There was a moment last week at the Applied Improvisation Network Conference where I felt particularly despondent.
We’d been listening to people talk about what they are doing in taking improvisation skills and practices out of the theatre and into the world. We’d heard of using improv to treat post-traumatic stress in war veterans, in training firefighters, for teaching language skills in Thailand. And more. Amazing work by amazing people.
I felt I had nothing to offer. It’s all being done, and done much better than I could ever hope to do it. Instead of being inspired, I found myself feeling dejected.
Later in the day I was sitting in the sun talking to my friend Eric Nepom, an amazingly talented scientist, educator and improviser, and passionate about finding ways to bring improv and science together. This is a passion we share so we were doing some evil planning on how we might make that happen.
It was then that perspective kicked in. I’d been sitting with about 200 people passionate about the value of improv in all walks of life. There’s a lot more people out there in the world who know nothing (yet) about the potential of improv. And there’s so much that needs to be done in the world, that there’s space enough for all of us. The shift in my perspective came from a shift in my circumstances, going from being part of a roomful of people receiving information, to a picnic table outdoors and a rich one-on-one conversation.
I realised I’d fallen into the old trap of being in an echo chamber – hearing only the voices saying the same thing – and taking a scarcity view of the world. The scarcity view is fed by competitiveness and a belief that there’s only so much to go round, so you’d better get in quick or be the best at something to get some of the action. The abundance view – that there’s more need than is being met and space for everyone to bring their unique talents, skills and perspectives to change the world – is far more hopeful and nourishing.
Conferences, Conversation, Musings | Comments (2)
There was a lot happening at the Applied Improvisation Network Conference in San Francisco. As well as the pre-planned sessions, and the open space offerings, the one-on-one and small group conversations, and the serendipitous moments, there was the Twitter and Facebook back channel, photos being posted on Flickr, videos being made, drawings made, and people blogging. I tried to capture a small slice of the whole conference using Storify. It was the perfect opportunity for me to try this platform for myself. You can see for yourself here.Conferences, Geeky Stuff, Improv, Story | Comment (0)
Designing, organising, structuring, promoting, facilitating, and hosting a conference has provided me with a few insights that I’d like to share – just in case you find yourself in a similar situation. Here’s a few random thoughts.
There are so many considerations around a venue – location, facilitates, cost, public transport, parking, helpful staff, flexibility, vibe, atmosphere, spaces to just sit and chat, access to outdoors, access to good coffee, a bar. Putting the time in to finding the right venue is well worth it. The Amora Riverwalk in Richmond ticked all these boxes.
Most people will forgive almost anything if the food is awesome. Especially if it includes freshly-baked, crispy and gooey Portuguese tarts!
By all means start with how events are usually structured, then play with it. What if you replaced the pre-conference workshops with longer in-conference workshops? What if you found an alternative to a conference dinner? Question every assumption you’ve ever had about events. You may still want to include something that’s been a tradition, and you will have thought it through rather than blindly following said tradition.
What experience do you want people to have? What memories will they carry forward? How can you make the event eventful?
If there’s people you really want to come to the event, send them a personal invitation. Even high profile people might say yes, and the worst they’ll do is ignore you.
One less thing
This from Open Space – what’s one less thing you can do? At AIN Downunder: Thriving In Uncertainty we had concurrent workshops. We didn’t ask people to sign up in advance, or on the day – we simply invited them to go where they wanted. It worked fine. Given the opportunity, people will self organise.
If you’re hosting, then you’re the host from inception to beyond
Be a real person, be known, be seen, be heard, be helpful. It’s good to have one person as a focus, go-to person. There might be others behind the scenes helping. I don’t think people want to correspond with an organising committee or whatever, they want personal contact. It means a lot of work. Organising an event IS a lot of work.
Have an easy-to navigate web site
Doesn’t need to be fancy, after all, it only has a limited lifespan. I use WordPress themes and create web sites myself, keeping it simple and with lots of information that people might want.
Use an on-line registration outfit
There’s a few of these around. I use Eventbrite. It’s easy to set up, automated, and they have the BEST help desk I have ever come across. No kidding.
Communicating through Twitter, Facebook, blogs etc is an integral part of communicating an event these days. Do it, or find someone who can help you.
Have a logo
This comes in handy for all sorts of things. For AIN Downunder I used fiverr. Best $5 I ever spent.
