Participants continue to report that some of the most animated discussions and valuable education at conferences take place during meals, breaks, receptions and other unstructured time. Taking a tip from the growing popularity of speed dating, some conference organizers are getting good results from integrating these accelerated “structured networking times” into the event schedule.
In his book Participatory Workshops, Robert Chambers presents the notion of “the buzz,” where participants are invited by speakers and session leaders to “take five” and chat with their neighbors about whatever has just been presented. This simple “learning by talking” approach is based on observed human behavior – like watching conference participants stuck in long, boring speeches champing at the bit to get out to the hallway and talk! (You should consider one of CRE’s digital recorder rentals to capture all the brilliant repartee you’ll find there.)
Some early adopters have been using these new conference models already. One association replaced its old-style “panel of experts and keynote address” format a few years back with what it called a “speed mentoring” model. The first move was to divide the attendees into two groups, the more and less experienced managers. Worksheets were developed by having the less experienced managers list the problems or issues they were facing, while the more experienced describe three major lessons they’d learned about managing their markets.
Then, the groups stood at different sides of the room, and the inexperienced managers chose veteran partners for a discussion. After 10 minutes, right on signal, the groups would rotate into new combinations of discussion partners, with five of these rotations producing an hour of what most participants described as incredibly useful interaction with excellent results. If you equip your conference team with tablet PC rentals, they could document every mentoring session easily. Or consider polling the audience with an audience response rental to find out what they would like to discuss.
Breaks and breakouts?
The great thing about this kind of conference model is that it is quite flexible. One possible version of it could reverse the usual keynote/breakout formula where long speeches are followed by quick breakout sessions. In this model, the speechifying would be kept shorter and punchier, and the breakouts may be a bit longer but well paced to keep up the interest and the momentum. With audio visual rentals and plasma rentals and everything else you need for a great breakout session, CRE could help you organize a very successful speed learning conference. You could also introduce elements of the speed methods into your breakout session even if you are at a “conventional convention.” There are lots of ways to leverage these new approaches to learning.