Normally I am not a big conference participant. But as a trend watcher I have to go out there and search for new trends. This year I went to four conferences. The conferences focusing on HR were very traditional and therefore rather boring. There seems to be a lot of room for innovation and improvement in the HR conference business. Five areas where I would like to see things different.
1. No more PowerPoint presentations
It is remarkable that the default format at most conferences is still as it was years ago. A meeting room, a stage with a big screen and a presenter. Most conference organizers have sensed that short is good, so most presentations are scheduled for maximum 30 minutes. This allows the presenter to show 25 slides with a summary of his book (or her book, but unfortunately 90% of the presenters are male). Unfortunately there is no time for questions.
The challenge: find other ways to present, and try to find more time for real dialogue.
There are several possible solutions. Many people are very able to tell their story without slides, just ask them. Or: organise a carrousel. 20 parallel small group presentations, and after 30 minutes the groups turn to the next presentation.
2. No more panels with experts
A panel with experts is always part of the program. Five people on stage with a facilitator, often someone who is trying to be sharp and funny. A round of introductions (“Keep it short”), question number one (“Is HR moving in the right direction?”), a question from the audience and the time is up. Time for networking!
The challenge: find other ways to have meaningful interactions with experts.
Possible solutions: rely less on experts and more on the collective knowledge of the participants. Why not let the participants build their own conference? Or: just interview one expert at a time.
3. No more Gary Hamel and the likes
No conference without one or two big celebrities. At HR Tech there were at least three. I was able to experience Gary Hamel, Dan Pontefract and David McCandless. I was really looking forward to these presentations, as I have a great respect for these thought leaders. But also here the organisation choose to give them very limited time, so they were only able to present a glimpse of what they could bring. I get a lot more out of reading and viewing their books (I highly recommend the two books of McCandless!).
The challenge: organize a conference without the big names. Or: give the big name a lot more room to present and interact with the audience.
4. No more unstructured small group discussions
If people want interaction they will get it. The solution: send them away in small groups with the question: “What does this mean for your organisation?”. In this way you can easily fill many hours and the cost of these sessions are low.
The challenge: find ways to organize meaningful dialogue between the conference participants.
Example: I heard of a conference where the 250 participants were send away for two hours in groups of two to have a dialogue around the question: “What can Gen Y learn the older generations?”.
5. No more vendor dependency
Most conferences are very vendor dependent. The main interest of the vendors: to sell their systems and solutions. Understandably it is difficult for vendors to tell objective stories.
The challenge: find ways to organise conferences without too much vendor sponsorship. Or: find ways in which the vendors can really meaningful contribute. Example: the ‘Experience It” conference was organised by a group of service providers. The assignment to them was: design workshops where the participants can really experience your intervention. This seemed to work well.
I am sure there are many more elements where the conference organizers can innovate, like in the pre- and post conference interactions with the participants. “Experience it” and “What Design can Do” are moving in a promising direction, hopefully more conference organizers will follow.