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!

A class is a meeting

Though I don’t teach college anymore, I’m interested in educational class design because a class is a meeting. And much of what we can do to design great meetings is applicable to college classes too.

So I had high hopes for a September 7 2022, City University of New York webinar introducing Cathy Davidson‘s and Christina Katopodis’ book The New College Classroom, which is “about inspiring, effective, and inclusive teaching at the college level.”

Sadly, I was disappointed. Not so much by the information presented but more by the way it was done. Talking about incorporating active learning, interaction, and participation into college classes is great. But talking does little to change the behavior of those listening. The speakers didn’t model what they were preaching during their talk!

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A novel way to assess consensus

assess consensus

Chapter 44 of my book The Power of Participation explains how facilitators use participatory voting to provide public information about viewpoints in the room, and pave the way for further discussion. In particular, we often use participatory voting to assess consensus.

It’s often unclear whether a group has formed a consensus around a specific viewpoint or proposed action. Consensual participatory voting techniques can quickly show whether a group has reached or is close to consensus, or wants to continue discussion.

Methods to assess consensus

For small groups, Roman voting (The Power of Participation, Chapter 46) provides a simple and effective method of assessing agreement.

However, Roman voting isn’t great for large groups, because participants can’t easily see how others have voted. Card voting (ibid, Chapter 47) works quite well for large groups, but it requires:

  • procurement and distribution of card sets beforehand; and
  • training participants on how to use the cards.

A novel way to assess consensus with large groups

I recently came across a novel (to me) way to explore large group consensus. This simple technique requires no training or extra resources. In addition, it’s a fine example of semi-anonymous voting: group voting where it’s difficult to determine how individuals vote without observing them during the process. [Dot voting (ibid, Chapter 49), is another semi-anonymous voting method.]

Want to know how it works?

Read the rest of this entry »

When trio share works better than pair share

trio share pair shareOne of the best and simplest ways to build active learning and connection into any meeting is to regularly use pair share. (See Chapter 38 of The Power of Participation, or Chapter 27 of Event Crowdsourcing for full details.) I’ve recently noticed that in some circumstances, trio share — pair share but with three participants — works better.

Advantages of pair share

Pair share has a lot going for it. It’s the most efficient way to ensure that every participant periodically switches into active learning, which, as explained in The Power of Participation, provides:

Pair share duration is minimal. I commonly allow each partner a minute to share their response. Including instructions, a typical pair share might take around three minutes. Getting every participant to actively think and respond to a question or issue in this time pays rich dividends.

Comparing trio share with pair share

A trio share obviously takes longer than a pair share, given the same sharing time per participant. The example above would require at least an extra minute. I say “‘at least” because it generally takes longer (at least at in-person meetings) to create trios than pairs.

In addition, the conversational directness and intensity may be less in a trio share, since each participant is talking to two people instead of one.

On the other hand, each participant is connecting with two other people, rather than one.

None of these differences is a deal breaker. In the past, I have tended to use pair share, simply because my time with participants is limited and pair shares are quicker.

Since the coronavirus pandemic, however, I’ve noticed something new.

When trio share works better than pair share

Ultimately, you can’t force adult attendee participation. Nevertheless, at in-person meetings it’s rare to have people sit out pair sharing. The reason, of course, is unspoken social pressure. Anyone choosing not to participate is obvious to the people around them.

When the coronavirus pandemic forced meetings online, I began to see more people avoiding session pair shares. I’d allocate pairs into Zoom breakout rooms, and, quite often, one or two people didn’t join their allocated room but stayed in the Zoom lobby.

As the host, I’d gently check in with those remaining behind. Sometimes they hadn’t accepted the breakout room assignment and would do so. But more often than not, it turned out they were absent (it’s hard to tell when their camera’s off).

Their unfortunate partners who went into the breakout room had no one to talk to!

At in-person meetings, this is easy to handle. I ask anyone without a partner to raise their hand, and then pair up isolated people.

Online, this takes too much time, and those without a partner suffer.

Using trio share instead of pair share online

So I’ve started using trio share for online meetings. There are two reasons.

First, trio share reduces the impact on “orphaned” participants. If one person in a trio doesn’t join, the remaining pair can still reap the benefits of pair share.

And second, trio share gently increases social pressure for attendees to participate. Bowing out of pair share affects one other person. Avoiding a trio share affects two.

To conclude

Whatever you do, some people will opt out of small group work. Their reasons are — their reasons. We need to accept that. Switching to trio share for online work is a small tweak that seems to improve participation. And creating a meeting environment where small group work is more likely to occur is always worthwhile. 

