A month long conference is a neat concept

14.35, Sunday 24 May 2020

As a follow-up to last week’s post Rethinking conference talks for video calls, here are a couple of ideas that caught my eye.

Waving, fast and slow

Neuroscientist Daniel Glaser is getting his audience to wave:

ask a question and then get them to wave fast for ‘yes’ and slow for ‘no’

This is very clever:

I had the call set for gallery view and was immediately faced with a matrix of waving hands. I could tell straight off that more or less everyone was responding. More pleasingly I could also see without counting that around three quarters were waving fast for ‘yes’. The proportion of fast and slow waving produces a moving texture. Your visual system processes the whole image without your having to search it or count out and you can read out the collective answer straight away.

I talked in the post linked at the top about the important of audience participation – for my own well-being more than anything else. So I’m going to nick this.

Long conferences, and embracing the backchannel

Web Directions has long been in my list of favourite events, so it’s no surprise to see co-founder John Allsopp make a thoughtful post about the underlying purpose of conferences – and then re-invent the format for their next events.

Presentations will be pre-recorded. Honestly this wouldn’t appeal to me, except that…

Meanwhile speakers can even interact with the audience, or add more value to their presentation, while it is actually taking place – perhaps clarifying a point in response to a (text based) question, providing links for further reading, and so on.

And that’s an intriguing idea, the speaker being in two places at one, simultaneously on stage, and also glossing and feeding the conversation. We’re multi-tasking animals, so embrace that. I love this.

They’re moving on from the standard two day conference format. Get this:

Instead of expecting people to take two whole days out of their most likely much more unsettled than normal schedule and spend yet another 12 hours staring at the screen over consecutive days, our online conference program will take place weekly, across a whole month, with sessions approximately 3 and a half hours each week on a Friday.

Back in 2015, I wrote about the best event I ever attended which ran across three successive Fridays in 2004. Each started at 2.30pm and ran the rest of the day.

What I found was that

There was something about the weekly rhythm which meant that there was time for me to digest each download of new thoughts. The session stayed with me for the week. … A week is time to discuss with friends, contemplate, see the deeper patterns.

So I’ll be watching Web Direction’s experiences with long conferences with interest. I think they’re onto something.

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