Most conferences emphasize the spoken word.
Usually, the aim of a conference is to provide stimulating speakers, fun entertainment, engaging networking, new business leads, great music and healthy food. The conference experience is typically geared to an extrovert, Type-A Personality.
But how often do we use the power of silence and solitude in a conference experience? How frequently do we encourage contemplative thought? How common is it for the conference to provide opportunities for reflection, meditation and deeper thinking without all the background noise?
Shaken And Stirred
Most conference experiences try to cram as many speakers, sessions and receptions as possible into a short time frame. They start early in the morning and go into the wee hours of the night.
We provide short breaks between 15 and five minutes leaving time for more important things. Sometimes we remove breaks all together.
Without offering our attendees opportunities for adult white space–more time for thinking, reflection and contemplation–we overwhelm our attendees with too much.
We create experiences that feel like jars of river water all shaken and stirred by the conference’s events. We need to give our attendees time to sit still long enough to allow the conference sediment to settle. So that their perspectives can become clearer.
The Power Of Silence And Solitude
We need to move beyond our addiction to noise, words, people, activity, productions and performances.
Silence deepens our experience in solitude. During silence, we withdraw from our reliance on words, noise and activity so that we can sit and reflect. We can actually experience joy in silence as we reflect.
Solitude is a time when we can pull ourselves away from the company of others. Then we can give our full and undivided attention to the messages we’ve heard and how they may impact us.
Reflection takes us beyond the words to a place of rest, openness and receptivity. It can also provide opportunity for unexpected insight.
With silence, solitude and contemplation, we can rest from all the human striving and touch a deeper truth that runs underneath everything else. Then we can reengage with the conference experience in a unique way.
Three Ways To Encourage Silence, Solitude And Contemplation
Here are several ways you can contribute to conference contemplation:
1. Provide A Conference Labyrinth
In an open space, create a large labyrinth for attendees to use for contemplative, silent walks. Provide a series of questions that they can use as springboard for reflection and thinking. Ask attendees to commit to walking the labyrinth once a day.
2. Create Solitude Spaces
Use some intimate and intentional spaces for silence and solitude. Most conference organizers are really good at creating spaces for extroverts and activity. Every extroverted public space should also have areas where people can retreat for silent reflection and contemplation.
3. Encourage The Habit Of Reflection
Reflection is a necessary step in the learning process. It involves several cognitive processes including retrieving knowledge, connecting these to new experiences and visualizing or mentally rehearsing what you might do differently. Ask all speakers to build into their sessions time for audiences to engage in reflective thinking or writing.
Hat Tips to Paul Salinger, Joan Eisenstodt, Janet Sperstad, Tom Thompson, Adrian Segar, Tyra Warner Hillard and Amanda Gourgue for their recent discussion in Facebook about the importance of solitude in conferences.
Many conference organizers avoid building reflective exercises into the conference schedule for fear they won’t be used. How can we encourage more attendees to participate in the habit of solitude and reflection? What are some things you’ve seen other conferences do to encourage silence, solitude and reflection?