What’s your experience of using pair share and/or trio share at in-person and online meetings? Please share in the comments!

Thoughts on participation from the mouths of babes…

MarlboroMusic thoughts on participationThoughts on participation

As my wife was leaving to attend a Marlboro Music Festival performance, our five-year-old grandson asked her where she was going.

“To a concert.”

“I know what that is,” he exclaimed. “It’s a stage. Are you going to be on it?”

“No,” she said, amused.

“Then why are you going?”

Image from the Marlboro Music Festival archive

Sometimes words are not enough

words are not enough Adrian, Cara and grandkids on the top of Castle Rock
Adrian, Cara, and grandkids on the top of Castle Rock

A family picture taken on an Adirondack peak. We made it!

What was the journey like?

I’m not going to attempt to tell you. You had to be there.

We live in a world full of explanations. Sometimes it seems that we should be able to explain everything with the right words.

And yet it’s so hard to convey what an interactive participant-centered event is like to someone who hasn’t experienced one. I’ve tried to explain to over a thousand people the power and value of the Conferences That Work meeting format. Some people “get it” right away. But a significant number remain skeptical, somewhat unconvinced.

I end up advising people they have to participate in a Conferences That Work event to truly understand what this kind of learning and connection can be like. When they do, 98 percent become converts. The most common comment on evaluations is: “I don’t want to go to traditional events any more.

Why does this happen over and over again? Perhaps it’s because we live in a world where people are led to expect “experience” as something produced by a minority and broadcast to a group: experience as entertainment. Somehow we ignore the reality that the most important learning moments in our lives invariably occur when we participate and connect via sharing with others. Entertainment is fine when we’re tired and want to zone out in front of the TV and watch a movie. But entertainment rarely leads to long-term learning, growth, and change.

I salute and appreciate the growing number of people who are willing to risk saying “Yes!” to an event experience they don’t understand. Eventually, perhaps, participant-driven and participation-rich formats will become the new normal for face-to-face events.

Until then, we need to remember that, sometimes, words are not enough.

Do great speakers just provide a better emotional experience?

speakers emotional experience Motivational speaker 3775763004_ae663793fc_o

Do great speakers just provide a better emotional experience?

Feeling good—for a while

At MPI’s 2011 World Education Congress I heard the best motivational speaker I’ve ever seen. Bill Toliver gave an amazing twenty-minute speech.

I felt inspired by Bill. Here’s what I tweeted at the time.

Bill Toliver 2013-06-01_2215

But three months later, I didn’t remember a thing Bill said. (In fact I didn’t even remember his name when I came to write this post and had to ferret it out from an archive.)

Now this may be simply because my memory is declining with the passage of time—though I suspect that you may have had a similar experience. But I don’t think my dying brain cells are to blame.

As a counter-example, I still have vivid memories of workshops I attended over ten years ago.

Why do I remember what happened at those workshops but not what Bill said? We’ll get to that shortly, but first….

Testing two styles of lecture learning

I am not surprised by the results of research published in the May 2013 issue of Psychonomic Bulletin & Review. Here’s the experimental setup:

“Participants viewed one of two videos depicting an instructor explaining a scientific concept. The same speaker delivered the same script in both videos. The only difference was in how the information was delivered. In the fluent speaker condition, the speaker stood upright, maintained eye contact, displayed relevant gestures, and did not use notes. In the disfluent speaker condition, she hunched over a podium, read from notes, spoke haltingly, and failed to maintain eye contact.”
Appearances can be deceiving: instructor fluency increases perceptions of learning without increasing actual learning—Shana K. Carpenter, Miko M. Wilford, Nate Kornell, Kellie M. Mullaney

Right after watching their video, participants were asked to estimate how much of the information in the video they would be able to recall after about 10 minutes:

“Participants who viewed the fluent speaker predicted that they would remember a greater amount of information than those who viewed the disfluent speaker. However, actual performance did not differ between the groups [emphasis added]…

…It is not clear precisely which aspects of the lecturer’s behavior influenced participants’ judgments, and the experience of fluency may be subjective. What is clear, however, is that a more fluent instructor may increase perceptions of learning without increasing actual learning [emphasis added].”

What can we conclude from these results?

It’s just one experiment, but it does support something I’ve believed to be true for years. A great speaker may well provide a more enjoyable and emotionally satisfying presentation—but the learning that results is not significantly better than that provided by a mediocre lecturer!

