Today’s meetings need to give meeting-goers many options, not just a few. But this doesn’t mean filling the conference program with every conceivable session topic. To be enjoyable and productive, meetings need white space: free time for attendees to do what they want and need to do.
When we preschedule an entire conference program, each attendee’s only remaining choice becomes which sessions to attend. It’s like how the news industry uses of polls, as described by Jeff Jarvis:
“Polls are the news industry’s tool to dump us all into binary buckets: red or blue; black or white; 99% or 1%; urban or rural; pro or anti this or that; religious (read: evangelical extremist) or not; Trumpist or not; for or against impeachment. Polls erase nuance. They take away choices from voters before they get to the real polls, the voting booth. They silence voices.” —Jeff Jarvis, Polls subvert democracy
Predetermined meeting programs silence attendee voices in the same way.
So how do we give meeting-goers many options without taxing their stamina and powers of concentration?
There are fascinating parallels in the ways that journalism and events are evolving. Listen to the first minute of this interview of journalism maverick Jeff Jarvis by David Weinberger.
Here’s the relevant quote:
“What the internet changes is our relationship with the public we serve…What is the proper relationship for journalists to the public? We tend to think it’s manufacturing a product called content you should honor and buy…That’s a legacy of mass media; treating everybody the same because we had to…So we now see the opportunity to serve people’s individual needs. So that’s what made me think that journalism, properly conceived is a service.”
In parallel fashion, events are moving away from broadcast formats that treat everybody the same and evolving towards designs that allow individual participants to learn what they individually want and need to learn, as well as connecting with peers and peer communities that have real value for them.
Seeing your conference as a service that can provide what people want—rather than what you’ve decided they want, like the journalists of old—is key to keeping your events relevant, competitive, and successful.