:Adrian Segar interviewed by Mike Mcallen on Adrian’s book Conferences That Work: Creating Events That People Love The best testimonial I saw about the book states: “Simply the most productive conference I’ve been to.”
Show notes- transcripts 🙂
Mike McAllen: Welcome back. This is Mike. This is show 117 of Meetings Podcast. I wanted to do a quick hello and say thank you for tuning in again. Today, we are going to interview Adrian Segar. Adrian has a new book out called – what is his new book? It is called Conferences That Work: Creating Events That People Love. And so, there are some links to that in the show notes. I just wanted to say hello and let’s get right into it. So, thank you for tuning in again.
Female Speaker: Welcome to the Meetings Podcast, the meeting planner’s podcast source for what’s new in the meetings and events industry. Meetings Podcast is a conversation with a variety of voices that looks at events, meetings and media and the changing world around them.
Mike McAllen: Welcome back to the Meetings Podcast. This is Mike McAllen and today, we have Adrian Segar. Adrian, thank you for joining me.
Adrian Segar: I’m pleased to be invited. Thanks, Mike.
Mike McAllen: It is great to talk to you. We kind of were two ships passing in the night at the event camp in New York earlier this year. We were in the same place but we didn’t really chat.
Adrian Segar: That’s because you were so busy.
Mike McAllen: Yes, I was running around a little bit and I heard your session went really well, actually. That was the thing I – on our pre-call here, I didn’t chat with you. I heard it really went well.
Adrian Segar: Well, I don’t know that I – I didn’t have a session per se but I was fairly active in talking at various sessions. I like to talk and so, you know, event camp was just an amazing experience for me because I met all these people who I had relatively recently met, you know, online on Twitter, and it was a relatively late decision for me to go there. Maybe three weeks before the event, I thought, I should go to this and it’s one of the best decisions I ever made.
Mike McAllen: Yes, it was a lot of fun. I did see you circled by a bunch of people in the little – at the littlest room there. You were circled by a bunch of people and then I did talk to somebody who had your book and they were saying what a good time they had talking to you.
Adrian Segar: Well, I – maybe it’s just a blur. I don’t remember but …[Laughter]
Adrian Segar: Seriously, things happen at events and people say – remind me of conversations later and I don’t always remember them but …
Mike McAllen: [laughs]
Adrian Segar: … I have such a great time. It was just continual. It’s one of those with flow [Phonetic] [0:02:26] experiences and suddenly, you know, a day and a half have gone by but it was – I realized afterwards how many amazing people, you know, who actually have some – have a real presence in the events world I met in that day and a half who, you know, I had never known before and they had certainly never known me. I didn’t know anybody at event camp when I went there and that changed. So it’s – it was just an amazing example of how virtual community online decides to come together and how powerful that is when that happens.
Mike McAllen: Yes, it is pretty amazing. And I really didn’t know anyone either and I had met, you know, the people who were on the event camp planning group there, the five of us, just the five of us. I had met two of the people and it was interesting the week before that – a couple of weeks before that. I don’t know whenever PCMA was. I had gone to that in Dallas and I actually went out to dinner with Jeff Hurt and Greg Ruby and Mike McCurry and it was just such an interesting thing to have met all these guys after I had been, you know, talking with them on the – over the virtual – over the internet for, you know, a year and following them. It was just wild because you already – you know these people. It’s like almost like a reunion.
Adrian Segar: Well, the thing – I mean I had an even more compressed experience because I – my book was published in November of last year and I was searching on Twitter for ways that I could find out about people who might be interested and I fell into – I discovered the event profs’ hash tag on Twitter and that whole group and that’s – and that happened only two or three months before event camp so …
Mike McAllen: Perfect.
Adrian Segar: … a really – a relative event camp, event profs newbie. I – so it has all gone really very quickly and I would just never have dreamed I’m actually doing a talk on this and then next month, locally, I would just never have dreamed that Twitter would have turned out to be the most powerful way for me to actually make connections with people who are interested in what I’m doing.
Mike McAllen: Yes, yes, and that event profs for me has been very interesting because I was involved in it a long time ago when Laura started it and then I kind of fell off because it gets to be where, you know, life goes. And then now, back in there and I’ve been going and reading the transcripts of the two – of the actual chats and it has been interesting that it’s neat to see new people coming in and getting excited about it. It keeps it going.
Adrian Segar: It’s so much like the face to face events that I do except that those are – you know, you have those and if you have repeating events like those. You have this community that they meet online during the year but when they come together face to face, you know, you have a lot of the people who have been coming for a while but there are always new people who come in and it’s wonderful to keep seeing them. I’ll get excited at the peer conferences I run and – you know, and then become part of the community over time.
Mike McAllen: Right, right. So, backing up, of course, we didn’t follow any of the flow we talked about.[Laughter]
Mike McAllen: You – tell us a little bit about your self. Because people probably are like, who the heck is this guy? [laughs]
Adrian Segar: I don’t know. I don’t know where to start. I have done a lot of different things in my life. I started off getting a PhD in elementary particle physics of all things. I used to work – I did my graduate work on the old accelerator at CERN and in Switzerland. And actually, just discovered last week that I and about 70 other physicists won the 2009 European Physical Society Prize for High Energy Physics for this experiment we worked on 37 years ago.