Am I saying that we should discount the value of the quality of a speaker’s presence, examples, stories, and presentation as a whole? No! If we’re going to learn something from a speaker, there’s value in having the experience be emotionally satisfying.

What I am saying, though, is that it is a mistake to correlate the quality of a speaker’s presentation with the learning that occurs for those present. That is a big mistake.

Highly-paid speakers may provide better emotional experience, but that doesn’t mean their listeners learn and retain what they hear especially well.

But there’s another mistake we’re making when we fill our conferences with speakers.

What’s the use of lectures?

Back to those workshops I attended. Why do I remember vividly what happened in 2002 but not what Bill, the magnificent motivational speaker, said in 2011? Because in the workshops I was participating in my learning. I was interacting with other participants, receiving feedback and insights about what I said and did, and what happened led to deep learning that has stayed with me ever since.

When we give center stage at our events to presentations at the expense of participative engagement, learning suffers. The best speakers may be far more entertaining and emotionally satisfying than the worst ones, but, according to the above research, we’re not going to learn any more from them. Perhaps a truly great speaker may inspire her audience to take action in their lives—and that can be a good and important outcome—but I wonder how often that happens at our events. (There’s an idea for more research!)

What we have known for some time though, is that if we are truly interested in maximizing learning at our events, hiring the best speakers in the world will not do the trick. Instead, we need to incorporate participative learning into every session we program. That’s the subject of my next book. Stay tuned!

So, do great speakers just provide a better emotional experience?

What do you think is the real value of good speakers? How much have you learned (and retained) from presentations compared to interactive workshops?

Photo attribution: Flickr user psilocybes

The myth of the conference curator—part 2

myth conference curator Guru 6344417348_673278b994_o

A year ago I wrote about the myth of the conference curator, starting with the observation that highly paid sports scouts do barely better than chance at picking great players. Last week, Seth Godin wrote this:

“We have no idea in advance who the great contributors are going to be. We know that there’s a huge cohort of people struggling outside the boundaries of the curated, selected few, but we don’t know who they are. That means that the old systems, the ones where just a few people were anointed to be the chosen authors, chosen contributors, chosen musicians–that system left a lot of people out in the cold…The curated business, then, will ultimately fail because it keeps missing this shoulder, this untapped group of talented, eager, hard-working people shut out by their deliberately closed ecosystem…Go ahead and minimize these open systems at your own peril. Point to their negative outliers, inconsistency and errors, sure, but you can only do that if you willfully ignore the real power: some people, some of the time, are going to do amazing and generous work… If we’ll just give them access to tools and get out of their way.
Most people, most of the time (the perfect crowd fallacy) by Seth Godin

Appropriate participation techniques are the tools for participants to do amazing and generous work—for others and for themselves—at conferences. Give them permission, access, and support for these tools and get conference curators out of their way.

Process facilitators—yes. Conference curators—no.

Photo attribution: Flickr user elgris

Discover what attendees want to talk about with Post It!

what attendees want to talk aboutEver wanted a way to find out what attendees want to talk about? Post It! is what you need. It’s a simple technique you can use for:

  • All the attendees at an event.
  • Breakout groups discussing a specialty set of topics.
  • A single conference session.

If you’re a conference presenter with an audience of less than 50 people, you can use Post It! to rapidly discover audience interests and to help decide what those present would like to hear about.

Alternatively, Post It! provides an effective and efficient way for a group to learn and reflect on its members’ interests. If you need to process in more detail the topics uncovered, consider using the affinity grouping technique described in Conferences That Work: Creating Events That People Love (and my upcoming book too).


Run Post It! at the opening of an event, breakout group, or a single session.


It is surely no surprise that you’ll need one or more sticky notes (e.g. Post-it® brand) for each participant. If you’re using Post It! for a presenter tool at a single session, supply a single 2” x 3” note to each attendee. For a group display of topics, supply one to four 6” x 8” (preferred size) notes, or 3” x 5” notes if posting space is limited.

Make sure that you have sufficient pens available. Fine tip marker pens are best.

Finally, you’ll need clear, accessible wall or notice board space where notes can be posted. Walls should be smooth and clean, as sticky notes don’t adhere well to rough or dirty surfaces. If you’re using Post It! as a presenter tool, the posting area should be close to where you are standing in the room so you can easily refer to it.

