Last July, I wrote about several organizations that adopted innovative approaches to internal conferences designed to actively engage participants. Having attended more than my share of conferences that featured lecturer after lecturer, with employee-attendees sitting still and taking notes, then going back to the office where they'd have no context for applying what they heard (or what they were able to retain of what they heard), these newer approaches were hugely refreshing.
I spoke yesterday at another one of these conferences. Some 200 GE communicators gathered in Orlando from around the world to get steeped in a newly-thought-out model for communications. The conference included speakers from outside (I was one, PepsiCo's Chief Communication Officer Julie Hamp was another) along with members of the communication team.
But it wasn't the speakers that set this conference apart. It was the panel discussions that turned the tables, with the panelists-communication leaders-asking questions of the audience. It was the "Specialty Capabilities Workshops," in which groups focusing on employee communications, media, public affairs, and others, collaborated in teams to address issues raised in real GE case studies. It was heavy-duty networking designed to further reduce the barriers of business unit silos.
GE turned to an external agency, The Involvement Practice, to assemble a program that would send communicators back to their offices with clear ideas about how to implement what they had learned.
Intriguing touches also characterized the event. This was the first purely internal conference I attended with a Twitter hashtag. Employees were encouraged to tweet the conference using #gecomms, and many of those in attendance took it to heart. (There was also a reminder to be sure nothing company-confidential found its way into the tweetstream.)
Then there was the artwork that was created in real time as speakers and panelists presented. The Involvement Group's Tim McCleary contracted Toronto-based Liisa Sorsa, who produces "Graphic Facilitation." As she describes them on her Think Link Graphics site, "Graphics come alive before your eyes as conversations are happening! I listen, synthesize and draw your ideas! Key concepts and themes are captured in the moment and can be used as a graphic record of your event."
These are huge graphics, the artboard resting on two easels. Here's the graphic facilitation of my presentation:Click to see enlarged on Flickr
The graphics will serve as a record of the conference, but they also sparked conversation as participants walked around the perimeter of the room which, by the end of the day yesterday, was lined with these pieces of art.
The move away from lecture-based internal conferences to more active, dynamic sessions that involve and engage staff, promote internal networking, and leave participants with clear calls to action is one of the best trends I've seen in business.
What is your organization doing to make internal conferences more practical and meaningful?