Crowd-control is a complex issue in large crowds. I’m unsure of its origin, however we primarily use the “hands-up” method. This needs to be explained to the entire audience at the start of the conference, but usually works within 30 seconds. The rules are very simple;
This has a viral effect, meaning that there will soon be a critical-mass of people suddenly silent causing others to look, see the hands and following suit.
We believe that people don’t have long attention spans and so a Ted style approach works in most environments. Exceptions are hands-on technical or educational forums which require much deeper involvement and longer timeframes.
In terms of format, our recommended format is to break the day into three 2.5 hour sessions. Each session being defined around a topic, theme or audience. In the case of the Business Agility Conference is it Executives, Thought-Leaders and Practitioners – referring to the type of story the presenter is giving. Each sessions consists of three, 20 minute, “art of the possible” stories, a 20-minute Q/A with all speakers and a 45 minute “deep dive” (with relevant breaks throughout). In general, each session will have a dedicated host – someone to introduce the topic and the speakers.
Speakers are selected to tell authentic stories about their experiences. No ideas, frameworks, theories, and definitely no sales-pitches. We would also recommend limiting the number of regular speakers or common stories. In our experience, the audience has heard most of these stories before so they are of limited value. Sometimes it can be difficult to identify poor speakers beforehand, so we recommend watching examples of previous presentations or investing in the time to interview each speaker individually. We also encourage ongoing engagement with the speakers in the months leading up to the event.
We had a great success case (Renee Troughton) where we had a skype call with her to hear her pitch for her talk, and by accident she told us a story of a really bad day she had just had. We pulled on this story and ended up convincing her to focus her talk on that rather than just doing a talk on theory. Lesson here: Coaching calls are valuable and can help people hone in on their story (We did coaching calls for all short-listed submissions in 2018).
We had a speaker that came referred through a friend of the conference. He was a big name (well known author). He didn’t engage much and it was hard to get a title and abstract out of him. He didn’t prepare very much for his talk. Lesson here: Vet everyone, even if they’re a big name.
Good conferences are designed to allow participants to maximise their opportunities to share their stories, learn new ways of work and network with their peers. The room setup is an integral part of this.
In the Business Agility Conferences, delegates are seated in a single room in groups (rounds) of 8-10 people. The venue should be selected to support this configuration (sometimes called banquet setup).
While it may seem obvious, facilitators should encourage participants to think about (and write down) questions ahead of time.
If the audience has a tendency to ramble or ask questions just to hear their voice, the questions should be collected and asked by the host. The host should acknowledge the name and title of the asker, but this limits the time spent on self-aggrandizing behavior from the audience.
Integral to successful events is the ability to “deep-dive”. That is to give participants the opportunity to learn from each other, share their own stories and converge from the “art of the possible” to “what am I going to do on Monday”.
A requirement of a good deep-dive is active facilitation. In our experience, each group of 10 people needs to have 1 facilitator to guide the discussions. Facilitators are not mini-speakers or leaders, their role is to ensure everyone has a voice, not to be a voice. Deep dives should be kept simple – this is not a training course – and be designed to encourage sharing and interaction as much as possible.
Potential deep dive formats include; canvases (e.g. business model), lean coffee, pitching, research, facilitated discussion, or simultaneous surveys. We would advise avoiding panels (there’s already Q/A) and anything with complex instructions.
You can do a roundtable discussion using an around the world format, which means you start on one side of the table and then move one-by-one around the table until everyone has had a chance to speak. Each table should be posed a leading question to kick-start the conversation in the context of the previous session.
Alternatively, open the floor to participants and allow for discussions to organically lead to the summary of the session. This requires very strong moderation.
Keep a sense of humor and have fun! We are all here to learn!
If you want to extend this into a World Cafe style approach, the participants can switch tables for additional rounds.
Lean Coffee is based very heavily on Personal Kanban and is very simple to learn. Before the session begins, the facilitator sets out a Kanban Board on the table with three columns; To Discuss > Discussing > Discussed. This represents the topics that we want to discuss, what we are currently discussing and what has been discussed.
“The format for a Lean Coffee is very simple. This is intentional. It is meant to be the least structure necessary for a coherent and productive meeting. No more, no less.”
At the start of the deep-dive the facilitator asks the participants to write down (on individual post-it notes) all the topics they’d like to discuss and add it to the “To Discuss” column. When enough ideas have been generated, each person spends 5 seconds outlining their topic so everyone understands the context. Duplicate topics can be discarded this way.
Now the table is ready to start. Each participant is given two votes (dots) which they can add to any topic. The topic with the most dots is the first topic, the second most is the second and so on. The “To Discuss” list can be re-voted on or changed at any point. The art of facilitation here is to know when to break the rules.
Simultaneous Surveys is a fun way of collecting information from a large group of people. Everyone gets to walk around the room and meet people.
Here are high level functions of the facilitator and the mindset they need to bring into the deep dive facilitation:
As remuneration for their efforts, facilitators (except those provided by sponsors) should be provided with complimentary entry to the event and access to all event social events. A small link to their blog or LinkedIn profile may also included on the conference website.
If the intention of a session is to reach a community consensus, while there are multiple approaches, we recommend a simple canvas + dot voting approach works quickly.
Any canvas approach can work, and designing a custom format for a specific purpose can often be effective. If you need a generic format try this 4 quadrant approach;
Dot Voting (Convergence)
While it’s not perfect (have a read of the wikipedia page for criticisms), dot-voting is a quick and simple method for prioritizing a list of clearly understood options.
The dot-voting process includes the following steps:
The purpose of having hosts for each session is to design the best attendee experience for the session they are hosting and ensure that participants get a fulfilling and engaging exposure to the topic of the session. The role of the host is:
Prior to the conference:
During the conference session:
Following the session:
There are certain restrictions placed on sponsors. The first and most strictly adhered to is the no speaking rule.
Sponsors cannot buy speaking slots. They can apply to present like any other speaker, but cannot sell or promote their company in any way. In fact, the “no sales pitches” requirement for speakers is even more strictly enforced for those speakers who come from sponsor organisations. Including a logo on their slides and a brief 20 second introduction is reasonable and not considered “sales”.