It seems to me that too many conferences are designed to only transmit information – hence the default choice of presentations followed by Q&A. Of course transmitting information definitely has it’s place, but when you’ve got a room full of knowledgeable, enthusiastic and skilful people, is it really the best use of their time?
Is it not better to try and create the conditions for dialogue, where people can connect with each other more deeply, in ways that are open and inquiring? And perhaps, if you’ve given enough time, some of those really powerful, creative conversations where new ideas and new projects are born, might happen.
Of course, most conferences and seminars do aim to have engaging conversations between participants, and between participants and the main speakers. But unless you’re very lucky not many great conversations will happen unless the schedule is intentionally, and carefully, designed, to encourage and support not just an exchange of information or opinions, but deeper dialogue.
The four fields of conversation from the Presencing Institute, above, are helpful to distinguish between different sorts of conversation. So often the traditional Q&A session after presentations gets stuck in the second field – debate: talking tough – with people just wanting to get their ‘point’ across, rather than having any true spirit of enquiry. While coffee breaks – often said to the best part of a conference – languish in level one.
Here are eleven suggestions based on my experience that you might consider when designing an event for dialogue (in no particular order):