What makes a conference work?

What Makes A Conference Work?

Is it the speakers? Is it the Agenda? Is it the Venue? Is it the food? Is it the participants?

Sitting at the back of a conference this week, for most of the day (as I was the final speaker!) it was interesting to observe what was going on and what wasn't!

Bravo to the speakers with their wealth of experience and being accommodating -speaking for 30 minutes and then participating in a Q&A discussion isn't an easy feat.

Whilst the information was informative, real and thought provoking, there was a slight problem - we are all unique human beings and what turns on one doesn't turn on the other.

When you design a conference, the simple things are: the right type of food & refreshments which promotes alertness, rather than sluggishness. The aesthetics of the room - shape, lighting and the heating/cooling have a huge influence on our ability to be present. And seating and placement of tables requires care and concern - facing the speaker is everyone's right!

The agenda of a conference requires specific attention - it must cater not only for the intended market,  it must cater for humans' learning styles and preferences. Light and shade, short snappy interactive sessions, humor, compelling data and it must involve the whole body, not just the eyes & ears!

Speakers must have a good understanding of the venue, the agenda, what the other speakers are speaking & doing, the audience make up, and then they must consider how they will deliver their information. The choice of PowerPoint should be to show images and not a transcript of the presentation; sound and props help the audience understand and maintain connected and involving the people in front of you is paramount. (TED has some great examples of what to do.)

And then there are conference participants. Pick the components you want to listen too. Take a break if you're getting fidgety as your body is sending you signals and you're annoying the people around you. Be kind with your questions - allow the speaker to understand and let the response be for the conference and not you alone.    

We all get to go to conferences. I've been to quite a few around the world, rather selfishly I've taken note of what works and what doesn't. I could go on!!!


Relationship Seating

I'm packing my bag for the Igniting Leadership Program which I'm facilitating this week for Leadership Victoria. We concluded a program on Friday and here we go again; however, rather than feeling ho-hum, it’s quite the opposite; I'm always intrigued to learn about the people attending, reading about their leadership aspirations and workplace challenges.

We pair up participants to create Buddies, the first relationship to be formed prior to the program commences - asking these Buddies to meet or at least communicate prior to attending to encourage engagement, networking and reduce people’s anxiety of arriving in an unknown destination.

Another aspect of relationship preparation is the worktable seating placements. Whilst I’m not into detail I am into challenging people to grow, learn from their peers and quickly connect with the whole group as a high level of trust is required to discuss leadership.

So, for Day One, I seat ‘like-minded’ folk together. Using the Strength Deployment Inventory (SDI) team profile results, I seat the ‘Hubs’ together, the Blues together and so on with the Reds, Greens and their respective Blends. In other words for the uninitiated – I seat ‘value sets’ together – people with more common ‘this is Why I do what I do’ language.

 On the Second Day, we introduce the Workplace Challenge, an amazing yet simple exercise which has profound consequences given the choice of behaviour being challenged upon each other. How do you think I create these groups?  I mix the profiles – I ensure that each group has a couple of Hubs (Flexible), a Red (Assertive), a Blue (Nurturing) and hopefully a Green (Analytic). Given the mix of motivations I know that everyone will view the challenge differently and more ideas will be generated through their ‘code of silence’ discussions.

On the Third day I group people at tables according to Conflict – First Stage.  It’s not always that simple, more often than not, there is a good representation and the folk at the table provide a gorgeous array of behaviour examples on their colour conflict continuum when challenged with the day’s discussions and activities.

The SDI is explained and dissected on Day Two, Three & Five and it’s always a laugh when the first person makes the discovery of my purposeful placements. On the final afternoon of Day Five each person makes a heartfelt commitment to their Leadership Journey and most comment on their new respect for: relationships, their own strengths, the impact they have on others and the dynamic network they created in such a short time-frame. Funny about that!