New formats and great pictures from Conventa Crossover

10 september 2018
Categorieën: Art and value of moderation, Best practices ... or not
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Recently, I moderated the Conventa Crossover Conference again, in Ljubljana. Thanks to the organisers ánd the participants it was a memorable event, once more. Let me share some work formats and meeting design solutions that we used to engage and energise.

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But first of all, let me thank the photographer (Matjaz Tavcar) for taking the ultimate moderator picture! This shows – in my view – exactly what a moderator should look like. Please notice a few thing about this picture (above):

1. The speaker is in focus, the moderator isn’t. And that’s how it should be, because the speaker is the hero and the moderator is just there to assist. By the way: the speaker is Patrick Roubroeks (Xsaga) … and what a great performance that was!

2. The moderator is listening to the speaker, but observing the audience! That’s where his main focus should be, since it is all about them and since the speaker is only there to serve te delegates.

Right, back to the formats. We did a few things differently:

Opening

Unlike most openings, this one wasn’t ‘big and loud’, but intimate and personal. As a moderator, I sat down at the edge of the stage and I slowed down, allowing all time to reflect on my questions.
It created a casual atmosphere, invited participants to determine their personal learnings and helped them open up and share. With that in mind, participants went into workshops right away.

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Keynotes campfires

After the workshops, there were two keynote speakers. The first one didn’t present as such, but engaged with the audience to co-create. Partcipants were asked to come up with wild ideas for events, Patrick Roubroeks commented on them and by doing so, delegates learned from the creative mind of this events-hero.
Furthermore, there was no Q&A right after the keynotes. Instead, after two keynotes, both were assigned a personal space in the room. The participants were allowed to make up their own mind: go and talk to a speaker in a smaller setting or check email, network etc.
These campfire settings made sure that the speakers would only talk to those truely interested and be able to give those people their full attention. Please compare that to the ‘normal’ situation, where 100 people have to wait for only 10 coming up with questions. And again, this contributed to the special Conventa Crossover intimate atmosphere.

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Panel

Another format we tried, was the ‘panel on demand’. This is what we did:
First, participants were asked to help change the seating of the room. Instead of putting 3 people on stage, the seats were placed in a square, leaving room in the middle for the panel to sit. Then the participants where told that they had a choice of 4 topics (within the overall theme of the panel). Each topic was assigned to one quadrant of the room. Everyone had to pick his favorite topic and sit in the corresponding quadrant. This lead to a room, where in one quadrant was 40% of all delegates and in another just 6 people.
The panel then turned to the quadrant with most people in it, giving most time to this topic. After three turns, the least popular topic was given 2 sentences per panellist. Overall it was fun: people were fresh, because they physically moved around; they were engaged, because the panel met their demands and not the other way around.

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Awards

There were also the Conventa Crossover Awards. Traditionally, this kills the dynamics of every conference: there were 16 finalists, who all had to be given the opprtunity to pitch. The initial, but rather traditional idea was to allow them all 10 minutes. This would have lead to 2 (!) hours of pitching, which wouldn’t have been fair to anyone.
At the same time, we didn’t want the pitches to be too short and we wanted the participants not only to vote, but also to learn from the projects. So this is what we did:
First, all finalists were allowed to show a video of 90 seconds and present a pitch of 30 seconds. So only 2 minutes in total. Then, all finalists were given a desk. In four rounds of 15 minutes each, participants were given the opportunity to visit a maximum of 4 projects, to ask questions and get more information.
Once again, this allowed participants to only invest time in projects they were genuinly interested in. And the finalists only had to present to those who really wanted to listen. In the end, some of the finalists talked to many participants and some only talked to a very small group. Is this fair? Wel, maybe not. But hey … this was a competition!

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Anarchy Session

One final format I’d like to share, is the Anarchy Session. In an open space format, participants were allowed to make up their own mind. We asked them to think about the future of the industry and what the most important challenges are. Every individual that wanted to discuss a challenge could claim one of the ‘conversation corners’. Everyone who felt like joining a conversation was free to do so.
It turned into a dynamic session, with people exchanging ideas, networking and sharing.

