Wonderful but brief conversations

I had a great day visiting Mid Kent College for the JISC RSC South East E-Learning Fair. The RSC organise a learning fair every year for staff sharing similar roles and responsibilities to share their work with colleagues. The event provides a fantastic networking opportunity and the chance to find out about successes (and failures) in learning technologies from around the region.

The event was great; a highly valuable opportunity for like minded ‘technologists’ to gather and share the expertise, experience and ambition. Like minded individuals and groups of staff from organisations came with a similar business objective: improving the provision and delivery of learning through technology. I found a couple of sessions particularly useful, focusing upon Moodle version 2 (Philip Butler and James Ballard’s great double-act from ULCC) and digital storytelling (Phil Gravestock from the University of Gloucestershire); packed full of new ideas, stimulating conversation and examples of success. I found a couple more sessions much less useful, covering ground that – for me at least – is already familiar.

Something struck me though: it’s a brief instance of conversation, rather than an ongoing interaction. The event starts when you walk through the front door. It continues as you make your way around the exhibitors stands and into a multitude of seminar rooms for individual presentations or (better still) conversations. The event concludes – abruptly – when you walk through the front door again.

But after this? What about those wonderful conversations you had with strangers; strangers with whom you somehow share similar aspirations? For many attendees, I’m sure we return to auto-pilot; not necessarily a concious decision, but we return to the reality of our roles and daily responsibility. We return to the silos in our organisations, often working individually or in small teams to achieve success – with or without the valuable support of key stakeholders and supportive networks of peers.

Is there a missing link between those many momentary connections needed to draw the experience together into something more significant? Ordinarily this might be provided with a multitude of tools to promote dialogue beforehand – a simple as a few emails or through much more advanced social networking tools, all of which should be familiar territory for the attendees in this case.

Is there a connection I have yet to make with the event, the hosts, or the other delegates? I wasn’t participating until I was engaging with a supplier in the exhibition room, or engaging in conversation in one of the many seminars. Had I participated beforehand, my interactions on the day may have been more advanced – and perhaps with different outcomes in mind?

What is that ‘magic ingredient’ you need to add (or ensure delegates bring) to events like this that develop greater thought and conversation before and afterwards? I question myself in this respect; was I the right ‘ingredient’ to make the day a success – for me, and also for others? Were my approach and expectations well aligned with those of the organisers?

If you also happened to attend the e-Learning Fair, what was your experience like? Do you share the same view as mine, or was your experience entirely different? Do you attend similar events elsewhere in the country (or beyond) where successful approaches regularly encourage conversation beforehand, build upon this during the event and continue it afterwards through a variety of media?

2 Responses

  1. Nick O'Doherty November 12, 2010 / 11:53

    Hi Chris

    It’s an issue with many events that they seem to be planned as an isolated activity. We have been experimenting with webinars and have tried to use blog and LinkedIn group to encourage discussion before and after the event, in particular so that conversations that start in the webinar can continue afterwards. To be honest it has not worked that well – maybe it is a feature of events that people like: conversations are started but no obligation to continue after you leave?

    • chri5grant November 15, 2010 / 15:43

      Very valid point that I hadn’t considered. For many, I suspect that taking inspiration from those conversations may be enough. For me however, I am finding that conversation before the event helps me focus on the agenda in an informal way. As a result I feel better prepared when I arrive. It’s always good to continue the dialogue afterward – and it’s now easy to do this through social media. Keeping in touch with experts and peers is so easy online – people you may not otherwise have the opportunity to connect with; communication of a form that hasn’t been possible until now.  

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