Providing clearings for your event

Clearings 308017772_e0744a9e4b_b
In the 1920’s, the German philosopher Heidegger wrote about the necessity for clearings: the making of space for something new to happen.

At traditional conferences there are few, if any, clearings. The schedule is densely packed with sessions, decided on months in advance. Attendees sit in dark rooms, being led through a dark forest of content.

Why not include some event clearings for your attendees? There are several kinds you can supply:

Physical clearings
Providing attractive, comfortable lounges close to (but set apart from) your session rooms gives attendees a place:

  • to rest and recuperate;
  • to digest and integrate what they have heard, experienced, and learned; and
  • to meet and connect with other attendees as they choose.

Make sure these places are quiet. Why we are often expected to socialize while bombarded with loud music or constant announcements is beyond me.

Freedom clearings
Giving people the freedom to choose, to some degree, what happens at your event clears a psychological space in their minds. When attendees aren’t constrained to predetermined choices, and the event design supports and encourages them to create what they want, they get excited and motivated to actively participate, which improves their learning and facilitates meaningful connections while they’re together.

Permission clearings
I regularly run events that last several days, and I’ve never expected that people will attend every session possible in an event this long. Yet I recently noticed (via evaluations) that some attendees believe they should attend everything, without a break, regardless of their stamina limitations. So now, at the start of a conference, I tell participants that we’re going to treat them as adults, and explain that I don’t expect them to attend everything. I give them explicit permission to take breaks, to escape for a while as needed, knowing that they will return to the conference, renewed, with energy to enjoy and contribute to the sessions yet to come.

How do you handle providing clearings at your events? What other kinds of clearings can we offer our conference attendees?

Image attribution: Flickr user sheepguardingllama