Cranky about boring conferences Let’s design them for authentic learning experiences!

I have been to a couple of conferences recently that have made me determined not to attend any more conferences again, not unless I can tell from their marketing material that they are going to be interactive and engaging.

I would have thought that with all the wonderful methods available to conference planners that to have two days of hour-long presentations one after another and death by PowerPoint would have been a thing of the past.

I do exaggerate somewhat, both conferences did have some panel presentations and panel discussions, but with limited scope for audience involvement.

Questions and comments from the audience were limited to ten minutes at the most at the end of a presentation. At one of the conferences there was a presenter who engaged the audience in discussion and reflection, but this was only one.

At the most recent conference I was exhausted by lunchtime on the second day and ran away to an art gallery instead.

The worst thing about these conferences is that they were in the education sector – yes all about learning and development and innovation, what’s more. Innovation! Time that these conference planners thought about innovation in terms of the conference itself and modelling best practice in learning! Not modelling old paradigms of learning.

I have tucked away in my files a paper written by Tree Bresson with Debbie Sugarman and an organisation called Sunrise Facilitation (what marvellous names!). Check

The paper contains some great ideas about how to make conferences come alive and has this advice about the proportion of time devoted to expert time and participatory time.

  • Lectures by one person: one hour or less per day. Definitely no more than 90 minutes
  • Panels (2-4 people): 3 hours or less per day
  • Full participatory methods: at least half your total time together.

And then there are a plethora of methods:

And I am sure you know of many others. Please add them in your comments below. And I would love to hear about good conference experiences (in the spirit of appreciative enquiry) and what your favourite methods are.

Download this blog as a PDF.



So is there anything in human life or organization that we could describe as a murmuration?

Just watch this fabulous video and think about it.

A “murmuration” of starlings, as this phenomenon is known, must be one of the most magical, yet underrated, wildlife spectacles on display in winter. Impenetrable as the flock’s movements might seem to the human eye, the underlying maths is comparatively straightforward. Each bird strives to fly as close to its neighbours as possible, instantly copying any changes in speed or direction. As a result, tiny deviations by one bird are magnified and distorted by those surrounding it, creating rippling, swirling patterns. In other words, this is a classic case of mathematical chaos (larger shapes composed of infinitely varied smaller patterns). Whatever the science, however, it is difficult for the observer to think of it as anything other than some vast living entity.

The Daily Telegraph Thursday March 1, 2012 Daniel Butler “The mathematics of murmuration starlings”

Image credit:

Presence and the possibilities of change

Presence and the possibilities of change via Margaret Taylor Learning Edges Australia

I happened to pick up a copy of the book: “Presence: An Exploration of Profound Change in People, organisations, and Society”, the one written by Senge, Scharmer, Jaworski and Flowers. What a crew!

The book fell open at the following. This is an edited excerpt.

We first thought of presence as being full conscious and aware in the present moment. Then we began to appreciate presence as deep listening, of being open beyond one’s preconceptions and historical ways of making sense. We came to see the importance of letting go of old identities and the need to control and…making choices to serve the evolution of life. Ultimately, we came to see all these aspects of presence as leading to a state of “letting come”, of consciously participating in a larger field for change.

…we’ve discovered similarities to shifts in awareness that have been recognized in spiritual traditions around the world for thousands of years…in esoteric Christian traditions such shifts are associated with “grace” or “revelation” or the Holy Spirit. Taoist theory speaks of the transformation of vital energy (qing…) into subtle life force (qi…) and into spiritual energy (shin). The process involves quietening of the minds that Buddhist call “cessation” wherein …the normal boundaries between self and the word dissolve…In the mystic traditions of Islam…it is known simply as “opening the heart”…

…In the end we concluded that understanding presence and the possibilities of larger fields for change can come only from many perspectives – from the emerging science of living systems, from the creative arts, from profound organizational change experiences, and from direct contact with the generative capacities of nature…(from the teachings of) indigenous…cultures.

And I would add to this that we understand and experience these transformative shifts through deep authentic learning experiences that take us to the edge and plunge us into a new consciousness.

Reference: Peter Senge, C. Otto Scharmer, Joseph Jaworski & Betty Sue Flowers, 2004, Presence: An Exploration of Profound Change in People, Organisations, and Society, Doubleday, New York. Pages 13-14.