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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 a subscription to my blog posts or RSS feed so you never miss another post.

How to facilitate a community discussion using fishbowl

What’s the best way to facilitate a community discussion? Recently, I had to answer that question at short notice. My task: design and facilitate a two-hour community discussion in response to a bombshell announcement made by the largest employer in my tiny rural hometown of Marlboro, Vermont.

The community was in shock. Consequently, I felt it was important to use a discussion format that:

  • Supported respectful dialog from a variety of constituencies;
  • Created an environment that was as safe as possible for people to share;
  • Minimized the likelihood that people would monopolize the meeting;
  • Allowed both short statements and controlled impromptu conversations; and
  • Was efficient.

I ended up designing (and moderating the first half of) a fishbowl format. To be more precise, I used what I’d call “half a fishbowl sandwich“: an opening pair share plus a standard fishbowl. (All three of these techniques are covered in detail in my latest book Event Crowdsourcing: Creating Meetings People Actually Want and Need.)

The pair share

I ran a one-minute-per-partner pair share with this question. “What do you think about the proposed Marlboro College plan to close down the school and transfer the endowment and campus to Emerson?

The fishbowl format

Now, watch this three-minute meeting video clip in which I explain how fishbowl works.

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The first hill is the hardest

first hill is the hardest

At the age of 67, after returning from a meditation retreat, I started running daily for the first time in my life. And I soon learned that the first hill is the hardest.

Beginnings

It was summer, and I had no idea what I could do. So I began by exploring without expectations. I dressed in my regular sneakers, some shorts, and a tee shirt. I live in a rural town with 60 miles of dirt roads, so I ran out of my home and down the 600′ driveway. Wanting exercise, I turned left on the town road and started up the hill. Way before the top I was out of breath, so I slowed to a walk until I got to the top. I ran down some of the other side, decided that was enough for the first day, and turned around and retraced my path. I had to walk up most of my driveway.

The total run and walk was a mere mile.

I wondered if I’d ever be able to do better than that.

What happened

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Make your entire conference a braindate

entire conference a braindateWhy not make your entire conference a braindate?

One of Skift’s “10 event trends for 2020” is networking. The report predicts:

“Activities such as braindates that deliver more meaningful connections will become mainstream at events.”

The author, Julius Solaris, tweeted:

“…braindates are in our top 10 trends for 2020…Too much of an undervalued tool and approach. Time to end that.”
November 20, 2019 tweet

I like the braindate approach, but it doesn’t have to be something that’s grafted onto a conference. Why? Because good event design is about how a conference works.

Participant-driven and participation-rich meeting designs incorporate a braindate’s purpose — one-to-one or small group connection around relevant content — organically into every session. In addition, the beginning of a peer conference uncovers the topics that people want to talk about, as well as providing plentiful opportunities for participants to discover others who share their challenges and interests.

By the time a peer conference is underway, you will have learned core information about many of the other participants. And they, of course, will have learned important things about you!

So there’s no need to add a braindate process to a well-designed meeting. Instead make your entire conference a braindate!

Photo attribution: Flickr user viejozapato

Ten years of Conferences That Work!

Ten years of Conferences That Work!Ten years of Conferences That Work! Ten years ago today, I started this website and published my first book: Conferences That Work: Creating Events That People Love. (A decade later it’s still selling.)

I’m proud to have written three books (the latest was published this week) and over six hundred blog posts in the last ten years. After writing each book I was sure it would be the last one I wrote. Actually, I still am. Perhaps I’ll be wrong again about that…

To my amazement, this website has had over forty-nine million page views. That’s quite a jump from twenty-four thousand in the first year. These days, this site gets about six million page views per year, making it, as far as I know, the most popular website in the world on meeting design.

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David Adler BizBash Live interview: the best formats for live experiences

At BizBash Live DC, BizBash CEO and Founder David Adler and I took the stage at the Ronald Reagan Building for a wide-reaching interview on the best formats for live experiences in front of an invited crowd of several hundred meeting professionals.

Here’s an annotated video of our 20-minute conversation:

Annotated video

00:00 How the thousand-year history of conferences affects the way we meet today.
02:20 Lectures are terrible ways to learn.
03:00 The forgetting curve and how it reduces the learning at traditional conferences.
04:15 Why I created my first participant-driven and participation-rich meeting in 1992.
06:20 The conference arc.
07:45 Uncovering participants’ wants and needs via crowdsourcing.

11:00 Some crowdsourcing rules of thumb.

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An excellent life story exercise for groups

In 2005, I joined a men’s group. Eight of us get together for two hours every fortnight. One man chooses a topic and leads the meeting. A couple of months ago, Brent offered the following life story exercise via a preparatory email sent in advance:

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Event Crowdsourcing free chapters!

Want to get a taste of my new book Event Crowdsourcing: Creating Meetings People Actually Want and Need? Here are some Event Crowdsourcing free chapters for your enjoyment.

Read Event Crowdsourcing free chapters

Event Crowdsourcing free chapters

Read testimonials for Event Crowdsourcing here.

Buy Event Crowdsourcing (ebook or paperback or both) at the lowest possible price here!

What’s the book about?

The book explains both program and session crowdsourcing: how to routinely create conference programs that reliably include the right sessions and the session content attendees actually want and need. There is some overlap between this book and my earlier book,  The Power of Participation. But Event Crowdsourcing includes new techniques, plus significantly more critical details and enhancements. (The enhancements to my core technique The Three Questions, alone, justify getting this book.) If you want to create events that are far more responsive to participant wants and needs than the dominant unconference paradigm — Open Space — this is the book for you!

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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