Mike McAllen: Wow! [laughs]
Adrian Segar: So, I started off doing that. I was born in England, came to the United States on a sort of intuitive whim with my wife to be. Now, my wife in the 70s left academia, moved to Vermont which is where I wanted to move to and started a solar energy business, a solar manufacturing business in the sort of oil crisis days, Reagan oil crisis days. And that did very well, left that, went back into teaching and I taught computer science part time at a small liberal arts college in the town I live in and got into IT consulting.
And while all this was going on when the solar – in fact, when I came to the United States, I had always – and I guess when starting an academia, when – I went to a lot of academic conferences when I was in academic and really did not enjoy them. They just – they were very much about hierarchy and status and the idea of asking a question at the end of a session was more kind of career move than, you know, just finding – asking a question. It was really – they were very, very loaded events and I didn’t like that at all.
And I thought, you know, I want to get together with people and learn from them in an environment where we can learn from each other and share information because I knew and this is one of my beliefs is that you have a group of people – group of adults who are working in an area these days. The collective knowledge of that group is far greater normally than any few experts who can call in and come and talk to those people.
So, I just really got interested. When I went at the solar business, I ran several national – and ran several national conferences on solar and then when I got into teaching computer science and IT and eventually IT consulting which I did for over 20 years, I – whatever area I was interested in, I always wanted to run event conferences that – about those topics and get to meet people who are interested in those areas and this mode of – this desire I had to create events that people really enjoyed and they could learn from their peers led me to slowly design a way of doing, what I call peer conferences or conferences that work over the last 18 years.
The first one I ran, I didn’t even know I was doing it at the time. It was in 1992 and it was for an IT directress at a small – at small schools in the United States and at the time, small schools are just – that was the time the PC had come in. You know, it was the first time that small schools could actually afford to buy their own computers and use them to do administrative tasks at schools and it wasn’t – there weren’t any experts in the area.
So there wasn’t anybody around who could say this is how you do this but there were a lot of people like my self at the time all over the country who were sort of thrust into this role and we didn’t know – we wanted to figure out how the best to do something. You knew something that no one had ever done before. So we had this conference. We organized this conference and I didn’t know what people wanted to talk about. I didn’t know what experiences people had there. So we generated this. We created this format where we basically ask people at the start and I can describe a little later on the sort of format of what I do.
But, that turned into – that has turned into an annual conference. The 19th one is this June and has been very, very successful and has been my kind of main test bed for this approach. But whatever I was interested in, I ran conferences. Until probably about five or six years ago, I realized that the process I developed worked with anything, with any group of people. And I thought, you know, thousands of people have been to these conferences now. They’ve really enjoyed it. People love these events and I think what I want to do is get this way of doing things out into the world.
And so, about four years ago, I was still doing IT consulting and so, I sat down part-time and wrote this book and it came out last November as I said and it’s called Conferences That Work: Creating Events That People Love. And so my sort of mission in life now is to get this out into the world, see what people’s response is to it because I’m pretty – I’m certain that if we can get it out there, that a lot of people will really appreciate it and the potential for it is huge. I mean, there are so many – there are hundreds of thousands of events every year with say, less than 100 people or so attending and they’re still – most people still use really ancient process for conferences that hasn’t really changed for hundreds of years.
And in my book I write about why that is. We can talk about that a little more but I should probably let you get a word in [Inaudible] [0:11:42].
Mike McAllen: [laughs] No, it’s great. It’s great. That’s why you’re here, to talk about your self. I wanted to hear what you do and it’s great. So it is interesting – for everyone that I’ve talked to, I always ask kind of how you got into this business and you’ve really – you’re at the top now. I mean, just of all the things you’ve done. [laughs] That’s – you’re so varied. It’s nice. I like the – a very experienced man of the world.
Adrian Segar: I’ve done a lot of different things and it’s actually very interesting. A number of years ago, I did what’s probably the world’s best known personality test, the Myers-Briggs and the Myers-Briggs personality indicator – type indicator is a – talks about one’s personality in terms of four pairs of sort of opposite preferences. It’s not about what you’re good at. It’s what your preferences are. And I turn out to be a flaming [Phonetic] [0:12:40] intuitive feeler type which is very – and when I discovered that which makes a lot of sense, I – it made a lot of sense of the sort of career trajectory of my life.
I realized that because what I was taught to do and what I’m very good at doing is thinking. You know, I have a PhD in particle physics and all this kind of stuff. I’m a very good thinker and I was trained and rewarded to be a good thinker in school and that was – you know, it got me – I went to Oxford and got the PhD and all that stuff.
But it turns out that what my preference in terms of how I am with people and my personality is this intuitive feeling type of personality and I sort of see my life, my career trajectory as a move towards – away from what I’m good at – what society told me I was good at towards what I really love to do. This is definitely a …
Mike McAllen: That’s fantastic. That’s good you found out. [laughs]
Adrian Segar: It is. I – it took me nearly 60 years but that’s okay. I’m still working on it, you know.
