What is the mix of presentation versus interaction at your meetings? What should it be?
Traditional meetings focus heavily on presentation. Interaction is limited to a few questions at the end of sessions, plus conversations “outside” the formal sessions. And this has been the norm for hundreds of years.
The written word
Let’s explore the popularity of the written words presentation versus interaction over time. If you do this, using Google Books Ngram Viewer, you’ll notice a curious thing. In 1804, the earliest year included in the Google Books database, the word interaction barely appears. The word presentation is a hundred times more frequent. Both words slowly become more common over time, but presentation stays predominant. But, in the 1950s, something strange happens. The popularity of interaction abruptly rises. In 1964, interaction becomes more frequently used. It has remained in first place ever since.
Presentation versus interaction at meetings
Society, as reflected by books in English, now talks about interaction about twice as often as presentation. But our meeting designs, in large part, haven’t changed to reflect this shift in cultural awareness. Presenters still rarely incorporate interaction into their sessions, even though there are ample reasons why they should.
Chapter 44 of my book The Power of Participation explains how facilitators use participatory voting to provide public information about viewpoints in the room, and pave the way for further discussion. In particular, we often use participatory voting to assess consensus.
It’s often unclear whether a group has formed a consensus around a specific viewpoint or proposed action. Consensual participatory voting techniques can quickly show whether a group has reached or is close to consensus, or wants to continue discussion.
However, Roman voting isn’t great for large groups, because participants can’t easily see how others have voted. Card voting (ibid, Chapter 47) works quite well for large groups, but it requires:
procurement and distribution of card sets beforehand; and
training participants on how to use the cards.
A novel way to assess consensus with large groups
I recently came across a novel (to me) way to explore large group consensus. This simple technique requires no training or extra resources. In addition, it’s a fine example of semi-anonymous voting: group voting where it’s difficult to determine how individuals vote without observing them during the process. [Dot voting (ibid, Chapter 49), is another semi-anonymous voting method.]
Here’s a glossary of 38 conference participation techniques.
I can guarantee there will be at least a few unfamiliar terms in this glossary, given that I invented some of them myself. This glossary contains brief definitions; see my new book for more information.
Affinity Grouping: This technique allows a group to discover and share ideas that arise at a session or conference and group them into categories, so they can be organized and discussed. Sometimes called “cards on the wall.”
Anonymous Voting: Any voting method that preserves the anonymity of those voting.
Badge It!: Using participant badges to share useful personal information besides the traditional elements like name, company, etc.
Body Voting: See Human Spectrograms.
Card Voting: Provides each participant with an identical set of colored cards that can be used in flexible ways: typically for voting on multiple-choice questions, consensus voting, and guiding discussion.
Case Studies and Simulations: Ways to create a classroom or conference environment where participants can create and explore in a semi-realistic way alternative roles, points of view, puzzles, and positions. Case studies use a story as a jumping-off place for group analysis and discussion, while simulations immerse participants into an experiential situation.
Conference Arc: An approach to design that concentrates on event chronological parts—openers, middles, and endings—and the consequential progressive experience of participants.
Consensus voting: Voting techniques that gauge the degree of group consensus on a point of view or course of action.
Continuum Voting: See Human Spectrograms.
Dot Voting: A technique for public semi-anonymous voting where participants are given identical sets of one or more colored paper dots which they stick onto paper voting sheets to indicate preferences.
Fishbowls: Group process that facilitates focused discussion, either by assuring that the conversation at any moment is restricted to a few clearly defined people or by allowing representatives of both sides of a point of view time in turn to listen to and question representatives of the opposing viewpoint.
Group Spectives: Closing conference sessions that provide time for attendees to collectively take stock, reflecting on where they started, the path traveled, and the journey yet to come.
Guided Discussions: Guided small discussion groups used regularly during a session to expose different answers, viewpoints, and levels of understanding and create multiple simultaneous rich customized learning environments in the room.
Hand/Stand Voting: In hand voting, participants raise their hands to indicate their answer to a question with two or more possible answers. Stand voting replaces hand raising with standing.
Human Graphs: See Human Spectrograms.
Human Spectrograms: Also known as body voting, continuum voting, and human graphs. A form of public voting that has participants move in the room to a place that represents their answer to a question. Human spectrograms can be categorized as one-dimensional, two-dimensional, or state-change.
One-dimensional Human Spectrograms: Human Spectrograms where participants position themselves along a line in a room to portray their level of agreement/disagreement with a statement or a numeric response (e.g. the number of years they’ve been in their current profession.)
Open Space: Open Space is a simple method for participants to create their own meetings.
Openers: Participation techniques that are especially useful during the early stages of a group’s time together.
