measurements at start and middle!

Fix Apple Watch heart rate monitor!

About six months ago I noticed that my Apple Watch wasn’t consistently reading my heart rate during running workouts. The watch started displaying “measuring” my heart beat for minutes (see Figure 1), especially at the beginning of a run. Sometimes the heart rate monitor stopped working to such an extent that I couldn’t even get a few readings during a 25-minute run (see Figure 2). I love my Apple Watch but it was time to fix my Apple Watch heart rate monitor.

Figure 2 – no heart rate chart!

After doing some research, here’s what I’ve curated from various internet sources, summarized in one convenient place.

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Facilitating change: The power of sharing our experience

sharing our experience

Sharing our experience of others directly with them can be incredibly powerful. Let me tell you a story…

Not long ago, I was working at a multi-day workshop with a 6-person group that included someone I’ll call D. D self-described themself as mentally ill, bipolar, and with psychological issues. They spoke slowly, and described themself as not emotionally available, and often confused about what they said.

D also shared that they:

  • Felt isolated and wanted to get better at connecting with people;
  • Believed that other people couldn’t easily understand them and didn’t like them; and
  • Had a hard time deciding whether to attend the workshop.

D was clearly feeling fragile. Group work can be confrontational at times. So I privately hoped that the other group members would be supportive.

What happened?

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A healthy organization contains active cultures

contains active culturesContains active cultures.” How often have you read this on the sides of yogurt containers? Well, healthy organizations contain active cultures too.

Active cultures — not just for yogurt any more

Just as there are hundreds of different strains of probiotic cultures, there are many ways to think about organizational culture. For example, you might focus on descriptive approaches: an organization’s core beliefs, attitudes, and assumptions about “what is” and “why is”, plus customary ways of interacting. Or, you could concentrate on a behavioral approach: how an organization consistently does things.

Unfortunately, in many organizational cultures the descriptive culture isn’t congruent with the behavioral reality. Ultimately, however you define organizational culture, what interests most people is changing it, hopefully for the better.

That’s where active (aka adaptive or adhocracy) organizational cultures shine.

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Why switching to active learning is hard — and worth it

switching to active learning
A September 2019 research study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences clearly illustrates why switching to active learning is hard — and worth it!

Lecturing has been the core modality in our education systems for centuries. Sadly it still is, even though we know that active learning provides superior quantity, quality, accuracy, and retention of knowledge. Active learning beats the pants off the “receiving knowledge” model drummed into our heads through years of listening to teachers. (For a full explanation of why active learning modalities are superior, see Chapter 4 of my book The Power of Participation.)

So why do we continue to use broadcast-style formats?

The NAS study gives us some important new information:

[M]ost college STEM instructors still choose traditional teaching methods…We find that students in the active classroom learn more, but they feel like they learn less. We show that this negative correlation is caused in part by the increased cognitive effort required during active learning.
Measuring actual learning versus feeling of learning in response to being actively engaged in the classroom, L Deslauriers, L S McCarty, K Miller, K Callaghan, and G Kestin

Let’s look at these three conclusions in the context of meeting design.

Most meeting presenters still lecture

The majority of college STEM teachers choose traditional teaching methods. And most meeting session presenters resort to lecturing as their dominant session modality.

Attendees learn more when presenters use active learning modalities

We have had research evidence for the effectiveness of active learning modalities for more than a hundred years. (The pioneer of memory retention research, Herman Ebbinghaus, published his seminal work in 1885.)

A large body of research over the last twenty years clearly shows the superiority of active over passive learning.

“Students learn more when they are actively engaged in the classroom than they do in a passive lecture environment. Extensive research supports this observation, especially in college-level science courses (16). Research also shows that active teaching strategies increase lecture attendance, engagement, and students’ acquisition of expert attitudes toward the discipline (3, 79).”

College students are the focus of this research. There’s no reason to believe that these conclusions would not apply to adult learning during meeting sessions.

Superstar lecturers and motivational speakers

Here’s a striking conclusion from the NAS research:

“Students in active classrooms learned more (as would be expected based on prior research), but their perception of learning, while positive, was lower than that of their peers in passive environments. This suggests that attempts to evaluate instruction based on students’ perceptions of learning could inadvertently promote inferior (passive) pedagogical methods. For instance, a superstar lecturer could create such a positive feeling of learning that students would choose those lectures over active learning.

