Conferences reimagined

I was so stirred up by Duncan Green’s latest rant on conferences that I posted a comment (my first!) on an alternative to panels and powerpoints.

2010.04.10.ppt and interrogation

What if we re-imagine conferences and meetings as gatherings where people can connect, learn and have the conversations that really matter. What if organisers see themselves as hosts, inviting people into a welcoming and hospitable space? Event hosts sometimes need to be reminded that thinking it through, getting people interested ahead of time and good design and preparation is an essential investment of time.

It was wonderful to see 60 climate, health and other academics immersed in conversations at an event I co-designed a couple of months ago.  They’re systems thinkers and their research cuts across traditional academic and disciplinary boundaries.  The traditional methods (formal presentations etc) just wouldn’t have worked.

People were up and talking right from the start, meeting new colleagues through a variant on speed-networking.  In less than an hour everyone knew the best of what was happening, with 3-minute snapshots of what’s inspiring about their work.  After that there was a ‘market place’ with posters, information and conversations.  In the afternoon there were more in-depth discussions in an adapted open space.

It was a bright and open space, everyone wanted to be there, and there was an open-heartedness and generosity between people.  We thought a lot about who was coming, what they wanted to do and the simple design worked.  The people in the room did the rest.

This is the kind of thing we enjoy introducing in our Facilitation Anywhere courses, the next of which is on 22 – 24 November in Oxford.

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