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Shits happens

One of the keynotes told us, that shit will happen … and so it did: they final keynote didn’t show up. With good reasons, but still: here was a challenge.
Ending early was not an option, due to planning of the catering ánd the scheduled award show. So, what to do?
The good thing was, that we did have his powerpoint presentation; and the participants by this time were friendly enough with each other, to play around a bit. And so we decided to turn it into a joint ‘powerpoint karaoke': with each new slide I threw my catchbox at someone in the audience. He or she then had to improvise his/her way through that slide. We had fun ánd learned something along the way.

I hope to return to Conventa Crossover next year. This event is truely unique, thanks to the willingness to share and experiment!

Jan-Jaap

Energizers & Entertainment: The moderators’ best friends … or worst enemies?

29 augustus 2018
Categorieën: Art and value of moderation, Best practices ... or not
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Any moderator will have them in their toolkit: energizers. Any meeting owner will schedule some entertainment from time to time. If chosen wisely, they will both do wonders. But in just as many cases, they will only harm the outcome of the event.

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When bringing up the subject, everyone tells some stories of horror: a congres that started with a briljant opening act, only to make people fall asleep right after that. Or the moment that participants are asked to engage in a belly-dance, making everyone very uncomfortable. Maybe the room full of people thinking ‘here we go again’, when asked to massage the neck of the person one row in front of them. Or being forced into chatting with a random person one row behind you for no apparent reason.
On the other hand everyone knows that making learnings or information ‘easy to digest’ helps ROI enormously. Here are some do’s and don’t on energizers and entertainment.

Make it about content

People will do – and like! – anything, as long as they understand the added value of it. So choose your energizing formats wisely and make sure there is a clear connection to the subject of the day, the learning at hand or the objective of that particular part in the program.
People will gladly engage in conversation with their neighbour, as long as you make it clear to them what is in it for them, at that moment in time.

Make it about design

The general rule is as blunt as it is simple: If you need energizers, the meeting isn’t properly designed. Because let’s be honest: on too many occassions, energizers and entertainment are just a cover-up for the fact that the programme sucks. But listen: people aren’t stupid. They will be able to tell. This is exactly what makes participants hate energizers and subsequently: hate you and your event.
So invest in designing a briljant meeting that is energizing ‘by nature’. Make sure there’s a constant change of formats, seatings etc, in combination with great content and learning, and you don’t need to worry. If you make sure people love every step of the day, there will be energy .. even without energizers!

Make it hard work

We focus too much on ‘having fun’, where fun in itself is not what people are looking for. I mean, when you go to a bachelor party, then you look for fun. When you go to a conference, you look for content, learning, networking etc.
In general, hard work is what gives people energy. As long as the hard work is about their passion, problems and perspective. So if you are looking for new energy, look beyond ‘fun’ and make them ‘sweat’ for new energy. If you’re not sure about this one, think of it as going to the gym: sure you will be tired. But that’s a good, energetic form of tired.

Make it about them

Let yourself be guided by your participants. Observe and see what it is théy need. If you feel energy going down, act. And when you act, make sure you come to understand your crowd. If you do, you will know what the best way is to give these people new energy. It is about truely connecting to them.
And if you make it about them, you will learn not to take it too far, too quickly. At the end of a three day conference, even belly-dancing might be okay. But at the start, people in general simply don’t feel safe enough to act silly in front of a few hundred strangers!

Make it about that day

What worked yesterday will not always work today. So stop doing your same favorite routine every time. Build a toolkit of excercises and choose the right tool for the right moment. You wouldn’t use a hammer to cut paper, right!?
So, look at the context, the topic, the crowd and choose accordinghly. Alternate concepts and make up new ones along the way.

 

Make it about the moment

Energizing is not something you can fully plan. Energy is something you need to act on, when called for. Keep observing, and act.|
So, massages will hardly ever work. But even for this corny concept, there will be a right moment every once in a while.

 

Make it about the perfect ending

The closing act should be more then just a way to wake people up before drinks, or to reward them for not leaving early. It should help the day to an effective conclusion. Therefor the ideal conference closer is cheerful, positive, connective, sharp and summarizing the outcomes.
The closing stages are not the best time to open wounds (without time to stitch). So why put a stand-up comedian on stage, insulting all or a dance act, adressing no one? The best acts actually know and understand what meetings do. If you get a stand-upper or any closing artist, make sure you hire one that knows how to uplift your meeting.

