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Lessons from Anguilla — Resilience in the Face of Disaster

On September 6, 2017, Hurricane Irma tore across the tiny island nation of Anguilla. Every power pole was destroyed. Roofs were torn off schools, government buildings, and the hospital. The Category 5 hurricane’s 185 mph winds and driving rain caused severe interior damage and destruction to most buildings on the island. After the storm, every road on the island was blocked with fallen polls, trees, and debris, and there was no power for weeks. Amazingly, only two people died.

Six months later, we are visiting; amazed at the recovery that has taken place in such a short time. While most Caribbean islands, such as neighboring St Maarten, remain heavily damaged, Anguilla’s 13,000 inhabitants have worked their hearts and bodies out to bring life here back to something approaching normal. Power has been restored all over the island, internet and phone is largely back, and the majority of the colorful beach restaurants and shops serving Anguilla’s crucial tourist industry have been completely rebuilt.

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Does the world of events need more exposure to the new?

Most of the event technology I’ve been using for the last quarter century is hundreds of years old. It works incredibly well. So, when you’re designing your next event, bear in mind this observation of Seth Godin’s:

You might not need more exposure to the new. Instead, it might pay to re-see what’s already around you.
—Seth Godin, What do you see?

Re-seeing technology is hard because technology is anything that was invented after you were born. Technology that’s older than you is mostly invisible, taken for granted like the air you breathe. Only when the wind blows you might notice, for a moment, that something important is all around you — but your attention quickly returns to the smartphone in your hand.

Yet none of the event technology that can drastically improve your events requires a smartphone or even spending much money.

Don’t ignore the wind. Instead, harness it and explore its possibilities.

Photo attribution: Flickr user 64700647@N06

The Conference Arc — the key components of every successful participation-rich conference

Traditional conferences focus on a hodgepodge of pre-determined sessions punctuated with socials, surrounded by short welcomes and closings. Such conference designs treat openings and closings as perfunctory traditions, perhaps pumped up with a keynote or two, rather than key components of the conference design.

Unlike traditional conferences, participant-driven and participation-rich peer conferences have a conference arc with three essential components: Beginning, Middle, and End. This arc creates a seamless conference flow where each phase builds on what has come before.

Participant-driven and participation-rich peer conference designs improve on traditional events because they don’t treat openings and closings as necessary evils but as critical components of the meeting design.

Let’s examine each phase of the peer conference arc in more detail.

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Adrian Segar Speaker Tips Interview

After a one-day Participate! workshop for Dutch professional moderators, I was interviewed by Otto Wijnen about speaker and presentation tips for making presentations more effective by incorporating active learning. Apart from a brief introduction and closing in Dutch, the 13-minute interview is in English.

The best way to fundamentally improve your dull conference

I’ve been attending conferences for over forty years. Most of them are dull and largely irrelevant. This seems to be the norm, because when you talk to attendees you find they set a low bar for satisfaction, e.g. “It’s OK if I learn one new thing a day, oh, and if I make a useful connection or two that would be great!

For twenty years I assumed this was how conferences were supposed to be. And when I began creating conferences myself, I used the same standard format: invite experts in the field to speak to audiences.

Then in 1992, circumstances forced me to do one thing different. Ever since, thanks to that happy accident, I have been designing and facilitating peer conferences that people have loved for over a quarter-century.

“…gets an award for most/best/most thoughtfully organized conference I think I’ve ever been to.”

“I’m an introvert. I’ve never shared as much at a conference before. Your process is brilliant. Thank you.”

“…the truest sense of community I’ve ever felt and it was beautiful to experience. I hope you have the opportunity to experience something like this in your lifetime. It changes everything.”
—Three recent participants on their experience at three different peer conferences

What’s the one key thing I do that almost no one else does?

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What’s better than people augmented by technology at meetings?

There’s a better way to improve meetings than augmenting them with technology. As Finnish management consultant and polymath Esko Kilpi says:

“Human beings augmented by other human beings is more important than human beings augmented by technology” —Esko Kilpi, quoted by Harold Jarche

At face-to-face meetings, facilitating relevant connections and learning around participants’ shared just-in-time wants and needs is more effective than augmenting an individual’s learning via technology. We maximize learning when:

  • Participants first become aware, collectively and individually, of the room’s wants, needs, and available expertise and experience (i.e. “the smartest person in the room is the room” — David Weinberger, Too Big To Know);
  • We use meeting process that successfully matches participants’ needs and wants with the expertise and experience available; and
  • Time and space is available for the desired learning to take place.

And of course, this approach significantly improves the quantity and quality of relevant connections made by participants during an event.

So the smart choice is to invest in maximizing peer connection and learning via simple human process rather than elaborate event technology.

I’ve been at many events where time is wasted trying to use custom apps that aim to connect attendees in some useful way. Even when high-tech approaches use a simple web-browser interface, getting 100% participation is difficult due to technical barriers: all attendees must have a digital device readily available with no low batteries or spotty/slow internet access.

Well-facilitated human process has none of these problems. The value of having a facilitator who knows how to do this work far exceeds the cost (which may be zero once you have invested in training staff to fulfill this function).

