The best way I know to radically improve your conferences

This 3-minute video explains why registering for one of my upcoming participation techniques workshops could be the best career decision you’ll make this year.

You’ll save $100 when you sign up for my Chicago workshop by September 9th, earn 16.00 CE hours, and — most important — learn how to significantly increase attendee satisfaction at your events.

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    Pair share—What’s on your mind right now?

    Malii Brown pair share
    Malii Brown

    Here’s an effective variant of pair share — a fundamental participative technique that fosters connection and learning via discussion with a partner during a conference session — that was conjured up the other day by Malii Brown while we were co-facilitating a peer conference roundtable.

    To keep participants alert during round-the-circle sharing at roundtables, I break every 20-25 minutes, either for a short bio-break or a relevant exercise involving movement. I often use pair share as one of these exercises (see The Power of Participation for a complete description) by asking participants to stand up and spend a few minutes introducing themselves to someone they don’t know.

    On this occasion, Malii and I were alternating facilitation, and she got to introduce the pair share. Malii asked everyone to find someone they didn’t know. Then she simply said:

    “Share with each other what’s on your mind right now.”

    Here’s a video excerpt of the resulting pair share. (I’ve removed the sound to maintain confidentiality, but you should know that the volume was substantial!)

    I liked  the energetic conversations Malii’s suggestion triggered, and have added this prompt to my mental toolbox for future use. This is a nice example of the kind of learning that can occur when co-facilitating—thanks Malii!

    The myth of the conference curator—part 2

    myth conference curator Guru 6344417348_673278b994_o

    A year ago I wrote about the myth of the conference curator, starting with the observation that highly paid sports scouts do barely better than chance at picking great players. Last week, Seth Godin wrote this:

    “We have no idea in advance who the great contributors are going to be. We know that there’s a huge cohort of people struggling outside the boundaries of the curated, selected few, but we don’t know who they are. That means that the old systems, the ones where just a few people were anointed to be the chosen authors, chosen contributors, chosen musicians–that system left a lot of people out in the cold…The curated business, then, will ultimately fail because it keeps missing this shoulder, this untapped group of talented, eager, hard-working people shut out by their deliberately closed ecosystem…Go ahead and minimize these open systems at your own peril. Point to their negative outliers, inconsistency and errors, sure, but you can only do that if you willfully ignore the real power: some people, some of the time, are going to do amazing and generous work… If we’ll just give them access to tools and get out of their way.
    Most people, most of the time (the perfect crowd fallacy) by Seth Godin

    Appropriate participation techniques are the tools for participants to do amazing and generous work—for others and for themselves—at conferences. Give them permission, access, and support for these tools and get conference curators out of their way.

    Process facilitators—yes. Conference curators—no.

    Photo attribution: Flickr user elgris

    One way to build a movement at a conference

    Here’s an excellent example of how to build a movement at a conference.

    build movement at a conference USGBC success post-its

    On Wednesday, I walked into our boardroom at USGBC for our Green Building & Human Health Summit and I got goose bumps.
    —Rick Fedrizzi, CEO of the US Green Building Council

    One of my greatest challenges and pleasures is creating “just-in-time” process that meets the evolving needs of an event. Here’s a great example of how creative process was used to build a movement at a conference.

    Last week I was invited to consult on a two day, one hundred participant “turning-point” summit for the US Green Building Council (USGBC) in Washington, DC. A much wider range of organizations were convening than at previous USGBC events in order to explore a major long-term expansion of the green building movement. So, good process was vital.

    During the event we dreamed up a simple yet powerful exercise to uncover and communicate participant expectations for the meeting. I say “we”, because at least three members of the summit working group contributed to what became an effective and dramatic way to expose and share what participants saw as successful outcomes for the event.  Here’s what happened:

    What would success look like?

    We designed the summit around a set of “shirtsleeve sessions”. We began some short stimulating talks by expert “igniters”. Next, participants divided into small groups to discuss three principle goals and formulate key strategies to address them. At a working group meeting at the end of the first day we had to decide how best to use thirty minutes that had been scheduled the following morning before the next shirtsleeve session. Someone proposed that we ask participants to share their answers to the question “What would success look like?” either from a personal or group perspective. The working group liked this idea. I suggested that answers be written on large sticky notes and displayed in a central location during the day. This allowed the group to view all the responses during breaks, rather than hearing just a few of them in the limited time available.

    The participants liked this activity. Soon, a large grid of answers was posted on a lobby wall outside the breakout rooms, available for all to see.