Mike McAllen: So, with you – when you talked about the hierarchical kind of loaded events, that really kind of hit home to me because I mostly do – we produce – my company Grass Shack Events and Media produces mostly, you know, internal like sales events or product launches, that kind of a thing. I guess product launch is an internal event but we end up doing a lot of internal events and that’s so funny. It’s the first time I’ve really heard that said about – you know, asking a question is really kind of a career move and it’s so true, you know. And here, I’ve sat in hundreds of these meetings, you know, and it’s really true. And I like the idea of your – I love the idea of the peer conference organization, that whole – actually you should probably tell me a little bit more about that.
But – because I have read up on your website about your book and you and it is interesting to me that the people with the most knowledge in the room are – especially in these sales meetings. There are all the sales people that are actually doing the selling, you know, and you have these guys up there talking about numbers and, you know. I think it’s interesting. I really think it’s interesting. Anyway …
Adrian Segar: Yes. Isn’t it sad? That …
Mike McAllen: It is.
Adrian Segar: That we have these expensive face to face meetings and someone who wants to ask a question really needs to think of – there’s this whole – the full process that goes on inside is like, “Will I look stupid if I ask this question?” you know.
Mike McAllen: Right, right.
Adrian Segar: Will this damage, you know, my standing with my boss or even my peers maybe if I do this? And it’s like you have a – let’s create environments where we can ask questions.
Mike McAllen: Where it’s going to help people instead of feeling that …
Adrian Segar: Exactly.
Mike McAllen: … you know, somebody else – you know, maybe everybody in the room has that same question, you know. So, it’s the same thing with school.
Adrian Segar: Yes, exactly. I talk about that in my book. I talk about how we were taught in school and the whole environment of school where you’re kind of led to believe that – and this is true of course when you’re 5 to 10 years old that there is a teacher in the room who actually knows a hell of a lot of stuff that you don’t know. And so, it puts us in this mode where we think, well, there are people who know more than me and when they’re around, I should, you know, listen to them. I should shut up and they should speak to me and that’s how I should be educated.
And in fact, you know, that’s not the reality at all. In fact, you only need to look at how kids are. You know, my grandkids I was telling you about, you know, my four-year-old or the five –month old who are downstairs at the moment and they’re learning. You know, they learn by interacting. They learn by doing. They experiment all the time. They try stuff, you know.
You know, my four-year-old granddaughter is riding down around the block on her bike with me about half an hour ago and she suddenly said, “I’m going to try riding this without my hands on.” And before I could stop her, she took her hands off. The thing, you know, nearly toppled off her and I said …
Mike McAllen: [laughs]
Adrian Segar: Yes, it’s not a good idea on this bike, you know, but that’s how she learned, you know.
Mike McAllen: Yes.
Adrian Segar: You know, she didn’t – you know, I haven’t taught her how to ride the bike. You know, you don’t – I mean, you know, you help kids learn but they learn themselves.
Mike McAllen: Right. Yes.
Adrian Segar: You should be – you need to learn that way. And if we’re going to have face to face events where people are really going to learn, that’s the kind of learning, that environment that I want to create, a place where certainly it’s safe for people to ask questions. And, you know, I have a set of ground rules that I use at the start of every event that I lay out at the start of every event and ask people to agree with. And those ground rules, it’s just amazing when you give people that freedom. You say there are no stupid questions essentially and you say this is a safe place. You can say things. You can talk about feelings that are coming up, something that never happens at conferences and sometimes does and sometimes doesn’t at mine. But it’s okay to do that.
You can talk about – you have the freedom to talk about if – even if people – if you feel that the environment is not conducive to the kind of environment. You have the – that’s a specific freedom, one of my ground rules. Besides, you know, common things about staying on time and, you know, other things that are important.
Mike McAllen: So you – tell me about – so, you’re a consultant though too so I could hire you as a producer. I could hire you to come in to my meeting.
Adrian Segar: Yes, you could.
Mike McAllen: That’s another – that’s what you do – is that your – I know you wrote the book.
Adrian Segar: Well, it’s interesting. Put the book out. I’m in – you know, my mission is to get this way of doing events into the world. So – and I don’t care – I love doing them myself but – and I would love it if I did, you know, a dozen or so a year. That would be about right for me.
But on the other hand, I wrote the book. The book is very, very complete. It’s a, you know, big, fat [Indiscernible] [0:18:57] 350-page book and it has a complete – the second and third parts are how you organize one of these things and the third part is how you run one. So, I – and this is starting to happen. People can buy the book and do it themselves. I don’t need – and that would be wonderful for me too and that is just starting to occur now. So I’m happy either way. People can buy the book and go and do it themselves and I love doing them myself. You’re right. I’ll make most money actually if I run one but though – luckily, I don’t really need to, you know …
Mike McAllen: Right.
Adrian Segar: … make a living doing this anymore. So, that’s how …
Mike McAllen: That’s great. That’s great. That is really great. I – so tell me about peer conference organization and facilitation. Why don’t you tell me a little bit about maybe the format of it?
Adrian Segar: I will. Okay. I’ll try and give you a really brief version.
Mike McAllen: Okay.
