Engaging conferences

How to capitalize on the richness of resources that are present at a conference?

Most people join congresses and similar professional gatherings for new discoveries, stories, and networking. In traditional-style conferences, conventions and congresses (with 5 -10 top-down presenters, and a large, largely passive audience), the most memorable moments tend to happen in the breaks, when participants get to talk to each other, digest the content, forge new connections and alliances.

In a world where engagement and interaction are becoming key, there is a growing field of expertise on transforming traditional top-down conferences into engaging gatherings where participants are invited into active contributing (beyond the ‘questions & answers’ episodes).

Engage facilitators/hosts early on, to co-create the flow together:

  • definitely before contacting all potential speakers (to find a right balance between presentations and engagement)
  • if the conference is taking place face to face: preferably before hiring a venue (venue facilities are an important factor –  flexibility of room setup, reporting/harvesting options, participants' wellbeing ...)

What do participants (and client) get from an interactive format of a large-group event?

  • Inspiration, fun, engagement
  • Possibility to contribute their own wisdom, expertise, stories, insights, questions
  • Rich networking opportunities (while collaborating in small groups with colleagues they have never met before)
  • Time for integration & action planning already during the event
  • More value for money:  such events are usually cheaper as less speakers/presenters are involved

Some ways of making conferences productive, connecting and memorable - in an online, offline or hybrid format:

  • Combination of short plenary lectures followed by facilitated sense-making by participants (in small groups and plenary) - using poweful questions and harvesting insights/ideas
  • Learning from powerful stories from the field – contributed by participants, in a facilitated process
  • Open space format: participants create and manage their own agenda of parallel working sessions around a strategic theme
  • Combination of lecturettes, small- and large-group sense-making, and action-oriented processes (i. e., co-creating future projects/initiatives as part of integration and future planning)
  • Pro action café: developing initiatives/project with support of everyone present
  • Combination of face-to-face and virtual engagement
  • Interaction with environment: urban and natural
  • ‘Un-conference’:  no guest speakers -  content is provided by participants (facilitators provide the minimal structure needed to serve the purpose and objectives)
  • …. Call us to discuss what is possible!

Group process facilitators and hosts offer:

  • Co-creation of the event together with client, and potential presenters/speakers
  • Powerful questions that open spheres of possibility (developed together with the client/caller of the event)
  • Process that builds from input-gathering to sense-making (How is this relevant for my context? What am I inspired, or intrigued, to do in the future?) to collective learning of major insights
  • Rhythm of day/congress: pace and balance between plenary and small group engagement; between input and integration; between individual learning and networking …
  • Harvesting of outcomes to be shared with wider audience (via virtual spaces and social media)



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