Here are some learnings from the Gov 2.0 Summit (and others I have attended) on how to organise a better conference:
- Format: Most conferences I have attended tend to either be presentations or panels, or some mix of both. Presentations by speakers who have not been adequately briefed can get boring, monotonous and disjointed very quickly. Panels with too many people ensures the same disconnectedness and randomness of thought. Instead, what is needed is a judicious mix of multiple types of sessions: a few presentations (where speakers know exactly what they have to talk), many 1:1 conversations (which bring out the real thinking of a person), and a few discussions with a couple people and a knowledgeable moderator. Most sessions should be about 15 minutes.
- Deadlines: And of course, it is highly critical that every session sticks to the time allocated. There needs to be a countdown timer visible clearly to the speakers and panelists, so they know how much time is left at any point of time. Every speaker needs to be told clearly that there is no excuse for overshooting the time limits.
- Briefings: Speakers need to be adequately briefed, and the organisers/moderators also need to spend time discussing with the speakers and panelists what their session is about. I have been on panels where the first interaction is 10 minutes prior to going live! Every person on stage needs to know their role.
- Social Media Integration and Audience Interaction: A backchannel needs to be created using Twitter and Facebook (and SMS in India) for people in the audience to provide real-time feedback. There needs to be some time allotted for audience interaction.
- Moreover: The other details are equally important: nametags that don’t flip over so one has no idea who the other person is, making available videos and presentations soon after the conference, having a sponsor/exhibitor area, and so on.