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On Improving Conferences: The Reflection Session

Harold Jarche, like me, is reflecting on his recent attendance at conferences:

I’ve been thinking about knowledge sharing, after attending a couple of conferences in a row and heading off to another. One thing missing in these discrete time-based events is that there is litle time for reflection. Most presenters hold back their knowledge in order to “deliver” it just before the big official presentation. This presentation is followed by some immediate questions & discussions and a coffee break. Then it’s off to see the next presentation. Reflection, if it occurs, comes much later, and usually after the participants have gone home.

I've encountered this issue, too, so I'm thinking that one way we could improve conferences would be to provide a "Reflection Session." It would be near the end of the conference and scheduled like any other breakout session. Instead of stuffing new information into people's brains, though, it would be a workshop for consolidating what they've already experienced.

I'm picturing:

  • A quiet room with more of a coffee shop set-up--some tables with chairs, but also a few lounge chairs.
  • Possibly some music, although that's such an individual thing it might be better for people to be invited to listen to their ipods. 
  • Some tools for reflection--some small blank journals, some prompts for thinking. These Debriefing Questions could be good. Also the One-Sentence Journal--could be applied to each session the individual attended. 
  • Art supplies--some people are visual thinkers and it could be very cool to encourage them to use art to express what they've learned.

Of course, this is something of an introvert's dream of a reflective session, so I'm thinking it could be followed by an extrovert's debrief where we had people share one or two ideas they got or questions they have as a result of their participation in the conference. If we wanted to get really creative, it could be a sort of Ignite format--3-5 minute presentations on the most compelling question or idea you experienced.

What do you think? Would you attend a "Reflection Session" at a conference? How would you structure it and what would you include?

Flickr photo via Laurel Center for Social Entrepreneurship

Embracing the "Social" in Social Media

Much of my work over the past few months has been focused on helping several organizations get up and running with social media. Last week I was doing a debrief with one of my clients on how we'd used Facebook and Twitter to support an event and how the results weren't as successful as they'd hoped. There were multiple reasons for this, unconnected to the the technology, but one issue really stood out. Their engagement with social media continues to emphasize the "media" aspect, with much less attention paid to the "social." And that's where they're missing the boat.

Focusing on the "Media" in Social Media

I think many organizations are understanding that they need to start being active in places like Facebook and Twitter and have begun to give up their iron grip on using only their websites to communicate online. But they are still focused on the one-way "media" aspect of social media, concerned with what they will communicate, not what other people might be discussing and how they can participate in those conversations.

Some characteristics I see in those organizations focused on the "media" aspect of social media include:

  • Desire to have only one or two people participating in social media so that messages can be "controlled." This is an extension of the tendency for organizations to refer people to Marketing/PR people when they want to communicate with the outside world.
  • More of a focus on establishing their presence and on what they're going to say, rather than on finding out where conversations may already be happening and adding value to those discussions.
  • Related to this, a greater tendency to post about their own activities and information and less interest in sharing what others may have to say.
  • Social media policies that restrict employee access to social media sites, thus restricting the ability of the organization to even engage their own staff in helping them promote activities.
  • Lack of involvement in using the tools from top managers. If you haven't used Twitter, Facebook, blogs, etc., it's difficult to understand their particular strengths and challenges. You aren't able to understand their potential power and make good decisions about how to utilize it. 

These behaviors are relics of the pre-social media world. Various social media platforms are treated simply as alternative channels for delivering "the message," rather than as two-way forms of communication and engagement.They are another version of TV or newspapers or annual reports and brochures.

From "Media" to "Social Media"

With most organizations I've found that the only way to get them to try social media is to first engage them with the "media" aspect. It's what they understand. It also seems to be the best way to help them get comfortable with the technology. They don't have to focus on new ways of behaving, just on the mechanics of tweeting or posting on a blog.

The challenge is getting them to then embrace the "social" functions, helping them to understand that they will never get what they want from social media if they simply treat it as a broadcast mechanism or a content delivery system. They don't use the tools properly and then are disappointed with the results, making it more difficult to get them to continue to invest the time and energy it takes to listen and nurture communities. When they use social media in the old ways, it doesn't work.

What I'm realizing is that in meeting clients where they're at, I may be doing them a disservice. I've thought it made sense to let them get their toes wet in the technology by helping them get comfortable with the tech before we dive into too many new behaviors. But I'm beginning to wonder if it doesn't make more sense to work with them first on embracing the culture and principles of social media before even getting into the technology piece. I try to reinforce and point out the need for social engagement, but the broadcast mindset is a strong, sucking whirlpool that can draw you in before you know it, I'm finding.

I'd hoped that by living with social media for a time, these organizations would see it's possibilities. I've thought that the best way to see social media's power is by jumping into it. But for some people this may not be the case. It's possible to use all these tools as one-way broadcast media, missing the social aspects entirely. The results are disappointing, though, and will leave people wondering why they bothered. Without the "social," social media doesn't work. My challenge is to find a way for people to see and embrace the social aspect more quickly. Without that, their efforts will be wasted.