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Spicing Up Session Formats

Posted on December 14, 2006

By Jeffrey Cufaude

If variety is the spice of life, than a lot of meetings and conferences need to visit the seasoning shelf.  I think I attended or spoke at upwards of 75 meetings this year, but only a few included what others would describe as nontraditional session formats. 

I’m not knocking keynote speeches, charged panel conversations, or interactive group exercises.  I like them.  I do them.  They work.  But I’m fairly surprised that we don’t try and liven up more content with different formats.  Here are a few that I wouldn’t mind seeing on a conference agenda:

The Mock Trial in which a belief or hypothesis is put on trial with luminaries from your constituencies playing the various parts in this legal play.  You can have them also serve as the jury or let the audience render the ultimate judgment.

The Irish Wake or a Funeral in which we acknowledge the death of ideas and practices that served a grand and glorious life but finally passed on of natural causes.  Imagine the amusing eulogies you could give for finally stopping use of an outdated software package. 

The Grand Retirement Party would be a variation on the wake or funeral in which you retire and celebrate programs, services, beliefs, or practices that made valuable contributions over the years, but need to be retired.

The Pro-Con Debate is one of the most provocative, but underutilized formats.  Take a major issue facing your profession or industry and line up “sides” who can make provocative assertions in favor or against a particular action or perspective.  In a relatively short period of time you can engage a large number of voices and explore a wide range of viewpoints.

Game Show formats are always a good standby. I’d be delighted to see a conference version of 1 vs. 100 the new show that pits an individual's expertise versus the collective wisdom from a “mob” of 100.  I think it would be an educational and entertaining format to explore some of the basic facts or concepts people need to know about your organization or industry or could be an interesting way to explore content for a certification exam.

Compelling content has to be the foundation for any program regardless of how spicy the format might be, but mixing things up can help engage (or reengage) participants fairly easily.  What formats would you like to see at the next meeting or conference you attend?


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Kay Lawton

I'd like to see new ways of conveying extremely technical information to an engineering crowd. Your great ideas are often disregarded because "engineers don't work that way." Any ideas on that?

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