If You Design Conference Experiences, Read This!

Design Sketching

We design experiences for our customers.

So why don’t we design experiences for ourselves? Have we missed the obvious? (I confess: I have!)

As conference organizers, why can’t we also have a fun, fulfilling, and collaborative experience planning and designing the conference? Well, we can and should! And our planning team members should too.

Six Ways To Design Your Experience Too

Here are six ways to focus on designing your team’s experience during your next conference planning process. Explore and experiment with each of them.

Hat tips Warren Nilsson and Tana Paddock’s writings on Social Innovations From The Inside Out.

1. Embrace Your Event As A Giving Field

Read more about embracing your conference as a giving field here.

2. Turn Inward

Once we shift our mental model from conference planning as an arduous task and see it as a giving field, then we can begin to design our internal customers’ experience.

To do this we need to turn inward. It may seem paradoxical at first as we are used to focusing outward on the conference outcomes.

Instead of just focusing on what we want to achieve, ask

  • What kind of experience do we want to create for ourselves during the planning process?
  • What type of experience do we want as we aim to meet our conference objectives?
  • How do we want to experience this project?

Then create a conference outcome based on designing a great planning process for you and your team.

3. Expand Your Questions

Now expand those inward experience-based questions in new directions.

Ask the team:

  • What are we as a conference design planning team passionate about?
  • What are we curious about?
  • Where are we willing to experiment?
  • Where can we take some calculated risks in this design?
  • How should we feel during any experimental, curious risk-taking?

4. Practice Experience-Driven Feedback

The next step is to encourage your team to shift their remarks from abstract assessments of other’s performance to addressing their personal experiences working with that individual. Encourage authentic, direct comments to each other such as,

  • “Here’s how I experienced working on this part with you.” Or
  • Here’s how I felt when this deadline was delayed.”

During routine meetings, ask team members to express how they feel at that moment. Encourage them to state what’s on their mind or what their current mood is like. Ask them to share what’s creating excitement or keeping them up at night.

Why do this?

These personal responses invite encouragement when others are discouraged, entice the act of replacing silent fear with hope and sometimes they aid in clarifying misguided assumptions. It also allows you as the lead to check in with your team and see both the status of their work as well as how they feel.

5. See Divergence Instead Of Convergence

When deciding on a course of action, we often push too quickly for agreement, for a convergence of opinion. As a result, we miss the chance to draw on the different insights and perspectives that planning team members have. Instead, start by listening to those who have serious concerns about a proposed course of action. Yes, this will take some work and may be hard at first. However, soliciting divergent views up front can lead to alternative solutions and new ways to reframe problems. It also aids in creating honest alignment around the final decision.

6. Incorporating Inscaping Through Role Hacking

Inscaping is the practice of surfacing inner experiences, ideas, aspirations and intuitions of team members during their normal work routines. (Defined by Warren Nilsson and Tana Paddock as borrowed from poet Gerald Manley Hopkins.)

Think of inscaping as capturing the invisible, interior essence of something especially the inner thoughts, motivations and feelings of your team.

Experimenting with role boundaries creates the open space to explore inscaping. Invite your team to reframe their roles by asking those not normally involved in planning for input. Urge your team to engage others outside their functions or expertise. Assist in work that is normally seen as beneath your role.

Incorporating inscaping through role hacking challenges your team to engage with others and their environments in new ways thus creating new experiences.

How have you thought about your own experience during the conference planning process? Which of these steps are you most passionate about trying as soon as possible and why?

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  1. Lynda Bateman says:

    Such good insight….printing this one off to really take it in.

    1. Jeff Hurt says:


      Thanks for reading and for reaching out. I felt the exact same way you did when I first read about creating our own experience. It was staring us in the face and we didn’t even see it.

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