Know your limitations
Book-keeping stresses me and makes me grumpy. I can do it, but I don’t want to, nor do I like it, so I find someone who does like it who can help. Be realistic about what you want to do and don’t want to do, and find others to do the things you don’t want to do.
Ditch the committee
Helpers are fantastic. Committees suck. Have one or two people making the decisions – have others providing ideas. Listem, learn, question and then decide. And accept offers of help!
Does it serve the event?
This from Geoff Brown and the Airey’s Inlet Music Festival. They have a mantra: “Does it serve the music?” If not, they don’t do it/include it. It’s easy for events to become diluted, trying to be all things to all people. A small, well focused event can change the world, as much (if not more) than a ginormous mega-event.
PS: All endorsements are because I like the products/services.Conferences, General | Comment (0)
What does the word ‘conference’ conjure in your mind? The man sitting next to me on the couch is a scientist, so his view of conferences and mine vary enormously. As a facilitator, I get to attend many different types of events, and experience the different ways in which people interact. I also attend events as a participant, sometimes as an organiser, sometimes as a workshop leader, and facilitator, and occasionally as a keynote speaker.
Some of these events are called conferences, a word that seems to now to mean all things to all people – from the traditional academic conference with refereed and pre-prepared papers and posters through to the more recent trend in un-conferences, participant-led content and delivery. A conference then is not one thing. A common question on looking at conferences to attend or contribute to is ‘what type of conference is this?’
The ‘type’ of conference makes all the difference.
The latest trend is TED-talk type conferences – not only are there fully sanctioned TED conferences and TEDx conferences, organisers are providing opportunities for TED-type talks for all or part of the conference. And there’s conferences offering breakout sessions, master classes, deep conversations, interactivity, hands-on workshops, panels, hypotheticals, drumming – you name it.
There’s also Open Space Technology, Trampoline, and Barcamp type conferences – all grouped under the term ‘unconference‘ where the emphasis is on the participants and the style encourages participant-led discussions and workshops.
And everything in-between!
These thoughts, and many more, are on my mind as I prepare to host a conference here in Melbourne called Thriving In Uncertainty. It’s much easier to attend a conference than host one. Yet there are also benefits to hosting – for me, it’s an opportunity to stretch the boundaries of what a conference can be, to explore new ways of being together as a group under the banner ‘conference’, and to build new connections.
It’s 12 months this weekend since I attended Gathering 11, hosted by David Hood. Only 12 months. Goodness, so much has changed since then. Little did I know that that three-day conference in Melbourne would lead to all sorts of new directions, new friends, and new opportunities. A sliding door moment? Maybe.
Gathering 11 would be hard to categorise, and it’s to David’s credit that he’s willing to continue pushing the boundaries for this year’s Gathering 12 (September 21 – 24). Get there if you can! (Sadly, I have another commitment on the same dates in another continent – can’t expect the planets to align all the time!)
Gathering 11 was the beginning of my little experiment to Show Up. Let Go. Jump In. based on my belief that the best way to approach anything new is to first of all turn up, then let go of expectations, and jump in – become involved in some way.
And I’m also reminded again and again of the very wise principles from Open Space which fundamentally influences my approach to conferences: whoever comes are the right people; whatever happens is the only thing that could have; when it starts is the right time; and, when it’s over, it’s over.
These principles remind me that no matter how much organising and preparation we do, fundamentally we’re dealing with people – living, breathing human beings with all their varying needs, wants, expectations and idiosyncrasies. Trying to please everyone is impossible.
So I’ll work on giving them an experience they’ll remember and creating opportunities for meaningful connections.
What are you looking for in a conference?Conferences | Comment (1)
I want to stand as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all the kinds of things you can’t see from the center.
We now know it’s not enough to just bring our brains to work. The difficult issues we’re asked to explore require us to access and apply our whole intelligence to problem-solving, creativity and innovation, especially in the face of global and local social and environmental issues.
And it can be hard work. Which is why I spend a lot of time just trying to keep up, and developing my own skills and capacities. These days, it’s not so much learning new processes – that I can do easily, by talking with colleagues and chasing up information on line. What I can’t learn so easily is how to be responsive, compassionate, and to take risks. This takes something else – presence, awareness and a willingness to go to my edge.
