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Ten Trends in Face-to-Face Conferences

As described by Futurist, Gihan Perera, in Gihan Speaks

· Conference trends,FTF conferences

Respected futurist, Gihan Perera, has recently published his completely rewritten and updated report, The Future of Conferences. I wanted to review it in a practical way for my readers who may or may not have a personal interest in conferences and their future.

So I decided to write a series of posts that would talk about a ‘real’ conference, the Third European Integral Consciousness (IEC) Conference that is about to be held in Budapest, Hungary, and which I will be attending, most of the time in the role of volunteer technical assistant. How does my expanding experience and understanding of this conference compare to the ten trends identified by Gihan.

The previous post set the scene with a consideration of ten reasons that motivated me to register for the conference.

This post lists Gihan’s ten trends and my comments and responses.

Ten Trends in Face-to-Face Conferences

  1. Networking is not enough. Participants want to make lasting connections and build strong relationships. This reflects my own experience. A major motivation for me to attend this conference was to meet interesting people with similar interests to my own. 
  2. Being present is not enough. Delegates need to be helped with better preparation so that they make the most of the conference. IEC organisers have ensured that registrants receive regular information relating to the previous conference, the forthcoming conference, the venue and the locale. So they have ticked these boxes!
  3. Sitting silently and listening is not enough. Attendees want to be active participants in co-creating the conference. This too reflects my experience. The task of networking and connecting with people in such a large conference was challenging and when the opportunity to volunteer as an assistant presented, I promptly answered the call, arguing that for a conference to be successful, the participants needed to be ‘on the same page’ and that my previous experience of presenting at and attending conferences would be an asset to the organisers in achieving this. 
  4. Information is not enough. Participants want ‘actionable insights that make a lasting difference’. Stay tuned for this.
  5. Entertainment and engagement are not enough. Participants want ‘a conference that flows effortlessly’. Stay tuned for this one too. However, looking at the big picture of the program, the potential for entertainment and engagement that flows on to connection and strong relationships is greatly enhanced by the organisers having tacked on a three day ‘Magical Mystery Tour’ of Hungarian highlights that caters to the specific interests of participants at the end of the conference. 
  6. Gadgets and gizmos are not enough. They no longer impress unless they are transformational tools that enhance participants’ experience. This will be interesting for me personally as I am not a great gadget and gizmo fan, yet recognise the need to keep abreast of these developments for the potential transformations that they offer; and my assigned volunteer role is to assist with the technical arrangements in one of the rooms! 
  7. Corridor conversations are not enough. Participants want to play an active part in in-session collaboration. I will have to take a further look at the program to see what provision is being made for this. In my experience, while in-session group exchange of ideas is usually actively encouraged as part of the learning process, little or no effort is made to create an environment that actively encourages ongoing participation in group/community activities. It is very much up to the individual to exchange their contact details and follow up to explore areas of common interest once the conference/training/seminar is over. Organisers may invite participants to ‘stay in touch’ but when they do, it is usually to receive ’standard’ emails or perhaps to join a private Facebook group. 
  8. Learning new skills is not enough. Participants want a conference to shift their thinking. Many conferences and face-to-face events are still mostly focused on skill building, possibly because this gives a solid reason to persuade participants to register and part with their hard-earned money. I will be interested to see how this conference shifts my thinking. From the outset, I have had no interest in acquiring further skills! By this stage in my life, I have enough of these, imperfect as they may be. It is who and what I am and what I think about myself and the world that makes a difference.
  9. A one-off conference isn’t enough. The trend is for a conference to be a part, a staging post, on the participants’ entire life journey. As the Scottish novelist, Robert Louis Stevenson, said: To travel hopefully is better than to arrive. I look to this conference to contribute to my hope and direction for the future. I would like it to be part of a continuing interest and commitment in my life. Let’s see.
  10. Online events aren’t the enemy of in-person conferences. They can enhance and extend the overall experience. With this, I totally agree. It’s been my experience that some online trainings lead directly into in-person experiences and this is in line with the trend to better instructional design of online training that supports and encourages learners to do the work of acquiring information in more intelligent ways that leave them free to complete the learning transformation process in spaces of real time face-to-face connection.

Questions for Reflection

  • In your own experience, how do you see these trends playing out?
  • Consider the last few personal or professional development events you attended.  
    • To what extent did they manifest these trends? 
    • How might they be improved to give more value to participants by the adoption of one or more of these trends?
  • Do you see any other trends to note in your experience or in your own industry?
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