When push comes to shove, modern events thrive in supportive, participatory environments. Attendees appreciate the ease of making connections they want and getting the learning they need from the expertise and experience of their peers, and once they’ve experienced what’s possible they rarely enjoy going back to the passive meetings that were once so common.

Yes, we can use technology to augment learning. But the majority of the high-tech event solutions marketed today are inferior and invariably more costly to implement than increasing learning and connection through radically improving what happens between people at our meetings.

The corrosive effect of commissions on the meetings industry

Our industry is abuzz about the news of Marriott’s decision to cut third-party commissions for group bookings by thirty percent. And the response has been “harsh“, especially because of the extremely short notice (it will be going into effect on March 31, 2018) and once it became known that four large site selection firms would be “granted a temporary exception“.

Marriott’s announcement has already sparked the potential of a commission war (some independent properties are raising group booking commissions) and led to fear that commissions may be further reduced or eliminated in the future by other suppliers. I’m going to take a wider view, and talk about what I see as the corrosive effect of commissions on the meeting industry in general.

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How the Apple Watch Series 3 improves my life

While exploring the New York City High Line for the first time in November 2017, I High Linestopped for lunch in the Chelsea Market, passed the Apple West 14th Street Store and on impulse went in to take a look at the Apple Watch Series 3 which had just been released. Though impressed while watching the original Apple Watch launch two years earlier, I was still wearing an inexpensive watch I’d purchased years ago in Zurich. This time I liked what I saw, and within 30 minutes I was the owner of a space gray 42mm aluminum Series 3 with space black Milanese Loop (no cellular option).

As I write this, two months later, my Apple Watch has hardly left my wrist (you’ll see why later) and frankly I’m surprised at the positive impact it’s had on my life. Let’s list the ways…

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The parallel missions of journalism and participant-driven and participation-rich events

While musing about Facebook’s recent changes to “prioritize posts that spark conversations and meaningful interactions between people” over content from media and brands, Jeff Jarvis coins a new definition of journalism:

“…convening communities into civil, informed, and productive conversation, reducing polarization and building trust through helping citizens find common ground in facts and understanding.”
Jeff Jarvis, Facebook’s changes

That sounds a lot like much of the mission of the participant-driven and participation-rich events I’ve been championing for so long. While journalism can’t provide the connective power of face-to-face meetings, its potential for helping individuals and communities build trust and find common ground is worthy and welcome.

Image attribution: Nectar Media

Participate! The key to successful 21st century conferences

Indianapolis, IN • June 2, 2018 9:00 am - 5:00 pm

Buy Now! $399

Learn to Design Participation-Rich Conferences

We’ve known for a long time that lectures are terrible ways to learn, and that today’s attendees are no longer satisfied to sit and listen to lectures. If you want to design conferences where learning, connection, and engagement take place, you need to build in participation.

Attend Participate! Indianapolis

At Participate! Indianapolis you’ll learn how to design participation-rich conferences through direct experience of participatory meeting techniques. During the one-day workshop you’ll experience those techniques first-hand, every one followed by a debrief and short “theory bites” session that covers the key concepts and background. To help you master them, the design techniques will be introduced in the order they’d appear during a participation-rich conference.

You’ll walk away with what you need to truly satisfy attendees by adding effective participation, learning, connection, and engagement — key to successful 21st century conferences — to your meetings.

Attending #WEC18? This workshop is a perfect match!

Participate! Indianapolis is scheduled at the start of the 2018 Meeting Professionals International World Education Congress in downtown Indianapolis, IN — June 2, near the Indiana Conference Center.

Save $200 with early bird registration when you register now — just $399 for the one-day workshop!

Indianapolis, IN • June 2, 2018 9:00 am - 5:00 pm

Buy Now! $399

Who should attend:

  • Conference producers
  • Education directors
  • Meeting planners
  • Facilitators
  • Experience designers
  • Presenters
  • Community organizers
  • Anyone who needs to improve the effectiveness of meetings

Topics Include:

  • The Three Questions
  • How agreements transform your event
  • Roundtables
  • Why participation works
  • Human spectrograms
  • Experience versus listening
  • Crowdsourcing techniques
  • Emotion versus thinking
  • Audience voting techniques
  • The gifts of listening and capture
  • The Solution Room
  • Maintaining attention
  • Environments that support participation
  • Peer sessions
  • Effective short-form formats
  • Fishbowls
  • Using white space at events
  • Small group work
  • Planning versus improvisation
  • Pair share
  • What you need to know about technology
  • Personal introspective
  • Encouraging connections outside sessions
  • Plus/Delta
  • Group spective
  • Finding and working with peer facilitators
  • And more

Save $200 with early bird registration when you register now.

Indianapolis, IN • June 2, 2018 9:00 am - 5:00 pm

Buy Now! $399

Workshop details

Workshop fee includes refreshments and lunch. Participate! will be held in downtown Indianapolis near the Indiana Conference Center. Attire is casual. For more information, contact Adrian Segar.