Pair Share: Develops and reinforces learning via discussion of a topic or question with a partner during a session.
Participatory Voting: Any form of voting that provides public information about viewpoints in the room and paves the way for further discussion
Personal Introspectives: Two-part closing conference sessions that guide participants through a review of what they have learned and a determination of what they want to consequently change in their lives.
Plus/Delta: A review tool that enables participants to quickly identify what went well at a session or event and what could be improved.
Post It!: A simple technique that employs participant-written sticky notes to uncover topics and issues that a group wants to discuss.
Pro Action Café: Pro Action Café is a blend of World Café and Open Space that facilitates reflection, discussion and consolidation of ideas, and moving to action.
Public Voting: Voting methods that allow a group to see the individuals who have voted and how they voted.
Roman Voting: Roman Voting is a public voting technique for gauging the strength of consensus.
Roundtables: Structured conference openers that employ The Three Questions to 1) define and model an active, interactive, and safe conference environment; 2) provide a structured forum for attendees to meet and learn about each others’ affiliations, interests, experience, and expertise and 3) uncover the topics that people want to discuss and share.
Seat Swap: Seat Swap increases conversational partners at seated meals through having diners switch seats at appointed times.
Semi-anonymous voting: Voting techniques where others can only determine how individuals vote by watching them closely during the voting process.
Short Form Presentations Pecha Kucha and Ignite: Very short stylized presentations that offer a rapid introduction to a topic, an idea, or an experience and that act as a jumping off place for stimulated viewers to start learning more via engagement afterwards.
Small Group Discussions: Techniques that use small groups to improve learning, connection, interaction, and engagement.
State-change Human Spectrograms: Human Spectrograms where participants move en masse from one point to another to display a change of some quantity (e.g. opinion, geographical location, etc.) over time.
Table Voting: A technique used for polling attendees on their choice from pre-determined answers to a multiple-choice question, and/or for dividing participants into preference groups for further discussions or activities.
The Solution Room: An opening or closing conference session which engages and connects attendees and provides peer-supported advice on their most pressing problems.
The Three Questions: Supports and encourages a group of people in learning about each other, their wishes for the time they are together, and their relevant experience and expertise.
Two-dimensional Human Spectrograms: Human Spectrograms where participants position themselves in a two-dimensional room space to display relative two-dimensional information (e.g. where they live with reference to a projected map.)
World Café: Provides a format for dialogue in small groups around questions that have been determined in advance.
“Full disclosure: I pretty much stole this one from our June Associations Now cover story about Terry Fong, member concierge for the California Dental Association, who calls 1,000 new members each year to welcome them and ask, “Is there anything we can do for you?”
What if you had a staffer call all new attendees after your meetings and ask them what they liked most and least about the meeting and what else you could be doing to get them to register for the meeting again?
You could also use a similar role onsite and assign new attendees to attendee concierges—in this case, maybe extra staff or member volunteers—and have them check-in with attendees throughout the meeting and then follow-up after.” —Samantha
I think it’s crucial to check in with attendees during an event. This is something that I’ve done for years—and it’s easy to do. I like to concentrate on attendees I don’t know (the one’s I do are probably going to bend my ear anyway) and ask how the event is going for them. And listen. Do this and you’ll get tons of good in-the-moment feedback, build goodwill and relationships with the people you talk to, and get occasional opportunities to answer questions and solve problems they mention while the event’s still going on, rather than having to wait until next year. Don’t just ask new attendees, by the way; returning attendees can have equally valuable feedback for you. And take notes promptly so what you hear doesn’t evaporate from your brain from the conference heat.
At ASAE’s 2013 Great Ideas Conference, Thom Singer, served as “Conference Catalyst.” Over the course of the meeting, he gave attendees networking tips and helped them to engage and connect with one another. And at the California Society of Association Executives’ Annual Conference in April, Jeff Hurt served in a similar role, helping attendees keep the conversation and learning going between sessions and during lunch by having organized chats about what they recently learned.
What if you had a full-time staff person who helped form these small-group discussions to not only help members engage but also to help process and remember what they learned in the larger sessions?” —Samantha
Thom and Jeff are doing great work around this important topic. But rather than simply adding opportunities for connection piecemeal into our events we can make conferences even better. We can build opportunities for meaningful connections right into our entire event design. This means that we need to adopt meeting and session formats throughout our events. Formats that facilitate effective participation, connection, and engagement in the sessions themselves. We’ve known for years that the learning and connections that occur when we do this are far superior to what happens at traditional meetings. This is not rocket science—I’ve been designing and facilitating meetings like this for over twenty years. Participants love them. And more and more of them are taking place, all over the world. Let’s do this!
Photo attribution: Flickr user michigancommunities