Including highly paid keynote speakers at meetings is a meeting industry fixation. I’ve argued that the evaluations of such sessions are unreliable. Now, the NAS research buttresses my point, by providing an important explanation why expensive keynote lectures are so popular at meetings. People perceive that they learn more from a smooth lecturer, while the reality is that they learn less!

Conclusion

There is overwhelming evidence that we can improve meetings by switching to active learning from passive lectures. And we now know that the popularity of fluent lectures, as measured by session evaluations, is based on an incorrect belief by attendees that they are learning more than they actually do.

Finally, the NAS report indicates that a simple intervention can overcome false perceptions about the efficacy of lectures.

“Near the beginning of a physics course that used… active learning …the instructor gave a 20-min presentation that started with a brief description of active learning and evidence for its effectiveness. …At the end of the semester, over 65% of students reported on a survey that their feelings about the effectiveness of active learning significantly improved over the course of the semester. A similar proportion (75%) of students reported that the intervention at the beginning of the semester helped them feel more favorably toward active learning during lectures.”

Consequently, we need to educate stakeholders, presenters, and meeting attendees about the benefits of active learning modalities at meetings.

Image attribution and original inspiration for this post: Inside Higher Ed & Kris Snibbe / Harvard University

Thank you Stephanie West Allen for bringing the above research to my attention!

I am crazy… but I’m not alone!

not crazy not alone

“I am crazy but I’m not alone.”
—participant evaluation comment

Someone wrote “I am crazy but I’m not alone” on the paper evaluation form for the first edACCESS peer conference in 1992. The next year we printed it on a banner above the entryway to the event, and it’s been been edACCESS’s official motto ever since.

There’s more behind this simple phrase that meets the eye.

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You can’t make people change. But…

you can't make people change

“You can’t make people change. But you can create an environment where they choose to.”
—Seth Godin, Leadership

Change is hard. And you can’t make people change.

However, meetings have tremendous potential to change lives. Attendees have something in common: a profession, a passion, a shared experience together. They are with people who, in some way, do what they do, speak the same language, and face the same challenges.

What an opportunity to connect with like-minded souls, learn from each other, and, consequently, change one’s life for the better!

Unfortunately, most conferences squander this opportunity. Learning is restricted to broadcast-style lectures, Q&A is often more about status than learning, and attendees have little if any input into the topics and issues discussed.

Peer conferences support change

The peer conferences I’ve been designing and facilitating for 27 years are different. Yes, you can’t make people change. But, as Seth Godin points out, you can create an environment where they choose to!

Peer conferences create an optimal environment for supporting attendees in the difficult work of making changes in their lives.

Peer conferences do this by providing a safe, supportive, and participation-rich environment that includes the freedom to choose what happens.

  • A safe environment supports attendees taking risks: the risks of thinking about challenges and issues in new ways.
  • The supportive environment of a peer conference provides process tools that allow attendees to freely explore new possibilities.
  • A participation-rich environment ensures that attendees are likely to connect with peers who can help them or whom they can help, thus building networks and new capabilities in the future.
  • The freedom to choose what happens at a peer conference allows attendees to collectively create the meeting that they want and need, rather than be tied to the limited vision of a program committee or the vested interests of conference stakeholders.

These are the core design elements of peer conferences that make them so successful in creating change. Their very design maximize the likelihood that participants will choose to make useful and productive change in their lives.

Introduction to my new book Event Crowdsourcing

Introduction to Event Crowdsourcing

Here’s a teaser: the introduction to my new book Event Crowdsourcing: Creating Meetings People Actually Want and Need. Interested? Then buy the book!

Curiosity

I’ve always been curious. I’ve always wanted to understand the world I found myself living in.

As a child growing up in England, I was driven to study physics, the most fundamental science. Physics was a way of looking at the world that perhaps had the greatest chance of explaining the mysteries of the universe to me. By the age of twenty-five I had worked on a key neutrino experiment at CERN, the European particle accelerator, and received a Ph.D. for my efforts.

