Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Why Face-to-Face Conferences?

I am serving on a committee that is looking ahead to our 2015 district professional church workers conference. We are looking at revitalizing our approach to conferences after using the same model for the past 15 years. One of the things we have discussed is how to leverage the fact that we have so much talent in the same room at conferences, but very often we seem to be "together but not together" -- that we share a space but that we really only interact with our own faculty and a few other folks we might know. Face-to-face conferences are an expensive way to interact only with the same people that we see every day. This is not to say that getting away from campus, enjoying the social company of others, etc., does not have value, but it seems as if there is a missed opportunity for so much more when professional educators from around a district get together.

As we have been investigating new models and approaches to conference time, here are some guiding thoughts that I have had on this topic:
  • The best conferences are about conversations -- discussions we cannot easily have when we are apart. While keynote messages have value, they don't often foster conversations that take advantage of being together. We need to do a better job of providing specific opportunities for these conversations, and then digital tools to continue the conversations and learning. Newer approaches, such as the Edcamp model, do this well.
  • The best conferences have a pace, flow, and movement where one leaves feeling that it was time well spent.
  • Why should all the education talent at a conference come to just receive? Wouldn't it be powerful if the talents of the group could be used to also create something of value for others?
  • The best conferences provide both professional feeding for the present but also a vision and challenge for the future.
  • If we set up conferences each year the way we always have done them, we are sending a subtle message to participants that it is acceptable to continuously use the same model without reflection and thinking about the needs of learners that are present. Would we do that in our classrooms? If not, why should we be doing that with conferences? Is that the message we really want to communicate?
I believe that for 21st century face-to-face conferences to be relevant there needs to be a dynamic mix of pacing, feeding, conversations, and building -- activities that fully take advantage of the face-to-face setting.

What makes face-to-face conferences relevant for you? Share your ideas and thoughts as a comment to this post. Let's work to make professional time together as productive as possible!


  1. Much needed post, Dave. I agree with the factors you've suggested that are needed to create a relevant conference experience. Sounds like an exciting challenge for the committee.

    Conferences that have impacted me most significantly have been because I've had time to cultivate relationships, acquire practical applications, had time to reflect and had the opportunity to engage with attendees outside of the conference event- sustained learning/support.

  2. Thanks for the feedback Brent. We are working to approach things very differently, as you can probably tell, and your response is helpful.