“My full-day live seminars have impact on people partly because I don’t announce the specific agenda or the talking points in advance. It’s live and it’s alive. I have no certainty what’s about to happen, and neither do the others in the room. A morphing, changing commitment by all involved, one that grows over time.”
—The Show Me State (of the art), Seth Godin
I run conferences and sessions like Seth’s. I don’t really know what’s going to happen and neither do the participants. Yes, I have an overall structure in mind, but there’s always room for an impromptu performance by the guy who just happens to have brought a set of bagpipes (that was edACCESS 2011, I think), and the unexpected sessions on sea kayaking (Fixing Food Oregon 2009) and Spiritual Leadership (last week at the VLN 1st annual conference).
It’s not only the unexpected topics and activities that it turns out people want and get but also the serendipitous connections that get made. One of the things I feel best about? The lifelong friendships between seemingly unlikely souls, sparked by events I’ve had a hand in. You can’t put a price on that.
So why do most events still insist in trumpeting precise program schedules? We do, of course, go to such sessions hoping to learn something new. And perhaps something surprising will happen. Sadly, we often don’t learn much and are rarely surprised.
Why set up the majority of events this way? I’ve written about this here and more extensively in (free download) Chapter 3 of Conferences That Work: Creating Events That People Love, but another reason is that most of us are fearful of trying something new if we think we might fail at it. I’m no exception. I’ve lived with this fear most of my life. (Apart from my early years, when this fear is largely absent in everyone.) Only in the last dozen years or so have I begun to rediscover the joy of the adventures that begin when I say “Yes” to what life offers me.
What’s frustrates me is that most people who experience events designed to accommodate and support the unexpected discover they prefer them. But until they take a chance and attend one, they’ll never know what they’re missing.
Viv McWaters and Johnnie Moore call the need to know what something will be like before you commit to it “the tyranny of the explicit“. Need more information before you act? Stuck! Viv quotes Keith Johnstone: “Those who say ‘Yes’ are rewarded by the adventures they have, and those who say ‘No’ are rewarded by the safety they attain.”
When you say “No” you’re safe (unless it’s an emergency.) But you’ll miss out on the learning and delight that is the constant companion of the unexpected.
Ultimately, it’s your choice.
On balance, I’m glad that my events are pretty open to the unexpected. Otherwise the guy who brought bagpipes to my conference would have just left them in the trunk of his car. Let the hornpipe begin!
Photo attribution: Flickr user beta-j