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To help imagine/do something different I use a "head body feet" flick book technology:

Divide each page of a blank note book into three. Cut along the two middle lines.

On each page of the top part write a different operating system - socratic, fish bowl, open space, interview, debate, breakfast etc etc ( ask an event co-ordinator how many they can list)

On each middle page write a different content theme.

On the the bottom of each page describe a different physical space - board room, lunch room, museum foyer, art gallery, street corner, island, river boat, graveyard (or how to arrange the chairs - circle, lined up, no chairs, table in and table out).

Flip, experiment, have a little courage, watch and create a one off experience.

It works surprisingly well (if your measure is long term influence). But, if you use the current measures of conference success you'll be terribly dissapointed).

Curiously, in terms of meeting outcomes I find the determing factors in terms of lasting consequences are operating system, then space and then by a long way content. Sure content gets them in the door but the magic is in the combination of space/operating system and the personal stories/experience/agendas that walk in.

Thanks for reminding me of my fast Company days.

Peter

@Gabriele - there is also a way to organize connections of live and online in real time. What's funny is that Fast Company called its conferences "Real Time" ten years ago, and now we're discovering the term ;)

@Patrick - so much of the usefulness of a conference is grounded in what people do in the moment. Yet, somehow, so much time is spent planning the conference while attending. The second point is near and dear to my heart. It can be done with some thoughtful planning. I was glad your other speaker was in my session, for example. Had the room been a bit wider, we might have gotten into the conversation earlier and involved more people. I did it more that way at IABC this past week and it seemed to get everyone's juices going.

Great thoughts. Certainly timely as we're 30 days out of our user conference and starting to plan for 2011 - and reviewing feedback from attendees. Love the following two points:

The present should be lived and experienced fully -- before we go ahead and look for the future to hold all answers.

and

real time learning means formatting the conversation in a way that is conducive to drawing out and harnessing the collective knowledge and experience in the room and using the dialogue to move to a new place -- together.

These are thoughts we'll weave into our planning.

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