How a presenter can use Post It! to learn what attendees want to talk about

Before the session begins, give each participant a single sticky note and a pen. Ask the audience to write down the one topic they would like explored or question they would like answered during the session. Give everyone a couple of minutes to write their response and collect the notes as they are completed. As you collect the notes, browse their contents and mentally categorize their contents into broad themes. For example, some attendees ask specific questions, some may want an overview of your topic, and some may want you to cover one particular aspect. Once all the notes have been collected, briefly read each note out loud and add it to a cluster of similar notes on the wall next to you. You may find a note that is unique and needs to be placed by itself.

Once all the notes have been stuck on the wall, it should be clear to both you and your audience what the group is interested in. Don’t feel obliged to cover everything mentioned. Instead, use the notes to make a plan of how you will spend your time with the group. Describe your plan briefly, and apologize for topics that you’re not able to cover in the time available. Even if you don’t cover everything requested, your audience will have the information to understand why you made the choices you did. If you’re going to be available after the session is over, you can invite attendees to meet with you to talk more.

As you continue with your audience-customized session, you can refer to the note clusters to confirm that you’re covering your plan.

How you can use Post It! to make public the interests and questions of a group

Before the session begins, decide on the number of sticky notes to give to each participant. The number will depend on the size of the group and the length of time available for any resulting sessions. Suggestions for the number of notes are in the table below.

Size of group  Suggested number of notes for each attendee
20 − 30  2 − 4
30 − 50  2 − 3
50 − 100  1 − 2
100+  1

Hand out this number of sticky notes and a pen to each attendee. Ask the audience to write down one or more topics they would like explored or questions they would like answered during the session, one per note. Tell them they do not need to use all their notes. Indicate the wall area where notes can be posted, and ask them, once they have finished, to post their notes on the wall. Give participants a few minutes to write their responses. During the note posting, it’s natural for people to hang around the wall and read what others have written. Let them do this, but ask people to allow late posters to get to the wall.

Once you’ve posted all the notes, provide some time for everyone to take in the topics and questions displayed. You can then use this group sharing as a starting point for Open Space, Fishbowls, Plus/Delta, and other group discussion techniques discussed in my upcoming book.

There’s no excuse for not knowing what attendees want to talk about any more!

Photo attribution: Flickr user edmittance

The Power of Participation

The Power of Participation.
VT Vision 2012 break

The Power of Participation.

Take a look at the above photo.

Do you routinely get this level of interaction at your conferences?

If not (and even if you do) you may be interested in my book, The Power of Participation: Creating Conferences That Deliver Learning, Connection, Engagement, and Action, which explains how participation enhances learning, sharing, and connection, and provides presenters and event organizers with a compendium of powerful low/no-tech participatory techniques that can greatly improve any conference session.

Here’s the outline:

Part One

  • Eliminate Attendees At Your Meetings!
  •  – Get on your feet!
  •  – Meetings are a mess—and how they got that way
  •  – Why participation is so important for today’s meetings
  •  – Active learning
  •  – Connection
  •  – Engagement and community-building
  •  – Action
  •  – Wishes

Part Two

  • Creating An Environment For Participation
  • – Introduction
  • – Badge design
  • – Meals
  • – The event space
  • – Seating
  • – Information display
  • – Safety
  • – Ground rules
  • – Play and fun
  • – Facilitation
  •  – Small group selection
  •  – Getting attention
  • – Timing
  •  – Asking questions
  • – White space techniques
  • – The conference arc
  • – The conference metaphor
  • – Giving up control

Part Three

  • Participation techniques overview
  •  – How to use this compendium of techniques
  •  – Techniques glossary
  •  – Techniques table
  •  – Techniques by goal
  •  – Techniques by conference phase
  •  – Techniques by group size
  •  Techniques for encouraging connection outside conference sessions
  • Openers
  •  – The Three Questions
  •  – Roundtable
  •  – Human Spectrograms
  •  – The Solution Room
  •  – Post It!
  • Middles
  •  – Small Group Discussions
  •    – Pair Share
  •    – Guided discussions
  •    – Open Space
  •    – World Café
  •    – Fishbowl
  •    – Affinity Grouping
  •  – Participatory Voting
  •    – Voting considerations
  •    – Hand/Stand Voting
  •    – Roman Voting
  •    – Card Voting
  •    – Table Voting
  •    – Dot Voting
  •    – Anonymous Voting
  •  – Creating Learning Opportunities
  •    – Short Form Presentations
  •    – Case Studies and Simulations
  • Endings – Consolidating learning and moving to outcomes
  •  – Pro Action Café
  •  – Plus/Delta
  •  – Personal Introspective
  •  – Group Spective
  •  – Closing Rituals
  • Resources

Buy it today!