Should meetings be efficient?

Should meetings be efficientShould meetings be efficient?

“Yes” say thousands of books on how to improve business meetings. And I agree.

But “No”, when we’re taking about most meeting industry events.

Unfortunately, the meeting industry tends to assume that if business meetings should be efficient, meeting industry events should be too.

Obviously there are aspects of meeting events that should be efficient whenever possible. For example: registration, coffee service, transporting attendees between venues, room set changes, etc.

In addition, a well thought out broadcast style design may be the right choice for some trainings and corporate events that require a top-down approach to achieve their objectives.

But, for meetings where you want participants to:

  • learn effectively;
  • form valuable connections; and
  • generate valuable ideas and approaches

you need to design meetings that are inefficient.

How efficiency can be counterproductive

Sometimes, efficiency can be the enemy of effectiveness. Here are three examples:

“If you have ever watched symphony orchestra you may have noticed how inefficient the musicians are. They are not utilised 100%. Most have below 50% efficiency. Imagine how good the music would turn out if all instruments were playing all the times. Such is the science of efficiency.“
Alidad Hamidi

“The problem is that democracy is by definition slow, messy and cumbersome. Today demands on democracy, driven by modern means of communication, are different. The pace is fast. Decisions have to be made quickly. Time for reflection and compromise is limited.”
@AlexStubb, former Prime Minister of Finland

“My own experience consulting inside some highly successful companies (Microsoft, Apple, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Dupont, to name a few) cannot corroborate a relationship between busyness and success. Very successful companies have never struck me as particularly busy; in fact, they are, as a group, rather laid-back.”
Slack: Getting Past Burnout, Busywork, and the Myth of Total EfficiencyTom DeMarco

We are not mind readers

Effectively figuring out what people want and need to learn and giving them the time and space to learn it is inefficient, because learning is messy.

Successfully supporting people in making valuable connections at meetings is also inefficient, because we do not know who might be valuable to meet until we are given opportunities and good process to find out about the people we’re with.

And creating worthwhile ideas and approaches through group process at meetings is inefficient, because we invariably have to generate many ideas that don’t pan out in order to glean the few specks of gold we’re looking for.

So, should meetings be efficient?

As Alex Stubb says, we are living in a fast-paced world where time is valuable. There is continuing pressure to shorten events, in the belief that busy prospective attendees will be more likely to attend a meeting that doesn’t tie up too much of their time and money.

However, the consequent shortening of programs and sessions has a significant impact on the effectiveness of events: their ability to deliver desired learning, connection, and creative outcomes. So be careful not to destroy the effectiveness of your event in the name of efficiency.

Image attribution: mourgfile / CC

Unlearning is crucial for change

Unlearning is crucial for changeUnlearning is crucial for change.

We often think of change as additive. We become wiser by “learning something new”. What we often overlook is that changing our beliefs, attitudes, and assumptions involves unlearning as well as learning.

“The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read & write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn”
Alvin Toffler

Unlearning first requires noticing. We are skilled at habituating our circumstances, no matter how unusual. Habituation is valuable because it allows us to adapt to changes in our environment. But habituation also makes it harder to notice that we may need to change our current thinking or behavior.

Thus there’s a delicate balance, a dance, between noticing what is rather than what have become our default ways of thinking, understanding, and acting.

I have spent over fifty years unlearning what people and society told me I was and should be. I’m still on a complex journey of relearning who I am. I work to practice being me in each moment. Change work involves not only intellectual shifts and reinterpretations but also the unlearning of habitual responses to emotional experiences and their empathetic replacement.

So remember, unlearning is crucial for change!

Photo attribution: Flickr user gforsythe and Cathy Davidson

Becoming Brave

becoming brave

The past

It’s been a long journey becoming brave.

Fifty years ago, I was a teenager who, after a single embarrassing moment, gave up dancing in public. For forty years.

Twenty-five years ago I was a college professor who spent hours preparing classes, fearful that students would ask me a question I couldn’t answer. And when I started convening and speaking at conferences I was scared of being “on stage”, even in front of small audiences.

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Why I love conference facilitation and design

Here’s an example of why I love conference facilitation and design. After setting up a Personal Introspective this morning (25 minutes) I turned over what happens to the small groups. Watch the listening and involvement of every person as I weave my phone through the circles of chairs.

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Five Reasons to Change Conferences

Here’s my article Five Reasons to Change Conferences, published in the December 2018, NSA Speaker magazine.Five Reasons to Change Conferences

OUTSIDE IN

Five Reasons to Change Conferences

Peer sessions provide greater connection around content

The most important reason people go to conferences is to usefully connect with others around relevant content. But our conference programs still focus on lectures, where a few experts broadcast their knowledge to passive listeners. During lectures there’s no connection between audience members and no connection around lecture content. Here are five reasons why.

