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)