Over the past three days I had the opportunity to attend the International Special Event Society's (ISES) annual conference. In the past, EventWorld (as it was formerly known) was fairly straightforward as conferences go, employing somewhat of a cookie-cutter approach: general session/keynote--> static breakouts/presentations, rinse and repeat. Along with the standard format also came a standard mission, which was speakers presenting information and imparting their wisdom on attendees. The idea being, of course, that presenters are the experts and therefore should be the primary source of knowledge, content and information. In truth this is the model of most conferences, and there is nothing inherently wrong with the approach.
This year, however, ISES decided that it was time for a change, and that the education and format was ready for an upgrade. So equipped with a new name -- ISES Live -- and a sunny destination (Paradise Island) ISES debuted a brand new conference that was a welcome approach.
• On day one, presenters would take the stage in the general session room for a 15-minute overview on their speaking topic. After that 15 minutes was up, they would relocate to a smaller breakout room, and if you were interested in continuing that conversation you would simply get up and join them in their new room for a deeper-dive. Otherwise you could continue to listen to keynote overviews until there was something that resonated. (The general session room was set with cluster-style lounge seating, making it very comfortable for guests to come in and out.)
• Once settled in a breakout session, you were encouraged to get up and leave if you felt that you had sufficiently explored the topic, so that you would have the opportunity to listen in on other discussions of interest.
• On day two there were no keynotes, just a wide selection of breakout topics including Creativity Sparks, Problem Solving, Managing Creativity and The Art of Connections.
• From the opening remarks to each of the breakouts, the sessions were incredibly interactive. Lots of round tables, group case studies, hands-on projects and free-flowing discussions. In short, the individuals that led the ISES Live keynotes and breakouts were part presenters, part facilitators and part moderators. They were a source of knowledge, but the majority of the information distributed was user-generated content. Attendees sharing ideas with other attendees. And it worked.
The focus of 2013 ISES Live was creativity, and it was visible throughout the conference. From the presenters to discussion topics to the new format, the show was fresh, interactive and most definitely a model to follow.