Be Careful of Format Fetish

I loved being a part of the IGNITE presentations earlier this year at the ASAE Great Ideas Conference and look forward to doing another IGNITE, Toward a More Sustainable You, at the Annual Meeting in August.  To see the enthusiasm for different content delivery approaches has been great.

But I'm experiencing a slight unease and deja vu as I see some conference planners rush to add IGNITE talks to their conference schedules.

Years ago when Open Space first got mainstream attention, everyone wanted to try it.  Often, however, what people introduced as Open Space was really some inadequately structured time tacked on to a conference or included as part of a workshop.  It had little to do with the true spirit and principles of Open Space, nor did it use its methodology.  As a result, some participants had unsatisfying encounters with what they thought was the Open Space meeting technology when they actually had not experienced it at all.

Meeting professionals, presenters, and facilitators must beware of format fixation or fetish: using a format for format's sake.  Not all learning formats or discussion processes are best suited for all content or every meeting or conference.
  • Not every webinar has to include polling.
  • Not every panel discussion has to include presentation segments from the panelists.
  • Not every general session has to include a keynote speaker.
  • Not every conference has to include breakout sessions.
Every content segment can be brought to life in dozens if not hundreds of different ways. Our mantra as planners or presenters needs to be: It's about the learning.

As minimum we must consider if the format is appropriate for the participants, the content, and the overall learning experience we are designing.  We also need to examine if our intended use reflects the format's true methodology and principles, or if what we are planning is really "in name only."  If the latter, we shouldn't use the name.  Showing a limited number of slides for a limited amount of time does not fully equate to an IGNITE or Pecha Kucha experience.

Shiny new technologies or formats will always catch our eye, and we most definitely should be looking for them and experimenting.  But choosing to adopt or apply them needs to serve the learning experience we are trying to create and the needs of the participants we seek to engage.  Otherwise we do a disservice to ourselves, the participants, and ultimately to the format or technology itself.