better workshops and conferences

We’ve all been to too many conferences where the best conversations happen during breaks from the main sessions. To a very large extent, this is due to the inability of conference co-ordinators to learn from this basic fact, and continue to run events that consist of monologues with only token time for engagement.

(I found this image on a great blog called yesandspace)

There is, of course, a place for listening to those whose knowledge and experience is worth taking in. But many conferences are full of people who are already packed with all they need to know content-wise. What they need is meaningful engagement with others who share their particular interests and who are seeking to solve the same problems as they are.

Today, my colleagues Derek and Mohan and I are facilitating a 1 day forum for 100 TAFE teachers who are coming to terms with the significant changes that will happen in vocational education over the next few years. To avoid the potholes described above we are borrowing principles from The World Cafe and Open Space Technology, both approaches we use extensively to help groups engage conversations that matter to them.

I am looking forward to leading this group of professional educators through a style of conference that they will likely have not experienced before. I love seeing people get surprised at how engaging and productive they can be when they had assumed they would be adopting the typical passively interested posture appropriate for an end of year staff conference.

Meanwhile, when you are sitting through you next Powerpoint presentation that is answering questions no one is asking, remind yourself that it doesn’t need to be this way and suggest the organisers give us a call next time around.

One thought on “better workshops and conferences

  1. Col,

    I definitely can say, that Openspace is valuable for transformational change when people are still fuzzy about their vision (even before a shared one).

    We had our 3rd Lean Thinkers Conference in Leipzig with about 20 participants from all over Germany, France, Luxembourg and Switzerland and it was great.

    Want to have an idea what it was about? has more.

    Best regards


    PS.: Will be with a World Café on Friday again in Dresden and really looking forward to that event.

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