Monday, August 22

What's your most memorable conference experience?

What makes for a conference event with impact? I'm building a list of what works best. What's your most memorable conference event? What delivered the most learning impact? I'll tell you mine; tell us yours in the Comment section.

About ten years ago I attended a presentation by the late Gordon MacKenzie, the "creative enigma" of Hallmark Cards and author of the wonderful book Orbiting the Giant Hairball. He hung a clothesline across the stage at the annual meeting of the Instructional Systems Association and pinned a dozen doodles on 8 1/2" x 11" sheets to it. The audience would point to a sheet, and Gordon would tell its story.

Gordon's stories were heartfelt, emotional, and often very personal. At times it felt like the story was telling Gordon rather than the other way around. Gordon broke into tears several times, and tears streamed down our faces in empathy.

Gordon shared another story with me over lunch. When he started a day with no particular objective, he would tell himself that during the day he was going to be amazed. And he always was. Gordon taught me a lot about feelings and sensitivity to others that day. He also demonstrated that the sequence of stories in a presentation isn't always that important. I mourned when his widow told me Gordon had passed on.


Anonymous said...

My most memorable conference was presented by IBM when they were pushing management to have warm and fuzzy feelings for employees. We were split into groups of 10 and the presenter gave each of us a silver dollar as a bet that we would leave more "feeling" than when we came. After expounding for about an hour on being nice to employees, he then collected the silver dollars from those who were touched by his talk. I still have mine today and know that managers should be fiscally responsible and not give away the companies assets.

Anonymous said...

I, too, would place Gordon's presentation towards the top of my list (I still have a postage stamp-sized video of it on a CD somewhere). Although I was already a believer in the power of story as a teaching strategy, his talk was one of the first examples I experienced firsthand, in a corporate environment, where someone exercised it so effectively. I still remember (over 10 years later) his story about the business man yelling at a field of cows to "get to work", and how Orville and Wilber Wright didn't have pilots licenses....

More recently, I really was inspired by a keynote that William Strickland gave about his efforts in PA - the possibilities that exist if one is simply willing to pursue them with conviction and vigor.

Also, I enjoyed a keynote by the Dean of Pixar University, Randy Nelson. No slides used (although he had some interesting video about the storyboarding and creation process for Toy Story 2), but he hit a chord with me about the difference between teaching algorithms and teaching heuristics (in most cases, we should be shooting for heuristics if we want to grow and innovate).