Putting The Confer Into Conferences

A blog post on the importance of weaving dialogue into conferences.

Confer : verb : have discussions, exchange opinions.

People go to conferences to interact and learn. When I sit in a long conference session in a big room, I often get bored. This is not so much a reflection on the speaker, as much as it is a reflection on my limited attention span, and the feeling you get when your bum bone goes to sleep after sitting on one of those conference chairs for too long. The risk of boredom is often raised because rarely do speakers make the time and space for any interaction in these sessions – I feel they assume everyone has come along simply and solely to listen to them. Sure – that’s part of the equation – but I wish speakers would try harder to engage the audience using tools other than their ability to talk about themselves at length, and their brain busting slides*. For further thoughts on the subject of how to give good conference, read this, by Ian Pettigrew.

In smaller conference sessions – it’s much more acceptable to get some cocreation going. I’ve been at the CIPD conference in Manchester this week and enjoyed watching a few sessions taking place on the Future of HR arena. It’s less of an arena, more like a small, low stage and about a hundred seats, and what I’m experiencing here is much more dialogue. Yes – there is some output coming  from various speakers, but they are often conferring with each other and interaction and inquiry with the audience is designed into the experience.

I don’t agree with the general assumption that a big session = being talked at all the time. Conferences could and should be even more interesting and enjoyable, through enhancing opportunities for invitational sharing and exchange.

I’ve been fortunate to be at the CIPD conference and exhibition for each of the last five years. I’ve enjoyed what I’ve taken and what I’ve given on each and every occasion, and the conference team somehow manage to steadily raise their already high game. Finding more ways to intentionally link speakers and audiences and participants is part of what will make future events even better, I’m sure of it.

Thank you to the CIPD for the opportunity to participate in their event again, it’s much appreciated.

*It may be just me, but I find the dissonance caused when trying to simultaneously follow someone’s spoken words and interpret a ton of tiny text crammed onto a slide incredibly off-putting. I believe the speaker when they say they’ve done all the research – I’m not convinced we need it sprayed all over the screen in unreadably small type. Pick your key findings – highlight as you go along, and share the detail for those who want it via your preferred social channels.

Author: Doug Shaw

Artist and Consultant. Embracing uncertainty, sketching myself into existence. Helping people do things differently, through an artistic lens.

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