Creating Participatory Conferences, The P In EPIC

Taste the EXPLOSION!!!

Do you remember Pop Rocks candy?

It was the candy that exploded and jumped in your mouth.

Or perhaps you recall Zotz, the candy that fizzed in your mouth.

Interactive Candy

If you walk the aisles of a local department store today, you’ll find a new host of interactive candies. You’ll see Armageddon Asteroids, Big Bangs, Glow Pops, Mega Warheads, Nuclear Chocolate (chocolate and pop rocks combined), Shock Tarts, Skull Suckers, Spin Pops and Tongue Splashers.

Try some of them. Or eat that candy your kids dare you to try.

Many of these candies come with warnings like “Eating multiple pieces within a short time may cause a temporary irritation to sensitive tongues and mouths.” They promise extreme flavor (painfully sour or super sweet), extreme pleasure and extreme pain.

Kids award others candy titles like “A Warheads Warlord” because they can endure long periods eating interactive candy.

Kids love interactive candy because it provides an unusual experience. It is interactive and different. The kids participate with that candy in a new way.

Your conference needs to be more participatory and interactive like some of these candies.

Culture Has Become More Participatory

Today’s culture has become more participatory and interactive.

You go to your computer when you want to turn your brain on and interact. You go to your TV when you want to turn your brain off and be passive. Instead, people take their mobile devices with them when they watch TV so they can interact with their friends.

Wedding receptions have cameras scattered at tables so guests can take pictures. Table groups sing love songs to the bride and groom. Flash mobs dance at the reception.

DIY funerals are on the rise with directions on how to build your own casket. Ad hoc shrines, caskets that mourners can sign and individual urns are some of the more participatory experiences at funerals today.

Medicine today depends upon the participation of the patient. Patients are taking control of their health care.

Mash-ups permeate music today. Some musicians allow listeners to remix their music for customization. Fans write reviews and critique the music online.

Interactive ads get us to participate with brands. You can now specify every detail of the car you are purchasing from the color to the trim on the steering wheel and you can do it online.

Savvy teachers coach kids to explore learning. Their goal is to instill a life-long learning ethic. They’ve transitioned from the authoritarian expert in the room to a facilitator of learning experiences.

Many museums now provide more interactive experiences. Sometimes you can even spend the night in the museum.

The more digital today’s culture becomes, the more participatory it gets. The true content of multimedia is interaction, not passivity. Our electronic culture pushes us towards more interactive and active behaviors.

Yet most of our conferences are still passive experiences.

From Tradition To Participatory

Traditional conferences are a reflection of the representative culture:

  • People want and need to be controlled. They want decisions made for them.
  • A leaders’ task is to administer guidance and regulations.
  • People only do the things they are rewarded for doing.
  • People cannot be trusted to use their personal freedom in service of the society or organization.

Participatory conferences are based on the opposite beliefs of a representative culture:

  • People want to make their own decisions and have multiple choices.
  • Leadership emboldens and empowers others to lead.
  • People will make sacrifices for the good of the whole.
  • Human systems are self-organizing. People can be trusted to invest wisely of their resources and time.

Our conferences must become more participatory. They have to invite and engage the P in EPIC.

Read more about Creating EPIC Conferences and Conferences Need To Focus On Creating Experiences, The E In EPIC.

What does it take for a conference to get interesting to today’s culture? How can conference organizers create more bridge building to today’s culture?

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  1. Jillian says:

    Great article Jeff! Participation at conferences is absolutely vital. With today’s technology there’s no reason why guests should sit for hours without having their say. The continued growth of social networks and online communities has made interaction such an important part of our daily lives.
    So, why should the conference learning space be any different? Bringing the interaction we use in our everyday lives to conferences will boost guests’ interest, making each person feel more important if their voice can be heard.
    Today’s culture completely revolves around the media and social networks giving us the ability to meet new people, interact with our environment and share our thoughts with the world. Conference organizers need to incorporate this into their conferences giving participants great advantages in their careers.
    Social networks can be used as a promotion tool before, during and after the event. Participants can also use social networks to share their experiences from the event, allowing them to both network and interact with others.

  2. thom singer says:

    Humans are “experiential beings”. This has always been true (Pop Rocks were popular in the 1970s… I know, I ate them for all the reasons you cite!).

    I do not think folks want participation oriented activities more than in the past, but now they are learning to expect them. When we were kids we sat and watched TV. Now we are engaged with interaction on TV, with blogs where we can comment on our computers, and games on our phones.

    Since we all agree that people want to be engaged, why are only a small fraction of conferences changing from traditional to participatory???

  3. Hi Jeff,

    As I was looking for new ways to expand beyond mobile DJ business I went through a similar thought process about peoples experience at events. After many conversations with event planners to gain further insight we are launching a new event technology for Dallas Ft. Worth in September called Air Graffiti. It’s a combination of technologies that creates a magical interactive experience far beyond the photo booth. Using Digital (IR) Spray cans on a 6′ X 10′ screen guest will add graffiti to their photos, share them instantly via facebook at the event and leave with a lab quality print.

    I would be interested in your feedback on the technology.

    Dennis Walthers

    1. Jeff Hurt says:

      Thanks for reading and commenting. I think the participation in today’s conferences is more than just participating through technology or social media. I think it’s a fundamental principal that we need to embrace during the planning process.

      I like what you said that people are now expecting participation oriented activities. Great point. Thanks for adding to the conversation.

      Thanks for sharing with us about your new participatory technology, Air Graffiti, for events. Looks cool.

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