Adrian Segar: This is – and I should say that this is one of the hardest things to do and the reason I wrote this book and the reason I’m sort of going around talking about it is because this is not something that you can explain in a 30-second elevator speech, elevator pitch. You just can’t – I’m working on it but you can’t do it.
So let me give you the four or five-minute version of what happens at a peer conference and I’ll describe what happens and we can talk about why if necessary. There’s a lot of why behind it and a lot of reasons behind it but let me give the format.
For some people, I’ll give them a format and they’ll say, oh, I can see how that will work. So, peer conferences have a beginning, a middle and an end. They’re much more structured in some ways than traditional conferences and the primary goal of them is to create an event that’s maximally meaningful and useful for each individual person. That’s the kind of – that’s what’s behind this format.
And they start with an opening roundtable. I should also – I need to explain that these are small events. I know how to do this for up to about 100 people. I don’t know how to do this for 1000 people. I’m thinking about it and I think a lot of what I do can be applied that way but I am not claiming I know how to do very large events.
Mike McAllen: Well, you could do breakouts for – oh, I – sorry, that …
Adrian Segar: Exactly. You can always split a large event into – but – and I write about this in my book. There is some very interesting stuff that happens with events. Events do not scale in terms of the kinds of interactions that happen. I mean, you know, you double the number of people, that means – at an event, that means the number of potential connection goes up by a factor – a square, goes up by a factor of four. So, you know, you have a thousand people around for three days. You – there’s no way you can meet all those [Inaudible] [0:21:43].
Mike McAllen: Right, right, right.
Adrian Segar: But if you have 60 people around for three days, then you can – by using good process, you can definitely find out in fact within a few hours at a peer conference of who the people there who you really, really want to talk to and what people are interested in and what people have experience and expertise that you want to hear about – and also they’ll hear the same about you so they’ll know about what you have to share.
Anyway, back to the roundtable. So the roundtable, we – and sometimes, there are two at a – with more than 60 people in the event, you would have two simultaneous ones of these. But assuming we’ve got say 50 people at one of these events. It’s in the circle and there are three – you give people a set of six ground rules which I can, you know, go through if you like.
And those ground rules essentially provide – lead people into the fact that this is a safe environment, the [Indiscernible] [0:22:41] is privacy. In other words, if someone says something, and they don’t – in a session and they don’t want it repeated outside, they get to – that the notes of that session or a recording of that session basically doesn’t get shared outside that session or the conference group and the – and so people can – so it’s not a completely open process where anything anybody says is available because that – you have to balance – you know, when you have privacy, people will share a lot more than if you – if everything he says – anyone says maybe shared. You know, could get back to your boss, you know, next week.
Mike McAllen: Right, right.
Adrian Segar: So, ground rules, and then each person is asked to write down – is given a card with three questions on it and they are given a few minutes to figure out what their answers to those questions are and then we go around the circle and each person answers to the entire group these three questions in turn. And there are no wrong answers to these questions. And the three questions are, how did I get here? And people can, you know, say I came by car or they can talk about they came [Inaudible] [0:23:56] or they can say my friend so and so said this is the greatest conference and you need to come or I just read the – you know, there’s no wrong answer to that. How did I get here? So that’s – people introduce who they are, how they got there. That gives you some kind of connection to the event. The second question is, what do I want to have happened? And this is a sort of – if you can have anything you want that would happen at this event, what would it be?
So you can say, you know, I really have this problem about such and such in my work and I’m really looking for people who can help me with it or, you know, I know that so and so is going to be really important. I want to hear more about that or I’m really excited about something I just did and I want to know if anyone else is interested in hearing about it. You can ask for anything you want in that – for that second question.
And the third question is, what experience or expertise do I have that I think other people here might be interested in? So, that question, you can talk about what you’ve been doing recently and the most amazing thing with that question is that you get people who mentioned something casually that they don’t think is any big deal and they discover that, you know, there’s 20 people there that say, “You just did that? I really want to hear about that.” That happens at every conference I’ve ever done.
So you actually uncover in the roundtable, themes and experience that the organizers never knew about. You know, that’s the amazing thing about this process is that instead of the traditional process where you have a program committee sitting down and saying, well, you know, “What do you think people are going to want to hear about?” Okay. Well, what do we – who do we have who can talk about that? And creating a program and, you know, and that’s an important and difficult thing to do. And in my experience, the program committees at traditional conferences do – unfortunately do a pretty bad job at it. I’m not blaming them. I’m just saying that the reality is that when you do this roundtable process at a peer conference, you discover that every time I’ve done it, stuff has come up that no one on the organizing committee had any idea of or conversely the organizing committee thinks well, such and such people really don’t want to hear about that and it turns out that no one really does.
You know, and so at a traditional conference, you would have a session about it. No one will really be interested in it. And secondly, you have all the – you uncover all this great experience that people have from people who otherwise may never open their mouths at a traditional conference and they just – and people – and they get discovered and people say we want to hear from you and those people get to talk about informally at a session about whatever it is that people are excited about. And I hate – you know, the word empowering is …[Crosstalk] [0:26:54]
Adrian Segar: But it is. It’s so empowering for those people and I’ve had people at events who have come up to me and said, you know, I’ve had something to say and I’ve been to, you know, all these conferences over the years and no one has ever asked me what I had to say. And at your event, you know, this is the first time I ever got to talk about it and it was wonderful. Thank you. And …
Mike McAllen: Well, it’s such a kick start to networking.