I’ve started a little business with three colleagues in the UK called Edges of Work and we’ve been exploring what it means to go to our edge - or to encourage others to their edge. There seems to be three parts to this:
First, people will go to their edge more willingly if they feel they’re in the right company – with people who can support as well as provoke them.
Second, we think there is a sweet spot. It’s when there is enough challenge to create excitement and curiosity – but not so much that people lose control of their bladders or feel dragged somewhere they don’t want to go.
Third, it’s about being adventurous and creative in the activities used. A lot of our work is inspired by art, theatre, improvisation and other ways of working that get beyond just talking and thinking.
The thing is, it’s hard to go to your edge alone. Which is part of the thinking behind convening a gathering of people willing to explore our learning edge together. If you’d like to join me and about 35 others from diverse backgrounds exploring our edges, better register now (especially as early bird registration closes on May 1st).Conferences | Comment (0)
In March I was delighted to facilitate a workshop at the Malaysian Facilitators’ Conference in Kuala Lumpur. And yesterday, “The world is getting smaller and smaller”, wrote a friend in an email. “Recently I contracted an artist for a project and saw this on her blog.”
Thanks to the amazing Wendy Wong of Welenia Studios for capturing my workshop in such a beautiful way.
Conferences, Creativity, Improv | Comment (1)
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When I was in charge of producing various forms of innovation such as new legislation, new partnerships, new community engagement approaches, new carbon management approaches, etc [at a large government agency] someone said to me we were having success because I employed talented, young people who could cope with uncertainty.
I replied that it was a bit more than “being comfortable with uncertainty”; I actually sought talented, young people who “actively looked for uncertainty because they knew that is where the biggest opportunities for positive change exist”.
Director, Global Regulatory Innovation, WSP Environment & Energy, UK
As many of you reading this blog will know, I’m sort of keen on improvisation theatre – especially on what I’ve learnt that influences my facilitation approach. Things like making your partner look good, seeing everything a group, or individuals, do or say, as an offer, and understanding status and how to shift it. I can’t imagine facilitating now without knowing this stuff.
And about once a decade, I get a rush of blood to the head and decide to convene a conference. In the 1990s it was Live and Earthy – a fantastic conference for community educators. In the 2000s (is that how you say it?) it was The Naked Facilitator, a conference for facilitators (naturally) which was to be (unknown to me at the time) an opening for all manner of opportunities. And this decade? Well, it’s Thriving In Uncertainty.
Why once a decade? It takes a lot of mental and emotional energy to host a conference. Maybe it takes me a few years to forget just how much work is involved, until I’m happy to jump on board again. And given my advanced years, this may well be the last conference I host!
So, if you want to know what all the fuss is about in relation to applied improv, maybe you’d like to come along. As well as the Applied Improvisation Network, I’ve partnered with Melbourne Playback Theatre Company to host the conference. They are a world class playback theatre company (playback is a form of improvised theatre where audience stories are brought to life). Oh, and if you’re wondering if you have to get up on stage, or act, or do anything even remotely scary, the answer is no.
You will get an opportunity to hang out with world-class improvisors and learn how they use their skills to engage groups.
It would be great to see you there.
You can check out more about the conference here (early bird registration closes on May 1st).Conferences, Improv | Comment (0)
Recently I received a great little gift from my friends at On Your Feet. It was a reminder about asking for help, and the rewards that often go beyond the help itself.
So, here I am, asking for your help to let others know about a conference I’m organising. It’s called Thriving in Uncertainty and will be held in Melbourne on July 12th and 13th.
I am simultaneously excited and nervous about this – the first time we’ve publicly explored how applied improv can be used in different business and organisational settings. I’m passionate about the power of improv practices to build people’s capacity to respond to uncertainty, navigate change and be agile and responsive. And I know passion is not enough.
A significant insight I had recently was about the role of practicing improv exercises regularly to build our capacity to do our work more effectively. It’s like going to the gym to build your strength to be a better tennis player; or it’s like practicing scales on the piano so you’ll be better able to perform that tricky musical piece. I believe we provide too few opportunities for people in businesses and organisations to regularly practice the skills of making and accepting offers, noticing, making their partners look good, letting go, and doing something when they don’t know what to do.
I’ve promoted the conference widely amongst improvisers – now it’s time to share with businesses and organisations who we know could benefit from some improv wisdom.
Can you help?Collaboration, Conferences, Improv | Comment (0)