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Learning in community at conferences

Legendary Apple designer Jony Ive explains how learning in community helped Apple make the iPhone:

“When we genuinely look at a problem it’s an opportunity to learn together, and we discover something together. We know that learning in community is powerful. It feeds and supports momentum which in turn encourages a familiarity and an acceptance of challenges associated with doing difficult things. And I’ve come to learn that I think a desire to learn makes doing something new just a little less scary.”
——Jony Ive, Apple designer Jony Ive explains how ‘teetering towards the absurd’ helped him make the iPhone

At conferences we also learn better when we learn in community. At traditional events, expert speakers broadcast content at attendees. But today our minds are increasingly outside our brains. Our ability to learn effectively now depends mostly on the quality and connectedness of our networks, rather than what’s inside our heads.

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Scenes from a Participate! Workshop and Solution Room

40-seconds of highlights from the Participate! workshop and Solution Room I recently facilitated for the New York State Bar Association.

One of the most rewarding aspects of my work is training associations how to create powerful and effective participant-driven and participation-rich conferences. I love facilitating the learning that occurs. The training equips the organization with the tools needed to transform its events. Do you want to significantly improve your meetings? Then please don’t hesitate to get in touch!

 

An innovative conference competition format

My Dutch friend and expert moderator, Jan Jaap In der Maur, recently shared an innovative format for an in-conference pitch competition he devised for the Conventa Crossover Conference, in Ljubljana, Slovenia:

“There were also the Conventa Crossover Awards. Traditionally, this kills the dynamics of every conference: there were 16 finalists, who all had to be given the opportunity to pitch. The initial, but rather traditional idea was to allow them all 10 minutes. This would have lead to 2 (!) hours of pitching, which wouldn’t have been fair to anyone.

At the same time, we didn’t want the pitches to be too short and we wanted the participants not only to vote, but also to learn from the projects. So this is what we did:

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Create memorable learning experiences and connections at simple workshops

Create memorable learning experiences and connections at simple workshopsI often design and facilitate workshops for association members who mostly haven’t met before. The desired outcomes are for each participant to gain useful and relevant professional insights, and to make significant new connections.

During the workshops each participant shares and receives consulting from a small peer group on a current personal professional challenge. The only technologies used are printed cards, paper-covered round tables, and colored pens.

Here’s what you might see on a stroll through a typical workshop:

An example
At one workshop, association staffers noted that no one touched a cell phone, and intense conversations with frequent bursts of laughter filled the entire two-hour event.

A participant started crying and his group members rushed to console and support him. (We learned later that he had been unfairly fired earlier in the day.) Afterwards, we saw many people swapping business cards and making arrangements to meet up again. Before leaving, the fired man told me that, despite his dire circumstances, he had had a very positive experience and made several good new friends in his group. Other participants shared during post-workshop conversations that the experience would be memorable because of their personal learning and the new connections made.

Follow up evaluations confirmed that participants obtained meaningful peer support and advice, and began new friendships with other workshop participants.

Such workshops routinely meet the outcomes they’re designed to achieve: creating useful and memorable learning experiences and connections.

Why are these workshops successful?
These workshops are not successful because of the:

  • excellence of a speaker;
  • beauty/novelty of the venue/F&B/entertainment; or
  • extraordinary facilitation.

(Full disclosure:  the facilitation needs to be competent!)

They are successful because of the process design that supports participants learning from each other while simultaneously enjoying a positive emotional connection together.

Adult professional peers can learn much from each other, and when they meet they are hungry to find solutions to current problems, explore issues, and make connections with others who work in the same sphere.

The successful workshops I’ve described above do not have a single expert sharing content. (Rather, it’s fair to say, they tap the expertise and experience of everyone present.) All they need for success is good process, competent facilitation, and a few low-tech items.

They are also simple. Every process element is a strategic ingredient of the workshop design. Running these workshops helps me continually refine the design, stripping away components that distract focus from the desired outcomes.

Many organizations focus on getting the “best” experts to speak at their meetings. Ironically, in my experience it’s almost always easier to create memorable learning and valuable connection for attendees by employing participatory workshop formats. Why? Because they take full advantage of the group’s combined expertise, hone in on what people actually want and need to learn, and build lasting relationships in the process.

How to design for powerful connection and learning at large meetings

Although you’d never guess it from reading meeting industry trade journals, most meetings are small meetings, and this is a good thing if you want effective and relevant connection and learning to take place.

Large meetings stroke owners’ and leaders’ egos, can supply impressive spectacle, are appropriate places to launch campaigns and mass announcements, and can be very profitable. But they are poor vehicles for creating the useful participant learning, connection, and outcomes that well-designed small conferences can deliver.

So if you are (un)fortunate enough to be the owner or designer of a large meeting, what can you do to maximize participant value?

You need to satisfy four core requirements for optimum learning and connection:

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