Adrian Segar: It is, exactly. You also have a Facebook. I provide people with a Facebook. This is such a simple thing. I can’t understand why they don’t do this in traditional conferences which has pictures of people and, you know, their bio and contact information, a draft version of that at the first roundtable. So as you’re going around, you can say – you know, you can say, you know, Michael over there just said this so I really want to talk to him about that. You can write a note on the Facebook so that to remind you.
So, at the end of that session, sure, you have – you’ve heard from everybody in the room, you know – and you know a lot about each – you knew something about each person in the room. You know what the themes are the people are interested in and you have an amazing start for the event. If you just did that and nothing else, people would be pretty happy for the next few days.
Mike McAllen: Yes.
Adrian Segar: The second session, the second thing that happens, the second opening session is what I call a peer session sign-up and it’s a two-parter. It’s relatively quick. It happens – I usually hold it – or I nearly always hold it during some kind of social event like dinner in the evening. And in the first part, there are sheets – there are basically sheets of paper, sending around blank sheets of paper with a place for a topic at the top. And in the first part, its topic is called topic suggestion and anyone can suggest any topic they like that they want to have a session on. This is kind of like open – some people who have done open space.
Mike McAllen: Right.
Adrian Segar: This is similar to open space but it’s more structured as you’ll see. So you suggest topics. You write down the topic name on a piece of paper. On the top of a piece of paper, if you want something slightly different from somebody – something else that you see that someone has already written, you write that down. That’s okay.
And in the second part, you – is the sign-up process and you can sign up with no obligation and the sign up is really about interest. You say, oh, I would really like to go to a session on this. And you stick your name and you would sign your name underneath the topic but also, you indicate next to your name whether you might be willing to facilitate that session or maybe you’re an expert on that session. Maybe you’re the person who suggested it in the first place and you would say, oh, if anyone wants it, I’ll give a presentation or maybe there are two or three people and you’ll have a panel.
So you can indicate next to your name your level of involvement in the session. And so you end up after that with a lot of sheets of paper and it’s – and then you have a small group of people, usually conference organizers but I also invite anybody at the conference to come and help with us. So it’s a transparent process.
So look at the sheets of paper and figure out what sessions we should have. So it’s a little more structured than open space where people just say, I’m going to give a session on this and then, you know, people may turn up or they may not turn up. This is a process which where you determine the level of interest in topics. You pick the ones that are obviously the most interesting and have people who will facilitate or lead them. And you turn it into a conference program.
So those first two sessions take a few hours and at the end of those few hours, you’ve got a conference program that is optimized for the people who are there. And you also – the attendees basically know a lot about each other. They have all the information they need to actually go up to someone, you know, at dinner and say, wow, I really – you know, I heard you did this and I really want to talk to you.
So, you – so, all that is jumpstarted instead of having to kind of, you know, meet someone at a social event and say, “What do you do?” and, you know, stuff. That’s the start. I probably took more than five minutes for that but …
Mike McAllen: No, no, it’s fine. It’s great. It’s very interesting. It’s everything that kind of we push to do. I mean, you want to push the people to – you’re all getting together to network.
Adrian Segar: Exactly.
Mike McAllen: I mean that’s why you’re there.
Adrian Segar: Exactly. So, the middle of a conference, the heart of it is the sessions themselves and I don’t actually have to say a lot about those. But I will just say that because the whole – because the sessions are impromptu, no one is expecting some polished presentation. You know, so it’s not going to be a kind of – I mean, if someone – if I have done something that I think is cool and I gave a presentation of it three months ago and I’m going to this conference, when you’re preparing for a peer conference, you know, you send out a note and say, look if you got anything that you think is interesting, might be interesting to the people here or you did a presentation, then bring it along with you. Bring, you know, resource materials or bring your PowerPoint or whatever it is if you’ve got something. No guarantees that it’s going to happen but bring it along.
So, sometimes that happens and people are interested and – but most of the sessions are relatively informal. A lot of them discussion sessions and I provide support for the people who are facilitating those and I found that actually most people with a little encouragement can be pretty good facilitators of short, you know, one-hour sessions. And I give them some – I have some support materials that the facilitators get and we also have – you know, the conference committee is sitting around, is prepared to jump in and help facilitate the session. It looks like it should happen and there isn’t someone who necessarily has volunteered to facilitate it.
So the – anyway, the sessions are relatively informal. So, low key but surprisingly effective and people love them because they are what people wanted.
Mike McAllen: So, if you are putting on a conference, you – I just – you know, I’m looking at it as a broadly – you want people to come to your conference so a lot of ways we do it is to have a speaker there. So, is this when the sessions would happen where a speaker would come in and talk or – I mean is that …
Adrian Segar: I do – yes. The shortest amount of time I do a peer conference for is a day and a half. A day is really a stretch. You can do it in a day but I hate to do it …
Mike McAllen: Oh, okay, okay. So, if you – if you were going to – you wanted to bring it. You wanted to have some name people at this thing. I mean, that’s – I’m not …
Adrian Segar: Let me talk about those.
