When will we wake up about the need to change our conference designs?

Edward's Arm in the Hands of his Medical Advisors

Medicine in medieval times consisted of blood-letting, exorcism of devils, spells, incantations, and a proscription of bathing. It didn’t work. In fact, like traditional management, it made things worse. Doctors who had been taught to do it believed in it. The establishment defended it. The universities kept teaching it. So people went on doing it, despite all the evidence to the contrary. It took hundreds of years before these counter-productive practices were set aside in favor of modern medicine. Eventually, people awoke from their collective delusion.
More or less innovation? Duh? by Steve Denning

In the above quote, Steve Denning describes the persistence of the fledgling medical establishment in inflicting medical treatments that didn’t work. He draws an analogy with how managers still cling to traditional management practices, despite a century of calls for change, and mounting evidence of the social and economic damages they are inflicting.

Let’s hope it isn’t much longer before we face the stultifying effects of traditional conference designs on hapless attendees, and take the necessary steps to change our designs, based on what we are learning about how adults best learn and connect.

6 thoughts on “When will we wake up about the need to change our conference designs?

  1. I used to be in agreement with you that change needs to take place in conferences.  Then I started looking at and attending conferences outside of the industry.  Conferences being produced by non industry folks, people without CMPs after their names.  I now would argue that the change has already taken place, it’s just our industry it far behind and many of our industry organizations that are decades behind.

    1. Traci, I disagree. Sure, some organizations have begun to use better conference and session designs. But try this: pick some organizations at random and look up their annual conference programs on the web. With few exceptions, you’ll see the same old sage-on-the-stage fare.

      Perhaps you’ll write about the conferences you’ve attended that were different? That would be good to hear about.

      1. here is where my point comes in…you are saying organizations which make me think again of this association word or event industry group.  I’m talking about people who decide they want to meet as a group, they are not “organizations”.  They are doing revolutionary stuff and are 10-20 years ahead of us on meeting design and content.  Also corporate meetings are generally way ahead of the meetings industry when it comes to the use of tech.

        I would agree that associations need to change, but don’t think we can say eventprofs are leading the way.  They may be leading the way in the association world but they are not innovators.

        1. The edACCESS conference, now in its 21st year, started when three people (one of whom was me) decided to put an event together for IT staff at small schools. The association didn’t get formed until 10 years later. So I don’t disagree with you that often the best conferences get started by a few individuals :).

          I looked at the LessConf website which you just tweeted about. Fantastic marketing (and probably delivery) and a topic that guarantees a constant supply of new attendees. But what else is revolutionary about it? (I’m not being combative here, I’d like to know.)

          Would love some examples of how “corporate meetings are generally way ahead of the meetings industry when it comes to the use of tech.”

          Please share examples of events you have in mind; so we can see what you’re talking about.

        2. Traci, I know of some innovative events in the religious conference market (Catalyst Conference here in Atlanta) but I don’t think they stray far from Adrian’s tag “sage-on-the-stage”.   Rather they are using innovative marketing to give the impression they’re doing things differently. 

          Additionally, many of us us are just plain lazy.  Aren’t we?  We’d rather head to a big conference and invisibly absorb what these gurus tell us rather than interact with others who may have every bit as much knowledge but just a smaller audience.  (I prefer the latter)

          Who is doing the types of events you mention, on the corporate side?  I’d like to reach out to them and possibly see if they’re interested in coming into our local MPI chapter for some knowledge-sharing.

  2. Bertrand Russell once pointed out that throughout medical history, there has never been an ineffective medical treatment that was pleasant for the patient.

    That said, let’s look at this in reverse: Who wins and/or benefits from the status quo?

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