Conference ruts

Harold Jarche makes some good points about the frustrations of conferences.

For instance a problem is presented in a plenary session and participants are immediately asked to brainstorm & give feedback. Why was the issue not presented weeks ahead of time? What can be achieved in 10 minutes of thinking on demand?What is really achieved with 50 to 100 people in a room, a presenter and then questions from the floor?

Harold protests at the lack of space for reflection and connection in traditional events.

I’ve often said that it’s the desperate effort to make meetings efficient that makes them inefficient. In the rush to get tangible outcomes on the day, we’re forced into a series of inauthentic, often hurried processes as if thinking and creating together are tidy, linear processes like running a train.

With all our networked technology, we have a myriad ways to transfer data and pose questions ahead of meetings, giving people time to process and reflect on them in advance, on a schedule that suits them. Likewise, we have plenty of ways to interact online after the event.

When we’ve gone to the trouble and cost of bring live humans together in a room, surely we should be allowing them to do things that are most satisfyingly done face-to-face: such as having conversations and not just presenting at each other or engaging in the often combative snoozefest into which “Q&A” descends. Great conversation is a much less controllable and free flowing phenomenon, and doesn’t lend itself to excessive control or constraint.

In some ways conversation is the easiest thing for humans to do. In other ways it can be the most elusive – which may account for the safety-first approach of meetings-as-usual. Personally, I’m drawn to looser approaches, even if they are labelled as riskier.

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