Mike McAllen: I’m looking at it broadly.
Adrian Segar: No, no, no, you’re right. I mean, the hardest thing is marketing this because until you’ve actually experienced how great it is, it’s very hard to convince people to attend an event where you say there is no program scheduled in advance but I promise you within a few hours, you will have a really fantastic program schedule sitting there waiting for you. People – the few thousand people I’ve experienced that that’s possible so far but most people in this world have not.
Something similar happens in open space and there are certainly a growing number of people who enjoy that but I do have some, you know, criticisms of open space format events.
Mike McAllen: Right.
Adrian Segar: Because they can be – they are a little, I think, too unstructured and really appeal to extroverts rather than introverts who have just as much useful to say and contribute. So, how do you market these things? Sure. With the two or three-day or four-day event, I’ll usually have some traditional sessions in there so you’ll have some names. And that provides cover for people who are kind of attracted by the format and their boss says, “Well, you know, what’s going to happen?” They’ll say, well, you know, we’re going to hear this talk by so and so and so and so and the boss says, oh, okay, that sounds good. And doesn’t. And you don’t really emphasize the fact that maybe half or more of the sessions are going to be created by the attendees on the spot when they get there.
Mike McAllen: Right.
Adrian Segar: And so it – but in some ways it’s rather – it’s a marketing thing and it’s actually really very freeing as far as traditional conference organizing is concerned. This event that I’ve been running for 18 years now, we always have – you know, we will have a keynote speaker if we can find one.
So, two years ago, we had – actually last year, we had David Weinberger come and talk to us, you know, and he’s an amazing speaker and has some really great ideas when we got him to come and that was wonderful. But this year, you know, I had a conference – phone conference with the organizing committee a few months ago. We said, no, I don’t really know anyone this year. We want to come. So it’s fine. Okay. We’ll just have less formal sessions and we’ll have more of our peer sessions and it’s very freeing. You don’t feel the constraint to need to have, you know, the big names or the fixed sessions if you …
Mike McAllen: Yes.
Adrian Segar: … don’t actually have a real need for them.
Mike McAllen: And here, I go right back to the old way too. I mean, I’m – you know, I’m pretty much brainwashed on how they’re supposed to go. So I’m trying to break the mold myself of – you know, for my clients to say, hey, you could do something else here instead of the same old thing but I – you know, I fall right back into it like how are we going to get sponsors? How are we going to get, you know, [laughs] all the things that you think about for a conference, not necessarily – it’s all kind of self-serving maybe …
Adrian Segar: I have a very – I’m – I have to say and this probably won’t get me or lose me some friends, maybe lose me some friends in the events world. I have – I really – I think unfortunately that – and from what I’ve seen that the role of sponsors for events is in some ways pernicious. I’m not saying sponsors are bad in any way at all but they provide – they sometimes provide a – have – the desire to have to have them. It’s like a somewhat addictive drug. You know, provide such good things in terms of money so that it can free you up to do other kinds of things that the constraints of what they supply, you know, aren’t really talked about as much as they should be.
My mark actually for peer conferences is that the attendees pay enough money to cover the cost of the event and the sponsors provide some gravy, you know. In other words, the event is not – you could, in principle, break even if there was not a single sponsor there, if everything went well – went according …
Mike McAllen: Yes.
Adrian Segar: And the sponsors kind of provide, you know, the safety and the profit if you want to think of them in that way so that the event will keep running, you know, in the future and so on. And that has worked pretty well for me.
Mike McAllen: Yes, it is interesting. I – you know, talking about event camp as I was just kind of – I saw Chris Brogan and his New Marketing Labs conferences coming through here, San Francisco and I was going to go and I noticed that everyone of their sessions has – you know, it’s a sponsor session basically and that’s their whole thing. And I was thinking for event camp, like, well, why don’t we do whatever we want to do and then we’ll have a whole track of our sponsor track? You know, if you want to go see [Phonetic] [0:38:29] them, you can.[Crosstalk] [0:38:31]
Mike McAllen: I think that’s probably the way to get around the whole thing but, you know, again …
Adrian Segar: I don’t have – yes.
Mike McAllen: I don’t know.
Adrian Segar: I don’t have a lot of experience with exhibitors. Just at this 18-year annual conference, we have a small exhibit there and we have an exhibitor’s day and we have a period of time during exhibitor’s day where exhibitors can give presentations if they want. They’re relatively short and – but they have that opportunity. We ask them to make presentations that are not just pitches for their product but – that are educational around the role of the conference because we’ve discovered that that’s what attendees really like and …
Mike McAllen: Yes.
Adrian Segar: And I think most of the years, most of our exhibitors have learned that. They’ve learned that and the ones who keep coming back and keep exhibiting love our conference. It’s very – they – you know, it’s very – they really like the connections they get with the attendees. It’s small. They know that they’re going to have, you know, people who are really qualified for their products there. But it’s very friendly and low key and they don’t – and I think they, just like the attendees, really appreciate the kind of low key atmosphere and they have really learned that – you know, that low key education works much better than a high level pitching.
Mike McAllen: Right. I agree. I agree.
