Nine Conference Mythodologies

Since 1981, Adrian Segar has designed, convened, and facilitated hundreds of conferences in North America and Europe. He has been designing participant-led and participation-rich events, commonly known as unconferences, since 1992.

Long ago, consultant Tom Gilb coined the term “mythodology” to describe erroneous but commonly held beliefs about how something should be done. Here are nine mythodologies about conferences.

Mythodology #1: We know what our attendees want to learn about.

Reality: No, you don’t. At least half the sessions programmed at traditional conferences are not what attendees want.

Mythodology #2: Event socials are a good way to meet people.

Reality: People tend to stay with people they already know at event socials. Participant-driven and participation-rich events provide far more opportunities to meet people you actually want to meet.

Mythodology #3: A “conference curator” can improve the quality of your conference content.

Reality: Sadly, conference curators don’t exist. But discovering the content wants and needs of participants at the event and satisfying them with the collective resources in the room is routinely possible and significantly improves the quality of your conference content.

Mythodology #4: Learning occurs through events.

Reality: Learning is a continual process; formal events only contribute a small percentage to the whole.

Mythodology #5: Conference programs should be stuffed full of sessions so there’s something of interest for everyone.

Reality: Downtime is essential for effective learning and connection, so providing conference white space is essential. (Trick: Stuff your program if you must, but give attendees explicit permission to take their own downtime when they need it.)

Mythodology #6: Adding novelty to a meeting makes it better.

Reality: Novelty is a one-time trick. Next time it’s old. But making your meeting better lasts. Go for better, not just different.

Mythodology #7: Big conferences are better conferences.

Reality: Better for the owners perhaps (if the meeting is making a profit) but not better for participants. Today’s most successful conferences are micro conferences. (And, by the way, most conferences are small conferences.) 

Mythodology #8: We know what attendees like, don’t like, and value about our meeting.

Reality: If you’re using smile sheets or online surveys, you’re learning nothing about the long-term value of your meeting. This is the meeting industry’s biggest dirty secret. Use long-term evaluation techniques [1] [2] instead.

Mythodology #9: We can contract a venue for our meeting before we design it.

Reality: Sounds silly when put like that, but it happens all the time. Designing your meeting and then choosing a venue that can showcase your design will improve your meeting experience (and can save you big bucks!)

I bet you can think of more mythodologies. Share them in the comments!

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