Conferences Architected - Season 1, Episode 1

After reading an article by Graeme Codrington of TomorrowToday, I got to thinking about articulating my own conference-design approach. His article is a good pre-read for this one.

As a conference architect I find that the biggest mess occurs when the "fruit salad" of agenda-fillers make some sense on their own, but have no coherence when placed in the "bowl". Storylines are jettisoned in favour of shoe horning the content into the agenda slots. Speakers are added, not for their value or expertise but for the tick in the "must have a guest speaker" box. How degrading to speakers!

My heuristics on the matter:

  1. Purpose - why are we here, what to we want to achieve, and how will we know when we have?
  2. Process -  what is the storyline for this event and what are the components of this story (more on this below)?
  3. Content - and finally, what are the scripts for the components themselves, or how can we plug-and-play the ones that match the storyline?

I think of conferences like a single Episode of your favourite TV show, and a sequence of conferences as a Season (or Series). [Spoiler alert follows!] For example, in Season 1 of Prison Break Michael Scofield gets into jail in Episode 1 and then he and his brother Lincoln Burrows get out in Episode 22. Each Episode unravels a part of the ?long? story but is also self contained, and at the same time contains several sub-plots to build up the whole Episode. With a single conference event, the architecture should include reference to the ?Season? trajectory (this should be carefully architected too), and have a start and end within itself. The sub-plots of the Episode are like the slots in the agenda of the event.

If we are careful the "show" will be around for many Episodes and Seasons to come. If not we may find that the Series is cancelled after Season 1, and if it is really bad Season 1 Episode 1, The Pilot, is all that will be seen, or worse perhaps continue to be aired even after the audiences have long since changed channels.

"Stay tuned for scenes from our next Episode . . . "