Saturday, March 31, 2012

Kaleidoscope learning - part 2 - Questions!

I think of conferences and events as if they are a kaleidoscope, where every person will see it through their own lens, and hear information through their own filters. Imagine if you attended a conference and in addition to hearing from seasoned professionals and experts in various fields sharing their knowledge, you could then extend the conversation, and share your own point of view. Then you could hear another point of view, and another, and truly create a dialogue about a topic.  Dialogue that could lead to new ideas, solutions, innovations.

We live in a society where we are constantly fed information, and one where we take in most of the information without question. Our children know how to find information from TV, or maybe in newspapers, occasionally from books, and most often from the ubiquitous internet. What they are not being taught often enough is the skill of questioning, of not accepting everything at face value, of developing filters for information in their own minds, but also the ability to assess information without bias, and to turn the information prism like, looking for where the light shines through most brightly.
The stream of information and its availability on a 24/7 basis will continue to grow, the statistics are astounding (ie 24 hours of content uploaded every minute to YouTube) and the ability to assess what is important to us will remain critical.

From a conference perspective we must also find ways for our participants to process the information they hear and find ways they can make it relevant and applicable to their situations.  Imagine if at a meeting we allowed "prism" time, where participants are able to reflect, turn the information looking at it from the new point of view presented and how it fits into their own context, and to be able with others extend the conversations sparked by the sessions?  Imagine if questions were not only encouraged but integral to the sessions… imagine the possibilities.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Permission to be an Adult - Conference Musings

Event Camp Vancouver - ready for comfortable, engaging interaction, knowledge sharing and relevant learning

I am a firm believer in life-long learning and I find that conferences are indeed one of the best ways to find relevant and current information related to my area of interest. I have been in the industry for a long time and feel fortunate to have friends working in meetings and events around the world, many who I only see at these same meetings, as attendees, facilitators and presenters. These are both good reasons to attend meetings and likely the same reasons many of us attend events on a voluntary basis.  (vs say a mandated corporate meeting). 

Maybe it is just me, but here is a struggle I face with attending conferences; conferences typically are not that comfortable.  One of the challenges in attending is that it is so easy as an attendee to lose our ability to be an adult, as we are overwhelmed with difficult to navigate information, finding our way through an unfamiliar facility or facilities, in different cities or countries, often in different time zones and with cultural variances.  Often we are used to being the meeting planner and knowing all the details, and in attending we lose our sense of control, and with this the sense of comfort the control over the details gives us.  

Occasionally I have the opportunity to attend an event (or plan one such as Event Camp Vancouver) where the experience of the participants is put at the top of the list of deliverables.  Where information is available ahead of time, where we feel welcome from the beginning, where the environment allows for seating that is appropriate for our learning style and where we feel our opinions and ideas can be shared.

Imagine if you attended a meeting where you felt like the independant adult you are, instead of part of the herd moving from space to space?

What if from the minute you arrived, you felt as though there were many possibilities ahead and you could anticipate them eagerly?

A comfortable environment - one where you could find a seat that was comfortable for you and what you will be learning - where it is not just row upon row of dark theatre seats where you are talked at, but instead a space where you can interact with your peers in a positive way. Where you can leave to get a coffee without fighting through a crowd in a prescribed 15 minute time period and where the food is what will sustain you (vs a white flour filler that causes a blood sugar crash in the midst of a session) and where how you take notes is not judged - paper, twitter, tablet or laptop.  Where any teambuilding is voluntary - and is so enticing you want to participate.

Wouldn't you like to attend a meeting where you have permission to be an adult?

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Banyan Trees-Analogy of Support

To see a Banyan Tree is at first confusing, with its roots appearing to go up and down, but as we learn about them we see they are truly symbiotic. They have deep meaning to the Indian villages where the Banyan tree is a gathering place, a town centre offering shelter and providing a huge canopy under which to trade stories and goods. In other cultures they are home to spirits and resting places for both good and evil, to be worshipped or avoided depending on your particular beliefs.  Some of the oldest and largest cover nearly an acre!

