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Three Guidelines For A Life-Changing Conference
By Ian Percy

Unless you go somewhere exotic and participate in amazing team building events, most conferences are relatively routine. Often what is memorable are things like the time Barb put bubble bath in the hot tub, or when Norm got thrown out of the hotel after too much networking.

Below are three guidelines that will help you design events that can be positively life-changing.

Everything people experience at the conference is a message about what the organizers think about them-from pre-conference materials to the conference gift. For example, how does the message behind the name tag that simply reads "BOB", differ from the one that reads "Dr. R.J. Barns, Sr. Vice President, Chemical Spills Division, Western Region"? What is the message behind pre-assigned seating? Or having anonymous, if not planted, questions being read off of cards for the President's Q&A session? What interpretation do people attach to the fact that the President left right after his speech? It's not a case of right or wrong, it's what message do you want to send? First decide on the message then make sure your methodology or design matches.

Which room looks engaging, fun and productive; one where participants are in casual clothes, chairs and tables scattered with no apparent centre of control, or the one where participants are in business attire, sitting classroom style behind computer generated tent cards looking up at an elevated lectern? How these two groups will behave is absolutely predictable. They will behave according to their appearance. You can't create a spirit of togetherness by having people widely spread out in the auditorium with most sitting at the back. Want togetherness? Book a room almost too small for the group. Barring serious organizational pathology, emotional closeness will follow physical closeness. Reach emotional closeness and you're not far from spiritual closeness. 
I remember speaking in a room set up in rigid classroom style, everyone in neat rows facing the front (despite my counsel to the contrary). The lectern was at least five feet above the participant's level. The conference theme? Teambuilding. The executive who had it set up that way really wanted control over the participants and he got it. The teamwork theme was him being politically correct.

When you give people choice, you give them power. Choice and power are synonyms. When you give people power, you give them freedom. When you give them freedom, you give them back their life and individuality. When people feel truly free they will choose to unify and find purpose. And that is what you want, isn't it?

I feel claustrophobic just reading the agenda from some conferences. Everything is so controlled and so predetermined. Literally every moment is scheduled. The conference is being done to people rather than the people doing the conference. No wonder there is so little enthusiasm and commitment. One agenda began: "Welcoming remarks @ 9:00-9:03". You can tell there was lots of room for creativity and exploration. Another one for senior executives sent out a whole page on dress starting with "Travel-wear comfortable, loose fitting clothes". Somebody needed to tell these folks what to wear on the plane?

I know some believe control and structure is essential. My intention with these guidelines is to help unify corporate spirit with our logistical, three dimensional and time-bound thinking. The latter needs to change and become a conduit for the former. Let's start designing events that let the human spirit out instead of boxing it. Only then will we see what is truly possible. You will be amazed.

Ian Percy is one of North America's most inspirational speakers. For over 25 years Ian has blended in-depth thinking, real life global experiences and unending humor in his keynotes and presentations to corporations and associations around the world. A Registered Psychologist, Ian holds degrees in theological education as well as organizational psychology. He is a Certified Speaking Professional and has been inducted into the Canadian Speakers Hall of Fame. For information on his speaking and training call 352-438-0261 e-mail
[email protected]  or visit www.ExpertSpeaker.com/Speakers/percy.htm   "Copyright The Ian Percy Corporation"

                                                         ExpertMagazine.com 2001