The Greatest Conference Story Never Told

Discussion at the table - Meeting over coffee

It’s time to bring back the luncheon table at your next conference.

When attendees break bread together at the table, community is born. It’s where the stories of our profession, our lives, our past and our future are shared, retold, relived and remembered.

Too many conferences have made a catastrophic mistake. In the name of conference budget cuts, we have removed attendee gatherings around a meal. We have created sterile, exhausted attendee experiences. The result: the greatest conference story never told.

Hap Tips and sources: authors Geoffrey Caine, Leonard Sweet, and Indi Young.

Bring Back Table Talk

We are wired for stories. We become our stories. We pass on important stories.

As we story share our journeys together around a table meal, we experience one another’s emotions. We are more willing to put aside our differences and embrace our humanity. We feel each other’s pain, joy, loss and excitement.

When we are at a conference, we don’t go looking for values, principles, traditions, rules, pageantry and world views. We want honest table talk. We want to connect. We crave stories, metaphors, analogies and images.

Pass Me The Narraphor Please

To paraphrase author, sociologist, futurist, professor, dean and semiotician Leonard Sweet,

At the core of who we are, we crave a narraphor. A narraphor is a story made with metaphors that help us understand the world, ourselves, each other and our community.

Narraphors are table talk. We need to pass around our narraphors at the conference table.

The stories of our profession, our industry, our futures don’t take place behind podiums. They are not found in grand messages from experts and professionals on the stage.

Connexity, (community & connections), insights and ideas take shape around tables, as people face one another as equals, telling stories, sharing metaphors, passing narraphors and enjoying food with one another.

Conference Entrainment Set To Speed Dial

Too many conferences have sold-out to a fast-paced, drive-through, instant-solution-template mentality.

We stuff conferences with too many options, too many sessions, too many speakers and too many things to do in a very short amount of time. We have tried to condense a year’s worth of content, experiences and parties into a few days.

No wonder our attendees get caught up in the fast flow and rapid pace.

We’ve removed time for attendees to gather at the table, share a meal and talk with one another. And when we do have a meal function, we cram if full of production, pageantry and awards. We talk at our audiences instead of letting them talk with each other.

No wonder they automatically go faster and faster, racing to the next scheduled function. They experience entrainment. Their bodies, minds and spirits get caught up in the frenzy and are set to speed up.

Without realizing it, we’ve set everyone to speed dial. This system is out of sync for community, story sharing and table talk.

Creating Facilitated Gourmet Gatherings

Too many conferences have lost the table. They have reduced the attendee experience to “non-food.”

Instead of setting another plate at the table, we just proceed to the next conference micro-event.

At the conference table, we just don’t feed people. We feed relationships. We feed souls.

An untabled conference is an unstable conference.

A neglect of scheduled, intentional table time for table talk, results in a disconnected conference experience.

We need more building of conference narratives, metaphors and narraphors. We need love feasts that feature food, table and gatherings around the story.

Let’s follow the advice of Neil Sedaka, “Lunch will keep us together.”

How can we encourage more table-talk functions at a conference without incurring expenses for meals? What are ways to foster and facilitate attendee table talk meals?

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1 comment
  1. Tricia says:

    When I think of meeting over food, I think of the word, “companion.” I learned, when I was young, that the word is derived from words meaning “those who break bread together.”
    That said, I find more work happens when the meeting has food at the center. Even Board meetings can be more productive when there is something in common to eat. I’ve seen Boards argue productively over food, when without a meal, compliant assent occurs. I thrive on lively debate that tackles the “tough” issues, so eating and meeting is my preferred standard.
    Now that the “meeting and walking” thing is happening, I will be interested to see if the meetings are more or less productive than those at a meal. Does anyone have experience comparing the two?

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