Adrian Segar: I want to tell you the end of the conference – end of peer conferences because there’s …
Mike McAllen: Of course. Sorry, I keep interrupting you.
Adrian Segar: No, no, no. I keep wandering off. There are two closing sessions and these – this is something that I think is – I added this relative – well, I’ve always had the last one but the one I’m about to describe called the personal introspective, I added about, I don’t know, six or seven years ago and it’s very powerful. It’s – you know you go to a conference and you go to sessions and you have some ideas and you write down notes and then, you know, you fly back on the plane and you’re back on work on the Monday and things kind of vanish. You know, those ideas you had, you know, you’ve just got – you know. That’s normal stuff.
What I have at the end, the personal introspective is a session that all attendees take part in that gives people an opportunity to think about – it gives them some time. It’s sort of – it says this is important. You need to spend some time and we’re going to give you the time during the event because it’s important enough. This is important enough that you should do this to – I take people through the restructured exercise where they talk – where they think about what they’ve learned, what they might want to do differently in their life, you know, professional or personal, whatever the conference is about. And how they’re going to go about doing that.
And so series of questions that they answer for themselves and that part is completely private. It’s – they – and so, it’s a normal kind of exercise that one might do as a sort of retrospective recap at a well-organized training session.
The second part that was very powerful, people have the option of sharing in the group, to the whole group anything they want to share about what they’ve learned and what they may want to do differently in their lives.
And that is really very, very amazing when you hear, you know, a manager – and remember this a confidential session. Those are the ground rules. You hear a manager say, I realize that, you know, I have been treating my reports really, really badly in this way and I want to do something different about that or something very pragmatic. You know, I realized I really, really need to learn about this new technology, whatever it is.
That kind of sharing from the group is very powerful and people realize how much they’ve learned as a group together through the process and there are often a lot of commonalities that come out which people – which are really interesting for me. Well, people realize, oh, wow, I’m not the only person who needed to learn about this. Somebody – you know, these six other people did as well. And that’s, you know, comforting sometimes and a good thing to know.
So that’s the personal introspective and the last session is a group – what I call a group spective, looking backwards and forwards and it’s an opportunity for the group as a whole to think about what they’ve done, what has happened for them together, what worked, what didn’t work, if they want to meet again. If they do, what they like to do differently and also – and this is one of the coolest things.
Sometimes, not always. It’s something – not a prerequisite but sometimes, initiatives come out of that last session. People say we really want to do this. Someone had this great idea that we should do this. You know, our industry needs to do this. No one is doing it. We should do it, you know. And those things which kind of spontaneously come out of the session are very powerful because they weren’t on anyone’s political agenda. You know, it wasn’t like – you know, they just kind of came from a group of people coming together and saying we want to do this and every time that has happened at one of these events – those things have always happened. I mean there has been terrific energy for them to happen and that’s very exciting to happen.
So, although these – my peer conferences aren’t kind of issue-oriented, they don’t have an agenda and, you know, at the end of this event, we’re all going to go and, you know, run this political campaign or launch this product or whatever. Often, this kind of stuff happens and when it does, it’s very powerful because it didn’t – it wasn’t, you know, one person forcing something through.
So, that’s the group – so those two sessions – those two closing sessions really provide a kind of – a natural close to the event, which I think is often missing, you know, compared to a sort of, you know, the event banquet, the award banquet at the end or …
Mike McAllen: Right, right.
Adrian Segar: … the big speaker that you have at the end because you – otherwise, people are just going to leave because traditional conferences are typically pretty much a mishmash of sessions which are often just scheduled according to, you know, when the speakers were available and they don’t necessarily have much coherence. And so, why should anyone stay at the end if they’ve got a plane to catch, you know. And …
Mike McAllen: It’s true.
Adrian Segar: … the last session, isn’t that interesting? So, this is more organic. There’s much more of a reason for people to stay at the end. I mean, people do have to leave early sometimes. But as much more of a reason because there are these group processes that close the thing and people enjoy them.
Mike McAllen: I think it’s a great way of changing everything – not changing everything but making it more conducive to why you’re doing this. I mean, it is – you know, and I go to – as I started going to these big conferences to other conferences and for, you know, industry conferences which I never have gone to in the past, that I’m finding that are a lot of the things that your peer conferencing organization kind of tackles.
It’s like, you know – and I don’t – just like you said, they’re just a mishmash of, you know, hey, green meetings is popular right now so, you know, all these people are quickly putting together these presentations for green [Indiscernible] [0:45:59] and there, it’s kind of like, okay, well – and I used to have that – like you said earlier, kind of clicked in my head that that person in front of the room is the teacher still. I’m still in the fifth grade always and that person should know a lot more and when I sit there and they don’t know, I – or, you know, it’s – it would be great if you could get the whole group talking about it instead of that one person. Maybe that one person is facilitating and has some ideas. But …
Adrian Segar: Right.
Mike McAllen: You know …[Crosstalk] [0:46:28]
Adrian Segar: I mean, you know, they’re amazing people. You know, who …
Mike McAllen: Sure, sure, sure. And that’s another reason why I hate presenting which I have done it, you know, lots of times and I don’t even like pitching for business but, you know, I don’t think anyone does really but – [laughs] well, maybe they do but it’s – I hate doing that because I always feel like I’m – you know, I’m – you know, I’ve been a C student my whole life in school. I have never been good at school and here, I’m supposed to be the teacher, you know. I always am totally self-conscious about that even though I have a successful business and, you know.
