facilitating & hosting

Where Is The Conversation?

Two recent events in my Twitter stream; one a big design conference in the US and the other a local day-of-speakers event. One common theme from a couple people: fatigue from the traditional speaker-after-speaker agenda. The industrial revolution model of all eyes forward to the sage on the stage.

Said one:

The nature of conferences are changing—there’s gotta be a better way to let audiences collect, share, and participate.

And another:

This format can be good source of info, but is aging format lacking engagement, doesn’t make connections or act on ideas.

As my friend Chris wrote “In all of our design of meetings, engagement, planning or whatever, if you aren’t building conversation into the process, you will not benefit from the collective power and wisdom of humans thinking together.”

My response to those feeling the absence of some turn-towards-each-other conversation space? Speakers can be wonderful, and as part of a conference design they can serve as great catalysts for conversation. There are lots of ways to design conferences, meetings and sessions so they are interactive and participatory and break the one-to-many paradigm, and lots of great people in the world with the skills to create a more participatory design.

Photo credit from the Art of Hosting Halifax, 2011

2 replies on “Where Is The Conversation?”

Couldn’t agree more that the classic conference model needs to be rethunk. It was built on past technologies and transportation logistics but I believe the goals sentiment was the same — impart cutting edge ideas and gather minds in one place so they can connect and engage in future discourse.
Still, it takes time to disseminate information. Ideas need to be heard and mentally digested before they can be acted upon. Is it the economics of a conference that is holding back the notion of having a Speaker then Discussion agenda? By that I mean do people need to have a 6 Speakers before they feel they get their money’s worth? I think people would feel they would get far more value if there were fewer Speakers and then had a chance to contribute to the conversation/problem presented. A unbiased moderator framework that allows the ideas to come together, form patterns and develop meaning would what be needed. I can see this taking place online after the conference as well almost like a GitHub experience where conference thought kernels are extracted, tweaked, built upon and joined with other even unrelated ideas and getting used in ways that were previously unfathomable. If someone could Kickstart a blog extension to moderate conference idea nuggets they might gain some traction.

Miles, I’ve facilitated a successful annual four-day conference for twenty years now that has typically just 3-4 preplanned sessions and 40-50 participant-generated-and-led sessions. The conference constituency and community learned long ago that this format worked for them and have no problem paying significant dollars for a program that is largely unknown before the event. It can and is being done!