Leading Meeting Professionals

Professional Convention Management Association

June 13 2016

Your Conference Design Should Follow This Theory

David McMillin


Over the past five years, meeting professionals and business events organizers have followed one simple rule: content is king. Videos, speakers, infographics, articles — we’ve grouped everything we read, watch and share into one big bucket of content. While all that material is indeed a critical piece of every face-to-face and virtual experience, Sandy Speicher, Partner and Managing Director of Education at IDEO, believes that curating content is only part of the equation for driving engagement.

“It’s very easy to think about content and content delivery,” Speicher told attendees at C2 in Montréal on May 26. “But you’re not actually designing for the content. You’re designing for disequilibrium.”

The concept of disequilibrium in education comes from renowned Swiss clinical psychologist Jean Piaget’s research in childhood brain development. Piaget believed that disrupting our equilibrium delivered opportunities to grow. Simply put, when our equilibrium is thrown off, our natural response is to develop new ideas and experiment with new processes that will restore our mental balance.

SEE ALSO: Rethinking Adult Education At C2

Disequilibrium In Action

At C2, I found myself in a constant state of disequilibrium. The entire environment was designed to make attendees stretch outside their comfort zones. Forget standard ballrooms and speakers with stale PowerPoint slides. C2 replaced the traditional conference setting with educational sessions in circus tents and garages. A house band played improvisational music as speakers entered and exited the stage. The LAB area invited attendees to relax in a pit of plastic balls, scale a climbing wall or network with attendees under an umbrella as fake snow fell from the ceiling. When attendees needed some quiet time, they could sign up for a tour of a meditative garden where a pre-recorded audio guide provided instructions via a set of headphones. “Close your eyes, take a deep breath. See the plants in front of you. Feel free to take a leaf, place it on your tongue and taste the flavor of life.”

It all sounds pretty unusual, right? That’s the whole point. C2 aims to be a business event with the feel of a Cirque du Soleil show. It’s a refreshing reinvention of the typical idea of bringing thousands of attendees together, giving them 100+ education sessions and offering some evening networking receptions.

SEE ALSO: It’s The End Of Networking As You Know It

Delivering Disequilibrium To Your Attendees

I realize the majority of organizations will not be able to immediately reproduce the C2 level of disequilibrium. Your budget probably isn’t as big as C2’s (regular registration is $2,995). Outside of cash questions, you may worry that a complete reinvention of your experience could alienate year-after-year loyal attendees. However, disequilibrium can come in small doses. Creating it doesn’t require expensive mobile tools or hiring big-name keynote speakers. It all starts with thinking about how to make the accomplished professionals who come to your events recognize that they don’t know everything. As you’re selecting course topics and educational tracks, give them learning opportunities that provoke new ideas. Ask questions with potentially controversial answers. Put them in situations that make reevaluate their views of the world.

“It’s not about technology,” Speicher said at C2. “It’s not about format. You have to offer something that goes beyond what students already know. It has to be something that challenges them.”

Interested in a glimpse of the kind of innovation that challenged attendees in Montréal in 2016? Check out “5 Images That Showcase This Conference’s Incredible Sense Of Creativity.”

On a personal note, I recommend C2 for anyone in the meetings industry searching for inspiration. The conference is offering a sizable discount now, too. You can save $1,100 with the pre-sale offer for 2017.

1 Comment

  1. 1 Andrea Driessen 18 Jun
    David, thank you for this behind-the-scenes tour of https://www.c2montreal.com/. I must admit I had not heard of it, and am so intrigued by these fresh ways to engage attendees with the most proven learning theories. Am about to head to Banff for TEDSummit, and anticipate a similar level of "conference re-invention."

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