Adrian Segar: Right. Exactly. Isn’t that sad?
Mike McAllen: It is very sad because it is – I always think it’s so silly because – but this is kind of a way actually that, you know, someone like my self can get around it and get people talking, you know.
Adrian Segar: Well, that’s exactly it. That’s exactly it because yes, I – this whole – the whole process does not make any pre – any assumptions about who has something valuable to share, you know. I mean, if Jeff Hurt, who you mentioned, you know, who I met at event camp and respect a lot and, you know, and he’s a brilliant presenter and great facilitator of events. You know, if he comes – if he’s at a conference, he’s going to do a great job. Okay?
If he comes to event camp, he’s going to do a great job. If he comes to one of my conferences, it’s not like he’s going to be, you know, lost in the crowd. You know, his ability is – and so on are going to come out and people – and he’s going to say, well, I could talk about this or I could talk about this and people are going to be interested though the crowd will actually be able to say, well, Jeff, actually we like to hear most about this rather than, you know, Jeff having already decided what he’s going to talk about at a traditional event.
But, also, for every Jeff, there’s a lot of people who have really important things like your self. You know, who have – you know, you know a tremendous amount about producing events. You know, do you – and do you ever get to talk, to speak, to share that experience and wisdom that you have about producing events at a conventional conference? Probably not as much as really people, if they knew about it and knew and had – and you had the opportunity to tap into what you have to share, would want to know.
But, if you have this conventional model where, you know, people who have – like me, who have PhDs and stuff like that, you know, the people who speak and people who have those letters after their name rather than not making assumptions about what people have to offer but letting the attendees themselves say, oh.
Mike McAllen: Right.
Adrian Segar: You know, I want to do this. I want to hear about this, you know. And I’ve seen that happen so many times. Someone – it’s – and it’s just amazing. Someone says they did something. I’ve seen people who’ve come to a conference for the first time that has been running for a number of years and think they have absolutely nothing to offer and it turns out, you know, that they were in an industry and they have a huge amount of experience in something that the other people at this event are really interested in and they end up running a session and they get [Indiscernible] [0:49:36] and they had no idea. They had no idea that they had any experience of value. And at a traditional conference, they would never – no one would have ever known about them.
Mike McAllen: Yes. And it’s right. You talk about Jeff Hurt with his – that he did when you were talking about, you know, kind of how you do your roundtable. I thought of his session there where he kind of had – grouped people’s topics and then he talked about it and then he just [Indiscernible] [0:50:03] stuff that he knew because he is a smart [Inaudible] and in fact I have to get on a phone call with him in about five minutes. [laughs]
Adrian Segar: Mike, [Inaudible]. There you go. Your sound is breaking out.
Mike McAllen: Oh, is it? I’m sorry. But anyway, Adrian, I think we should probably make it a close and I would love to talk to you again. This doesn’t have to be the [Indiscernible].
Adrian Segar: Yes, you’re really – I’m having a hard time hearing you but – so maybe it’s a good time to say goodbye.
Mike McAllen: It probably is. And so, why don’t you …
Adrian Segar: If you can hear me okay, maybe I should just tell people where they can get in – find out more about my work.
Mike McAllen: Sure, sure. Go ahead.
Adrian Segar: Probably the simplest is for people to go to my website which is www.ConferencesThatWork.com. And again, that’s the title of my book Conferences That Work: Creating Events That People Love. It’s available everywhere. You can buy it from my website. Appreciate it if you do but you can get it from Amazon or, you know, Barnes and Noble, anywhere on line. You can get it in bookstores and there’s an e-book version of it too if you prefer which is only available from my website.
So, if you want the least expensive way of getting the book, the e-book is there and you can get it from the website. The website has a lot of free resources. I have put down all the dialogues and the ground rules and sheets that I use in – the supporting materials that I use at peer conferences. Those are all downloadable for free from the site and there’s a blog there too. I should mention that and I try and post a couple of times a week.
Mike McAllen: Great.
Adrian Segar: Still there, Mike?
Mike McAllen: Yes. Can you hear me?
Adrian Segar: Okay. Good. Oh, you sound better now.
Mike McAllen: Oh, I’m sorry. I’m sorry. Yes, and I just wanted to say thank you very much and I would love to talk to you again. Maybe we can get together again in a couple of months and have another chat.
Adrian Segar: Love to do that. I really appreciate the opportunity of talking to you today.
Mike McAllen: Yes, and I appreciate your time. And so, I look forward to talking to you again and I will put of course all the links on our site to your book, your website, your blog, your phone number, your address.
Adrian Segar: Excellent.
Mike McAllen: Your schedule.
Adrian Segar: I love to talk …
Mike McAllen: [laughs]
Adrian Segar: If you haven’t figured that out by now, you never will.
Mike McAllen: No, it was great. It was great talking to you. And until next time, thank you again.
Adrian Segar: Thank you, Mike. Good-bye.
Mike McAllen: Bye-bye.
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