In conclusion: design well, and there will be less need for energizers and entertainment. If you use them, make sure they really add something to content, communication and connection.

The DNA of a succesful panel

30 april 2017
Categorieën: Art and value of moderation, Best practices ... or not
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It is not that often, that our profession makes it to the newspapers. So when our queen Maxima was part of an international panel on ‘women in top positions’, the world (or at least Holland) got a rare view on the world of meeting-moderation. The picture with the article gave everyone an immediate insight in what makes a panel great … or a failure.

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To be honest: most panels are poor on content, engagement and entertainment. It is  - in our view – one of the hardest parts of moderation. Let’s analyse the picture.

Size of the panel

In our view, 3 people is the maximum for a succesfull panel … If they put a gun to your head, 4 is allowed. But if you take a close look, there’s at least a fifth person (apart from the moderator), just outside the picture on the left hand side. From experience we know, that this is too many and that with more then 4 the energy and interaction will go down. People will start fighting for their chance to say something, rather then listen and respond. And some will just give up, start staring into the audience and have a negative influence on energy in the room.
So if you need to have more then 4 in your panel, start looking for a concept to handle that problem: change the panel every few minutes, alternate the panel conversation with short 1-on-1 interviews, allow each panellist to have one private ‘commercial break’, etc.

Casting of the pannellists

A panel should be more then a random selection of speakers. And it should not be  - like in most cases – a part of the programme, where you bring everyone on stage who has to be there for a number of (mostly political, tactical) reasons, but who have no real added value to the objective of the meeting.
In this case, conscious choices seem to have been made as to who to put on stage; which is a good thing. And they even seem to have different backgrounds: a politician, someone from corporate top-management, two second-ladies. This again is positive: a good panel features people who have a different opinion on the same problem, or who look at a challenge/question from a different perspective. This may be consumer-producer-government, management-workforce-union, or whatever works for that topic.

Typecasting

A great panel not only features conflicting or complementary views, it also makes opposite personalities meet. In this case all characters seem to be there: the thinker, the anarchist, the comedian, the big mouth. Having different kinds of people on stage should be one of the issues, when looking for panellists.

The moderator

Since we don’t know the moderator of this panel, we can’t tell you if she is professional and if she’s the right choice for this particular panel. What we cán see, is that her position is all wrong. First of all, in general we like to stand and walk around. This allows the moderator to take a different perspective on the panel every now and then, and makes interacting with the audience easier (by walking over to them).
But if you have to sit down for any number of reasons, do nót sit in the middle! The moderator should at all times be able to see all members of the panel in one glance, in order to observe how they respond to each other and to get interaction going. And that obviously is not the case, here: the moderator is looking at our queen Maxima and has no way of seeing what the rest of them are doing.

Interaction

Obviously (well, we think so … but most panels do show a different picture), you want the panel to interact with the audience. But in order to get that going, you first need to get the interaction within the panel going. And that is, where most panels fail.
In this case, we fear the same problem: looking at the body language, no one seems to be dying to respond to what queen Maxima is saying. They are either politely waiting for their turn to have their statement in, or even worse: they already did and are now waiting for this panel to be over.
Basically, if you do not get the panellists talking to each other, what is the use of putting them on stage as a group? If you want them speaking one after another, get them on stage one by one!

If you dó want them to interact, there’s a few tricks (apart from not sitting in the middle). First you don’t ask all participants in the panel the same question. You take every answer to a next level immediately.
Then, you hop on to a next speaker, when ever you can: if you ask queen Maxima something, she answers. If the follow-up question could be answered by someone else just as goods as by our queen, go to that other person.
And finally, observe: you will be able to tell, who has an opinion on what is said by one of her fellow-panellists. As soon as you see someone nod, ask that person why! If you do this at a somewhat higher pace early in the panel, people will get used to them having a real conversation and soon, all panellists will feel invited to join.

Finally, if you want to know more about the art of panelling, take a look at the website Powerful Panels.

Jan-Jaap