Friday, 12 March 2010

Conferences: bah humbug!

While we are on the subject of conferences (see below), please allow me a small plea for doing them in a different way.

The conference I went to yesterday followed the usual groove – a few (and some were good) plenary inputs early on followed by some ‘master classes’ (which if I am being honest were the presentational equivalents of ‘advertorials’) and then some more plenary presentations towards the end of the day. Meanwhile drinks and food were served and then you had the chance to network

I put network in italics since such networking is a totally random affair. You happen to stand next to someone while reaching for a biscuit and strike up a conversation. I learnt one or two interesting things from these conversations yesterday (did you know part of Plymouth maternity hospital is officially designated part of Cornwall so that if a Cornish mum has to go there for specialist care her baby can still be born in Cornwall…?) but I would have liked to talk about the issues that mattered to me (see the blog post below for example) with others who shared that interest.

It seems to me that these conferences could be far more valuable if they had a parallel space for people to network in and talk about what they wanted to discuss. Borrowing on Open Space – I envisage a largish room where one wall people can post the issues they would like to discuss, a portion of the floor where they are going to be at what time, and then wait to see who turns up. It is not pure open space of course, but it would allow people to find each other as it were. All the other programmed seminars, talks, workshops can carry on too – but this parallel space would allow for something a little different.

On this basis the usual agenda can be published and used to justify people attending – but there would be an added extra – at minimal cost and maximal value. It would mean that people could not leave the event saying that they wish they had talked about ‘X’ since they would have had that chance…

I am going to suggest this to a few conference providers to see if they would like to install this into their events. Watch this space…

So if the next time you go to a standard ‘glossy’ event in London (like the one yesterday was) and you get the freeform opportunity to suggest a subject for discussion in a largish room with bits of paper stuck to the wall – remember you heard it here first! 

Perhaps we should call these Conference 2.0 ??


  1. Good idea but why wait for the wall in order to post things? It could be done online in advance of the physical meeting.


  2. True Robert - and as it turns out I am not the first to coin the term 'Conference 2.0' - someone has even trade marked it! Just google the phrase and a whole heap of websites come up talking about the integration of social networking before, during and after conferences...

  3. Jon - I like the idea of a conference just being a part of a community, with on-going conversations. In what used to be called 'publishing' we are moving towards multi-media conversations: magazines, events, online. I'd like to have parallel spaces for the 30 September conference. All ideas welcome (though we do need some more conventional style delegates first!). Thanks for your help.

  4. Thanks Philip - I agree - all conferences have the potential to be short or long term communities of interest and indeed action. Good luck with your event.