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Designing conferences used to be straightforward. Get together a bunch of clever speakers with interesting things to say, arrange into an agenda. Job done. Did someone say "facilitate"?
Now we’re angling for audience-led content, collaborative sessions, participative learning, self-categorised networking. This of course is a good thing, but it requires some different knowledge and skills.
Technology is the knowledge area most often discussed; it’s the merging of live and digital channels that enables us to be more ambitious in how we design interactions. But when it comes to creating exciting new formats knowing your tech is only part of it.
As we become more ambitious in the interactions we plan for our audience, it is essential to understand the human group dynamic and to embrace great facilitation.
Technology and facilitation are two sides of the same coin.
Demystifying the Art of Facilitation
Getting to grips with technology is something we’re all used to from everyday life, whilst facilitation can seem like a mysterious art, practiced by people with superhuman powers of empathy and perception.
Working with great facilitators is one of the real joys of our business; even more rewarding is to learn some of their skills. I was pointed towards Sam Kaner’s Facilitator’s Guide to Participatory Decision-Making as a useful step-by-step introduction to the dynamics that underpin collaboration.
There are also facilitation courses that help you learn the skills, there’s a good one run by the Facilitation Partnership.
Great Tech Deserves Great Facilitation
An understanding of facilitation ensures you design formats that make the most of event technologies, putting the audience at the heart of the content.
This might mean thinking about how you make best use of delegates’ self-categorising at registration to then run matched networking sessions (see Julius’ brilliant recent post on this in action), or how you use an App within an event to oil the wheels of collaboration, or how you get geographically remote audiences working together through a hybrid model.
Beyond designing your events, a working knowledge of facilitation is incredibly useful in everyday business life, from running daily meetings to moderating client focus groups.
Technology is making it possible for us to engage audiences in exciting new ways, but technology without audience understanding is a busted flush. So, take the time to learn about facilitation.
Of course this doesn’t mean you’ll be qualified to replace the professional facilitator at your event, but in the same way you wouldn’t hire technology without knowing what it does, you shouldn’t hire facilitators without understanding what they can achieve for your audience.