To think about a conference is to think about community, networking, peer learning, food and table.
In reality, if you are attending a conference and you are not getting hungry for more learning and peer sharing, that conference is missing the mark. Successful conferences provide ample opportunity for attendees to finger tasty ideas and feed their brains, their souls and each other.
Your conference needs to introduce a whole new set of table manners. We need to encourage attendees to digest fresh concepts and pass narraphors with each other. We should support that they allow issues to unfold like the layered flavors of a great meal through table talk.
Prodechetai is an ancient Greek work meaning to welcome. According to sociologist and author Leonard Sweet, prodechetai is more than just welcoming someone. It includes goodwill, even eager expectation, to see someone arrive.
When was the last time that you had eager expectations upon the arrival of your conference attendees? When was the last time your leadership was excited to see attendees and looking forward to table-talk with them?
As conference organizers, we need to work at more than just getting prospects to purchase registration and then receiving them onsite. We should work on executing genuine good will towards them and helping them connect with each other.
Defining Symposia And Table Manners
Too often our conferences involve symposiums—staid, long, lengthy, even named-lectures frequently during a meal. These monotone monotonous monologues lure attendees’ brains to sleep.
These symposiums are some of the most tedious and unimaginative things we can provide at a conference. They have little value to attendees. They bring little change in attitudes, behaviors and skills. They really benefit the speaker—not the audience.
In ancient Roman times, symposia were extravagant, excessive banquets that could last for up to ten hours. The idea was to use “bread and circuses” to keep the Greek gods busy so they wouldn’t punish the general populace says Sweet. They were an amazing site to see and attend.
Fostering Authenticity With Table Talk
Our conferences need to encourage people to engage each other over the table. Instead of facing the screen where we ignore those around us, are indifferent, cold, uncaring and disconnected, we need to set up shared spaces that encouraging peer story sharing, peer learning and connecting.
We have to use our pre-convene spaces, meal functions and room sets to create shared spaces that have tables and chairs allowing attendees to have table talk. And then we need to not over-program those elements. Instead, allow attendees the opportunity to connect.
What would happen if your conference attendees were walking from one session to another and reached a diversion that made them stop, sit, smile and share in table-talk?
What if you wanted to break the traditional conference rhythm of consuming a lecture and instead to create authentic peer interactions?
What would happen if tables and chairs appeared in pre-convene spaces at your conference where there were none?
I suspect people would sit down, talk and connect.
Not sure? Take a look at this video and imagine if you encouraged prodechetai, authenticity and table-talk.