If you read this blog or follow me on Twitter you will I’m sure be aware that I am at the CIPD annual conference in Manchester. It’s the first time for some time that I’ve been to this event and like many who’ve been on hiatus I’m suprised by how much quieter it is both in terms of exhibitors and visitors.
Neil Morrison wrote a post at the end of day 1 making the self same point and whilst not wanting to rehash his post, I have reflected on it and some of my own experiences so want to share what I believe would be a good next step in conference evolution. I should say at this point that I don’t think is an issue facing just the CIPD, I think it’s a challenge to conference organisers everywhere.
Neil makes the comment “Some will argue that the unconference format is the way forward, but I’m really not that convinced”, I am not wholly convinced on the idea of pure unconference (if you don’t know what I mean read this) but my belief is that the next step is what you could call conference/unconference.
Let’s take a moment and reflect on where we are. The modern conference in principle looks something like this:
The conference keynotes and conference sessions are the big down “broadcast” arrow, the horizontal arrow represents the inter-delegate conversation (larger that it would have been thanks to things such as Twitter) but the up arrow remains small – the only real “up” being the brief Q&A sessions that are always a rush as the session draws to a close.
Personally, I like some broadcast. I like hearing what other people are doing. I like hearing what other people have made work and landed in their organisations. That may be just be me…. I think the idea of using that broadcast mechanism to stimulate debate and interaction in an unconference format (more free form and drive by the participants) would be far more productive for attendees and also allow the presenters (broadcasters) to get some meaningful feedback on their work. Also, some (limited) case study does make it easier when influencing internally in my experience – an idea endorsed with “big shiny company X does this” tends to get more traction than “we came up with an idea on a fag pack at a conference”.
Neil also makes the point, “With a three-day ticket costing over £1000 people will think twice about the value an event like this can give them compared to other uses for limited funds.” I agree with him in that a) it’s a lot of money and b) it’s a difficult time. My thinking (and here’s where it may sound a bit hairbrained) is that you need to make the cost of attendance minimal (administration only). I realise that the conference is a major revenue stream for the CIPD (and others like them) BUT I am not suggesting kissing off the revenue….
Imagine you increased the number (and quality) of the visitors by 10. Firstly, your conference/unconference sessions would be buzzing, the venue would be alive with energy and most importantly (and this is where it could make sense) the exhibition hall would be awash with visitors and the stands would be overflowing. Your exhibitors would be buzzing and both the number of exhibitors and the prices you could justifiable charge them would increase.
Now I understand the quality piece may be tricky. That would require some strategic inviting and ensuring the “Who’s Who” of HR were here, which would mean that it would be THE PLACE to come, network and meet the people who are moving and shaking at the top of our profession.
I was just about to press publish and realised that I am here as a guest of the CIPD and this post may feel like biting the hands that feeds etc but this is NOT a criticism of the operation or organisation of a massive event. This is a desire to see an increase in sharing, improvement and networking which can only develop our profession.
So there you have it….my solution to all conference woes. What next? Was going to work on the solution to the eurozone crisis but it’s time for a beer so that’ll have to wait!