But a funny thing happened along the way. I became increasingly curious about people. The neutrino research was a collaboration of eighty scientists and hundreds of support personnel from five different countries. The social and cultural differences that shaped our frequent meetings fascinated me. Heated discussions about how we should proceed and whose names should go on our journal articles flared and sputtered. I marveled at the energy scientists poured into the politics of their work. Their passions frequently distracted and detracted from the science we were exploring.

Understanding people

Understanding people better became important to me. I immigrated to the United States after falling in love with Vermont, a rural state with no opportunity to continue the big-lab science path I’d been traveling. I embarked on a series of careers that increasingly integrated my technical background with working with people: owning and managing a solar energy business, teaching computer science at a liberal arts college, and consulting in information technology.

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Fixing a Tesla Powerwall that isn’t charging

fixing a Tesla PowerwallIn February 2018, I took advantage of an excellent Green Mountain Power (GMP) program to install a Tesla Powerwall 2.0 on my Vermont home. For just $1,500, GMP installed a 13.5 kWh Powerwall on the outside of my home, providing us with an automatic back up electricity source that has proven capable of running our home through continuous outages of up to two days. (Yes, we get those kinds of outages now and then in rural Vermont.)

Why GMP subsidizes Powerwall installation

Given that an installed Powerwall costs about $10,000, you might be wondering why GMP installed mine for only $1,500. The answer is that they have the right to suck power out of it when there’s a system wide power consumption peak. With several thousand Powerwalls like mine currently installed around Vermont, these combined units can supplement conventional power sources with tens of megawatts of power, reducing GMP’s need to buy expensive peak power.

I get automatic reliable power when the line power to my house is interrupted. GMP gets lower power purchase costs. Win-Win!

How the Powerwall has worked so far

My Powerwall has worked perfectly for eighteen months. In that time it’s taken us through 43 outages. Most of them are short and last less than an hour, and we don’t even realize the power was off until later. Our longest (54 hours) began on November 27th, 2018 and that’s the only time our Powerwall got completely discharged. In total, the unit has supplied 66 hours of backup electricity since we purchased it.

I know all these stats because Tesla provides an app that monitors your Powerwall, showing your backup history…

Powerwall backup history…current power flows…

Powerwall power flow

…and historical power flows.Powerwall historic power flows

The 42nd power outage

On August 9, 2020, we had a 3 hour outage. It turned out that a tree fell on the power line that snakes up the ten miles of road between our home in Marlboro and the feeder point in Brattleboro. The Powerwall worked perfectly, but when utility power was restored, the Tesla app showed that though Powerwall was still 80% charged, there was no power flowing between the electricity grid, Powerwall, and our home.

This had never happened before.

The green light on Powerwall was steady, so it was “enabled” and communicating with the Gateway.

First I tried turning off the Powerwall, using the switch on the side. The house power remained on, and the big green LED on the side slowly dimmed. I waited for ten minutes until the light was out and then turned the unit on. No improvement. Strike 1.

Second, I gingerly opened the Gateway box, something I’d never looked at before (or been told anything about by the installers.) There was a reset hole, but a flashlight showed me there was no button to reset. The Gateway box has a single breaker which I turned off. The app then came to life and showed that the Powerwall was powering the house, draining the battery. Encouraged, I turned the Gateway breaker back on. The house became powered by the grid again, but, the app display went back to showing no flows. Strike 2.

Fixing a Tesla Powerwall charging problem

Well, when all else fails, read the manual! I’d never received a Powerwall owner’s manual, but found it online and discovered these instructions in the Troubleshooting section:

If the Gateway and Powerwall are both unresponsive:
1. Turn off Powerwall by setting its switch to the OFF position.
2. Turn off the AC breakers for the system (Gateway and Powerwall).
3. Wait for at least one minute.
4. Turn the AC breakers back on.
5. Turn on Powerwall.

I was reluctant to do this, since I knew it would turn off the house power completely and I’d have to run around and reset all the clocks. (A classic First World problem.) Anyway, sometimes manuals prove useful, because after I followed these instructions — hallelujah! my app showed flows, including the welcome sight that my Powerwall was being recharged by the utility company. Everything worked again!

I hope my experience fixing a Tesla Powerwall that isn’t charging is helpful to anyone else who experiences this problem.

Any other Powerwall tips and experiences to share? Add a comment below!