Mathew Lowry

How do you extract maximum value from a conference presentation or workshop, both for you, and your audience?

I don’t attend conferences much. Too often, the speakers are overpaid opera stars who never show up to rehearsals, fly into town the day of the opening, are wheeled onto stage at the right moment, sing in the time-honoured tradition of ‘Park and Bark’, accept all the applause and piss off back to their hotel room.

The audience listens, applauds, and learns very little.

The people previously known as the audience deserve better

I’m no star, operatic or otherwise, but it seems to me that, in 2015, most conference speakers could do more for those who have taken time away from their desks to sit on uncomfortable chairs and listen to them.

After all, the concept of ‘passive audience’ is a little passé, no? And what was it that Benjamin Franklin said about learning?

Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.

So now you know why you take away so little from most conference presentations. A passive environment is not conducive to learning.

And it’s not just workshop participants who would learn more from interactive workshops – the speakers would, too, as this example will show.

Start the exchange before the event

I decided to prepare for my EuroPCom workshop on online communities next month differently. For the past week, for example, anyone interested in the topic could join my speakers and I on an online Knowledge Hub group (see previous post).

There you’ll find, among other things in the Forum, a first draft Slideshare of my opening slides and a multi-thread conversation as we prepare our workshop.

The idea is simple:

if people can tell us what they’re interested in hearing, and/or suggest ideas, best practices and other content, the workshop will be enriched and more user-oriented.

It doesn’t have to just be a question of forum threads and blog posts, either. Instead of having a private Skypechat, for example, I proposed a Hangout-on-Air, allowing anyone to watch and pose questions before, during and after. We even developed a structure for our chat using the Group’s wiki (all links below).

Few watched live, of course – this was not a promotional exercise; it was simply another way ‘opening up’ the conversation about our workshop to anyone who wanted to get involved.

In the end two of the speakers couldn’t make it, so Steve Clift and I pulled in two online community experts from Knowledge Hub – Liz Copeland and Michael Norton – who manage and facilitate online communities for a living.

As you’ll see from the massive post-Hangout blog post / transcript, Liz and Michael have probably forgotten more than I have ever known about the art and science of online community management, neatly demonstrating my point:

the interactive development of a conference workshop is probably a better learning opportunity than an actual Park and Bark speech

It was for me, anyway.

But this just scratches the surface of how an online Group can add value to a physical conference. As I’ve posted before, a Group can transform a one-off conference into a living community that achieves the conference’s goals (knowledge exchange, networking, participation) 365 days a year.

We may be seeing the beginnings of that emerge on the Knowledge Hub Group – over the last few days conversations have begun between other EuroPCom speakers about their sessions – but it’s early days.

If you’d like to experiment and learn about this yourself, there’s only one best way: join in.

Further Reading

PS. Image courtesy Daily Mail. And no, I don’t actually think Luciano Pavarotti ever actually barked.

Disclaimer: as stated previously, “Knowledge Hub has engaged me for a few days pre-conference to manage the “Public Sector Communications” Group, but I only accepted because I think it rocks. My views remain my own, as future posts will show”.


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