Formats that multiply the values gained
by Win Wenger, Ph.D.
Each year, tens of thousands of professional, academic, scientific and trade conferences are held around the world. Nearly all of them are a huge wasted opportunity. How huge? See what happens by contrast if a conference in your experience were to use one of the simple formats described below.
A conference, symposium or colloquium conducted in one of the formats below has a much better chance of fulfilling its purposes of exchange of information, synthesis of energies, and the stimulus and generation of new ideas. Members become far more involved, and more energized. Participants get far more value from each session. Issues become vastly clarified and illuminated. Presenters receive essential, invaluable feedback, stimulus, and definition on what they are presenting.
If you have a conference event to host, or are likely to, or have friends who are likely to, you want to mine the following formats for ways to multiply by several times the value of such a conference. So much work and effort usually goes into these affairs that to look at another consideration may seem too much of a burden but here is three minutes' worth of reading that just may make it all worthwhile for you ten times over.
Special Format #1 for Conferences
Thinktank summary: At the conclusion of each presentation which has some meaningful or intellectual content to it, pull participants and presenter together into a 20-minute thinktank pursuing further whatever was the main issue to emerge during that presentation. Presenter may have a special group procedure he or she favors for this, or the presenter (or a special facilitator prepared or trained for this purpose) can use the Dynamic Format procedure.
Variant: schedule a panel of diverse presentations on the same topic, followed by a 30-minute or longer thinktank session of all as above, in addition to the usual Q & A. (In Project Renaissance's annual Double Festival, held each May in Maryland, we have been referring to these post-panel thinktanking rounds as "implosion sessions.")
Windup: the Grand Panel of the Whole, all presenters and participants together, reviewing and pursuing the main issues to emerge during the conference. Final day of the conference, which gives some staying power to the conference itself.
Also, there are several hundred effective methods for creatively solving problems now in successful professional use around the world. Beyond the aforementioned Dynamic Format, these afford special and unique ways to process information and context of the just previous session, leading often to new breakthrough answers for the presenters themselves, not just for the participants.
Having facilitators present who can use various of these problem-solving methods constitutes another great enrichment of the conference experience for both presenters and participants. Many of these problem-solving methods can be learned, taught or trained in very few minutes, and they become part of the permanent resource repertoire of everyone involved in the session!
Everything we've said, in this website and elsewhere, about Socratic Method, especially modern Socratic Method, comes to bear here in accounting for how these few simple formatting measures result in vastly more effective and enriching conferences. For some of the core part of the explanation, please see Feeding the Loop.
Special Format #2 for a Colloquium
Variant: A colloquium might run a theme in which it alternates back and forth between whole-group and breakout smaller-group sessions. For example, a keynoter strikes the theme for the large group. Smaller breakout sessions follow, facilitated sub-groups developing that theme toward some goal or toward the solving of a major problem in that context. Sub-groups report back to another session of the whole group. That whole group session integrates their inputs and redirects breakout smaller groups again toward some further goal, alternating between these levels several times before concluding with whatever goals have been wrested into being from this combination process.
An example of how this might be done is set forth in the World Problems Colloquium Proposal, posted on this website.
Thus, you have here several basic ways to make your own conference a richer and vastly more productive event, and to approach the Socratic condition where everyone is able to draw forth, from himself and from each other, his respective deepest and subtlest awarenesses at length, in depth, in detail toward full understanding, on topic after topic in your conference's context.
Aside from participants' obtaining far greater value from the contents of your conference event, with some of these suggested arrangements they will acquire working skills in ingenious/creative problem-solving as well, a not inconsiderable extra bonus.
A Possible Experiment and Synthesis
Prepare, in advance, a substantial number of facilitators in Dynamic Format and/or in various problem-solving methods and/or Socratic-level discussion methods.
At the end of each session of all kinds, divide into smaller groups, each one facilitated. Each facilitator chooses a method with which to proceed, hopefully a different method each time, so that, from round to round, participants will rotate through a variety of methods, facilitator personalities, and experiences centering on but extending beyond the presentations of your conference.
We are preparing a special handbook for facilitators, featuring the most useful methods and questions, for our own use in Project Renaissance's annual conference, the Double Festival, held each May in Maryland. On request, we may make this handbook available for use elsewhere as well.
Variety of processes, variety of facilitative personalities, intensity of the smaller or sub-group encounter these not only multiply the value and retention of value of each presentation so addressed, but will add layers of meaning and richness to the whole proceedings.
Dip Your Toes in the Waters A Simple, Easy Start for Your Next Event
Is your event large enough to run three breakout presentation sessions at the same time? Here is an easy way to get started toward enlivening and enriching your conference without having to make the whole larger conference change over this first time.
Instructions on the paper will read somewhat like this:
You can run a feedback form then or later, or just have a couple of minutes' feedback during the next whole-group session. One interesting point of inquiry will be to ask your participants how much they remember from the session they debriefed on, compared with how much they remember from the other sessions.
A New Special Service from Project Renaissance
Project Renaissance can supply consultants and trainers to help you build your next conference. Their service will not be that of promotion, nor logistics of running a public event, nor setting up booths, nor setting up entertainments inside and outside of the hall. Their service will instead be that of helping you either set up and run the debriefing "experiment" just above, or helping you design part or all of your event into one of the above formats.
Absolutely, this will make your event several times more productive and rewarding. Under the subject Conferences, contact Project Renaissance by email to explore and make such arrangements. Alternately, you have plenty of good information represented here that you can apply on your own to make your conference event one of the best in the world.
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