    During the afternoon, another working group member had the bright idea to review and categorize the sticky notes’ contents. At a subsequent working group meeting we agreed that during the closing session she would briefly share seven groupings she had devised that covered just about all the definitions of success that participants had proposed:

    The seven groupings

    • A “trail map” for the future. During the event, one participant said the meeting was more like a base camp than a summit. The metaphor stuck. We started thinking of our journey as an expedition that needs a trail map to be successful.
    • Inclusiveness. As the organization adjusted to working with a broader community of interest, issues of how to expand connections and social equity are important.
    • Public relations and messaging. Successfully framing USGBC’s messages is key. This helps people understand that choices they make in their home and business can enhance their family’s and employees’ health.
    • Standards. How do we emphasize and integrate knowledge and actions that improve well-being into existing standards?
    • Definition and valuation of health and well-being. We need to define and value health and well-being in USGBC’s and the related community’s mission.
    • Research. What do we know, what are the research gaps, and how can we obtain funding to fill them?
    • Paradigm shift. How do we get to a place where the green built environment is synonymous with health?

    Building a movement at the conference

    USGBC audience 2Providing summary feedback at the close of a “turning point” event is very important. Participants have put a lot of time and effort into their work together. They need to feel heard and receive assurance that what has happened will lead to significant next steps.

    At the USGBC summit, the complexity of the issues and constituencies involved, plus the reality that not all key players were able to attend, meant that detailed trail map outcomes would take some time to formulate.

    The sharing of participant’s seven categories of success was, therefore, an important way for participants to feel heard and know that others shared their goals and aspirations. As a result, this simple focused sharing of major insights and common agreements became a key ingredient for “building a movement”, a phrase heard frequently during the high-energy closing session of the summit. After offering a next step communications plan and an impassioned closing speech by Rick Fedrizzi, USGBC’s CEO, many participants shared that the summit was a milestone moment in the development of green building.

    Do you have examples of how to build a movement at a conference? Share them below!

    Photo attributions: US Green Building Council

    Integrating participation into conference sessions to improve learning and connection

    Simon Waddell‘s second ten minute video interview of me at EIBTM 2012 (the first is here). We cover:

    • the challenges and advantages of incorporating participative techniques into events;
    • my new book; and
    • an upcoming one-day workshop at the FRESH conference.

    Transforming Your Conference Sessions With Participative Techniques: EIBTM 2012 workshop


    Here’s a one minute video about my free two hour workshop at EIBTM 2012, Barcelona, on November 28, where you’ll learn how to transform your meetings using powerful participation techniques.

    The best way to learn about participation techniques is to experience them, and that’s what we’ll be doing in the workshop. You’ll experience a variety of ways for participants to learn about each other and to discover and share the issues that really matter to them. We’ll also cover the why, when, and where to use these techniques.

    The workshop will be held on Wednesday, November 28, 13:30 – 15:30 in Conference Room 4.1. Session attendance is limited, so arrive early to be sure to secure a place!

    A post about posting (on walls) at events – part 1

    Recently I’ve been frustrated and baffled. No less than three venues (two hotels and a conference center) in the last month have informed me that I was not allowed to post anything on the walls of the room I was meeting in.

    Nothing could be posted. No flip chart paper, no masking tape, no stick pins, no thumbtacks, no sticky notes, and no wall clips.

    To add insult to injury, none of the venues apologized or offered any suggestions on alternative ways I could display materials on a vertical surface. None of them had any substitute surfaces, like large portable notice boards or whiteboards available.

    One conference organizer wondered if I could use tables instead. Unfortunately, tables are not a comparable substitute for walls for two reasons:

    • On walls, notes or cards can be placed anywhere in a seven foot band between the floor and where people can reach, while on tables, human reach limits us to a three foot band.
    • Information placed on a wall can be easily seen by many more people than if it is displayed on a table.

    Some of the most powerful techniques available for group problem-solving require ways to display multiple pieces of information to an entire group, whose members can then easily and publicly move items around to cluster, list, sort, and map relationships. Schools have used blackboards (aka chalkboards) for two hundred years to display information to students, thumbtacks (aka drawing pins) have been around for over one hundred years, masking tape was invented in 1925, and we’ve been using post-it notes for over thirty years. These are not new technologies, folks, why are they now being banned from the walls of venues where we meet?

    I understand that venues are used for many different purposes, and wall damage, through incorrect use of attachment technology or marker bleed-through, costs money to repair. But “wall work” is an essential component of group problem solving, and for a venue to prohibit its use while offering no alternatives mean that many kinds of useful meetings will not be held there.

    In the second part of this post I’ll cover some of the technologies now available for posting information on walls, including some that you may not know about. Stay tuned!

    Have you had venues not allow you to post materials on their walls? What did you do?

    Photo attribution: Flickr user pierrelaphoto