Programming a conference

Dan Saffer offers some thoughts on how to program a conference. Some good ideas. I liked what he said about themes:

Unless your conference is extremely targeted and you are planning to work with the speakers to shape their talks don’t pick an arbitrary theme for your conference e.g. “Connecting Us Together” or “Exploring New Worlds.” Not only are these sorts of mushy themes useless and ripe for parody, but they almost never work.

Though as an open space fan, I’m tempted to offer a slightly shorter proposal on how to program a conference: don’t.

3 thoughts on “Programming a conference

  1. Simon Bostock

    It’s odd. If you asked me how to run a conference, my instinctive response would be, like yours, (a) go for Open Space or (b) don’t.


    Open Space suits me and I feel at home. I’ve been wondering about the Tyranny of Structurelessness. Wondering – not yet deciding.

    I love conferences when they’re about things I know nothing about. I adore the Playful conference, for example.

    So, yes, totally, but ‘but’.

  2. Johnnie Moore

    Thanks Simon, I read that link.

    I am a big fan of Open Space and so it’s pretty important to be open to dissent and doubt, as it would be easy to get rigid and fanatical.

    Like you, I know I like the format and I know some people who don’t. Let’s not make them ‘wrong’ for it.

    I would argue that Open Space is very far from structureless. First, there’s the structure of the physical space it happens in, who gets invited etc. And the framework for timeslots. Just because this part is familiar doesn’t mean it’s not real or constraining in some ways.

    Second, even more important, is the emergent structure of conversations. This is every bit as structured as conventional formats; the difference is the structure is not predicted or set in advance.

    As per the article you linked, of course for stuff to happen, people get or take roles and hierarchies are formed. And that can happen inside Open Space.


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