The genus of tree from which they come is also known as a "strangler fig" as it springs from berries who find their homes on other hosts, trees, walls or similar structures, and wrap their roots around making their home where they land.  Once the tree begins to grow, it develops vines, which grow to the ground, eventually rooting in the ground they reach, and giving the tree another source of nourishment.  To me this is symbolic of many things, from parents giving birth to their children and slowly watching them grow until they find their own roots, and as they find their own roots they begin the process of first supporting themselves, and later, the parent (tree). 

In business we go through a similar process as the more experienced members of the team bring in younger team members and allow them to find their way, and plant roots, making the entire structure stronger.  When we understand that we need a combination of experience with enthusiasm, knowledge combined with fresh eyes to look at how we do things to grow, then our organizations become stronger for it.

The Banyan tree is an amazing symbol of the power of community, as it gains strength, it provides more opportunity to bring people together.  As communities gather under the banyan tree, the opportunites to share knowledge, break communal bread together, trade stories or goods, increases and shared experience allows for potentially greater good as a collective. Reliance on other members of the community to work towards the good of all provides a stronger foundation on which to move forward.

I find banyan trees strong and peaceful, graceful and full of meaning, a powerful symbol of the strength of nature, nurtured. If you see one, take the time to appreciate its glorious beauty too, just watch out for the falling berries!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Events and Food - Critical to Success

I LOVE FOOD! I saw this today and it reminded me - I am not alone! I am not the only one who likes talking food - Food talk at SXSW is 3:1 a favorite subject on Twitter (with 300,000+ tweets) over talk about sessions or events!

I like planning for food, poring through group menus searching for standout items, I even like grocery shopping! I like making food with and for friends and family, talking about food, being on TV sharing dinner parties and for events considering the impacts of good nutrition on body and brain.  

Understanding the choices we make on behalf of our attendees by how it affects our brain at events is a recently understood and still under-utilized tool for creating more engagement and participation at events. I feel so fortunate to have connected this year and presented sessions with Andrea Sullivan (SPINCon and FICP in 2011) on how we can choose menus that support learning in partnership with venues and their Chefs. I look forward to continuing these discussions!

Food is memory. Whether it is a favorite family meal, a great night out, or a special event with delicious food artfully prepared and presented, or paired with wine and the environment to make something special... great food and all its sensory elements enhances our experiences.  Planning the integration of food into our events will remain one of the favorite parts of my job!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Engagement - I don't think this means what you think it means!

"Room for Thought" at EventCamp Vancouver
It seems the more we talk about engagement at meetings and events, the greater the sense I have that it is like the "inconceivable" moments in The Princess Bride - does creating engagement mean what we think it means?

Are we treating our participants like active members of the process or are we still treating them as a passive audience? Are we truly creating environments that promote discussion and inspire conversation AND allowing adequate time for these conversations to happen?

There are some great examples of this happening - TedActive, EventCamps, #lessconf are some recent examples we have seen, but there still seems to be a fear that having unprogrammed time could lead to.... open space. As meeting professionals we struggle to balance all the zeal of the program committee with the actual time available, and our own fear of open space. What if people run out of things to talk about? Have you ever really seen this happen?  When I teach Event Planning at BCIT - an entry level course geared to people who have limited experience, the way I define a conference at its most basic is "bringing together people with an interest in a topic or area of interest". Yes, this is simplistic but it is easy to undestand.  

My opinion (and feel free to comment with yours) is that if we bring together people who have an interest in a similar topic and give them time to talk to each other - we will see engaged, participating attendees that leave inspired by the discussions they have had. These are the discussions among peers that will lead to innovation and collaboration and we must open ourselves up to having smart attendees that want to ENGAGE in a space we have created with their needs in mind.