David Patt has been on another one of his tears about forced “interactivity” in meetings — in posts like this one, and in comments on other blogs (sometimes these feeds just all run together). I think it started with this Acronym post from an Associations Now cover article.
On this one, I am totally on David’s side.
Let me go on record as saying that I am tired of going to conference workshops where lazy … er, I mean “provocative” … presenters ask the attendees at round tables to “take 10 minutes” and speak with the random people who happened to sit at the same table with them. Maybe the presenter assigned you a “task,” and expects you to “report” after your discussion; or maybe it’s just a brief discussion period to give the presenter an opportunity to wander from table to table trolling for clients.
Whatever the stated reason, it has never been anything but a complete waste of time.
I think some of these attempts are classic examples of “learning the wrong lesson.” The lesson people think they are learning is, “Our attendees always talk about how valuable the ‘hallway track’ is, so that means they really want to just talk to each other.”
The point they are missing is that the “hallway track” is so valuable BECAUSE it happens in-between program events and in the hallway. Those stolen moments of conversation and connection are made more important by the fact that there is a program happening around them. If you just stick all your attendees in a big open hallway and tell them to have at it, then there’s a certain percentage of people who will think that’s fantastic and get a lot out of it. But there are a lot of other people (a majority, David suggests, and I suspect), who will stand around thinking, “Wow, what a waste of my time.”
So the response has been to try to bring the hallway conversations INTO the workshop. Presenters knock a good 20-30 minutes out of their presentation by inviting small group discussion in the midst of their workshop. But this satisfies no one because the people who are REALLY into the hallway track aren’t in the room (they’re in the hallway), and the people in the room are stuck listening to the one guy at their table who thinks he knows more than the presenter anyway (or has something to sell).
Now, I’m not saying that all interactivity is wrong. I’m saying it has to be CLEARLY promoted. For example, if you’re doing a workshop that’s going to be a review of a case study with different groups taking different roles, then that’s how you describe it — and people know what to expect. Or a workshop that’s clearly promoted as a “discussion” on a topic with a “discussion leader.”
But if it’s just a workshop as they are usually promoted, then the presenter should comfort herself knowing that everyone in the room is there because they think SHE is the expert and they want to hear what SHE has to say.
Finally, to those speakers who try to “break the ice” by involving the audience, a cautionary tale: at a meeting we held the week before last in Houston, a speaker tried to make a point about generations by asking a member of the audience how he got along with his parents when he was a teenager. After a long pause, the audience member said, “I don’t like to talk about my childhood.”
Um … AWK-ward.
(Oh, and that meeting the week before last in Houston? Brand-new “little” event for us, for a professional niche in our industry … sold-out crowd of more than 300 people … twice as many vendors as we expected … and other than that one awkward moment, a huge success all around. That’s just a little shout-out to all of the economic doom-criers out there.)