Con-fer-ence: the art of intending what you’ll do together

Recently I attended a conference as a presenter.  It occurred to me that I have been doing conference presentatins since 1980 (NY State Association of Rehabilitation Facilities- on Federal law regulating employment of disabled persons).  Over the past 30 years, I have been privileged to present at conferences throughout the United States and Canada, as well as Brazil and Singapore. 

Without naming any names, here are a few suggestions for conference organizers:  

>Presenters should NOT have to pay registration fees for the conference.  Especially when the presenter is paying their own travel cost to get there.  Even a “discounted fee” for your presenters is not very nice.

>Make sure your check-in desk staff have been properly trained to give friendly and welcoming customer service.  Failing to give registrants their conference folders is not really acceptable.  When your attendees note that you forgot to have a coat rack available, don’t just say “I’m sorry.”  Say, “I’ll do my best to get that for us right away.” 

>Unless attendees opt out, provide a list of attendees with all pertinent contact info.  It is a networked world, after all… so let’s network 🙂  You can send it as an Excel file, or give us a printout when we arrive (so we can scan for people we might want to meet, or whom we know).

>obtain feedback data on the presentation sessions.  How else will you know what value your attendees took away from a session?  How else will you know the great presenters from the ones committing “death by Powerpoint?”

>30-minute refreshment breaks are great for networking (especially when the rest rooms are far away from any meeting room).  But 5 minute intervals to get from session to session are too short.  Some presenters will run a bit long, or some attendees may want to meet-and-greet your presenters.  make it easy to do that, without having to come in late to the next session.

>Still on the subject of time, 25-minute sessions for presenters to tell a complicated or detailed story, is probably too little.  everyone wants to get the most out of a conference, especially a one-day event that has drawn a literally global group of presenters and attendees.  But rushing presenters and audiences through crammed slide sets, with no time for meaningful questions or responses, does not add value.

>Speaking of global perspectives, there is no excuse today for failing to broadcast, and/or record and archive the presentations at a conference.  The technology is not costly, and you can multiply your reach to people everywhere.

>Finally, have your program committee consider the variety and depth of the presentations they select from the pack of proposals.  Unless you are advertising your event as a one-issue conference, consider the interests of your audience.  Find both established and innovative perspectives on your field, if you can.  Then, when you set up the conference schedule, don’t put several speakers on the same topic, in the same time slot.  Don’t make the choice of session into a popularity contest, or a sacrifice of one good speaker in favor of another.  Variety IS the spice of life.  Don’t forget to get data from your attendees, on topics of interest to them for your next event.  Give the people what they want.

It is very surprising to me that conference organizers, some from very well-known organizations, continue to overlook these basic rules.  As a presenter, and as an attendee, I know I’ll be reluctant to spend hundreds of my own dollars for a conference that isn’t using its own collective brain-power to create a great experience.

Have a great conference!

Bruce Waltuck

This entry was posted in Change, Conferences, Innovation, Networks, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Con-fer-ence: the art of intending what you’ll do together

  1. LaDonna Coy says:

    Hey Bruce, great suggestions. I do wonder about this notion of the 20 minute presentation. It seems to work for TED so I’m curious what would happen if we did our conference format, or at least part of it, in these small bites?

    I’m also a bit frustrated with the existing conference model that has little or no structure for any kind of social learning? Most workshops have very little conversation, cross-pollination of ideas/questions, dialogue, no time for integrating ideas. We rush from one workshop to another thinking we’ll integrate the ideas later … when we get home. But by then the rest of our lives kick in and sadly little of the conference learning gets integrated. At least that’s been my experience. How about you?

    • complexified says:

      Thank you, LaDonna. I enjoy TED talks, but as others point out, they do not seem to provide that dialogue and feedback option either. Some years ago, some colleagues and I were at a presentation in Ottawa. Our presenter was Deputy Minister of Ontario. I’d say we had about 35 people around the table. Not five minuites into the talk, someone jumped in withj questions and comments. The presenter responded, and we were off- a very rich hour with everyone participating. The presenter maintained just enough control to weave the discussion around his intended topic and facts. Later, over dinner, my group decided that we really liked this format better than the typical “talking head with slides, hold your questions til the end.” So we designed a series of “Leadership Dialogue” workshops around this experience. Our presenters were told in advance what to expect, and these have been great workshops.

      I totally agree with you about the overall lack of social interaction. What my MA teacher Vlad Dimitrov would call “requisite vorticity” (after Ashby’s Law of Requisite Variety). Our Leadership dialogue model was a conscious attempt to have a very rich exchange with others, while hearing the story of a particular presenter.

      Thanks for your thoughtful post!


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