Conference Experience Takeaways from the ASAE Great Ideas Conference

Last week I shared some ideas that are now rattling around in my head from the ASAE Great Ideas Conference I attended in Orlando. Since the conference was also just a nifty event in terms of format and experience, I thought I’d also share some reflections on the conference as a conference.

1/ There are some fun presentation formats out there!

Not sure what this says about my conference experiences, but I saw more unusual presentation formats at this conference than I’ve ever seen at a single event before – some I’d heard of before, others I hadn’t.

In an Ignite format, the speaker has 20 slides which are auto-advanced every 15 seconds – in this case, the format was used for somewhat more personal story-sharing to kick off a social event.

In a Pecha Kucha format, 20 slides are auto-advanced slightly more slowly – every 20 seconds. The speaker maxes out the presentation at 6 minutes and 40 seconds – great for keeping information flowing quickly, without getting bogged down (and at our session the presenters then had each table discuss the concept with respect to our own organizations, which kept things flowing even dynamically – and then they repeated the whole thing with another topic).

At a different workshop, the facilitator had each of us write down an issue, then pass that to the person next to us; our neighbour then led a rapid-fire 5-minute brainstorming with the whole table, on potential solutions to our issue. Everyone got a turn to have their issue be the table’s focus.

Looking for ways to shake up your learning events? These were intriguing and effective methods –  I can imagine plenty of applications in a lot of different settings. And there are, of course, lots more techniques out there, but these would be easy to incorporate into even a staid conference environment.

2/ New formats create a stark contrast with old ones.

One impact these unusual presentations had was to throw into sharp relief the drawbacks of the traditional presentation with slides, maybe some Q & A at the end. Some of the speakers who used more traditional formats were still great at that format – but much of the time I was wanting something different.

3/ Nice long breaks help with interaction.

There were half-hour breaks between sessions, and we put every minute of them to good use. At the end of a lot of sessions, participants often wouldn’t leave the room – some would bolt for the doors, but the exodus was generally pretty leisurely. It wasn’t unusual to see whole tables staying put to continue their conversations from the session (or start them, if the session hadn’t given much opportunity for interaction). And I suspect this was in part because we weren’t all trying to get to the restroom, get some coffee, and return a phone call within a short 15-minute break.

4/ Real-time feedback has interesting effects.

The ASAE used ExperienceGuru for feedback, in more or less real time. I got a text message with a link, asking me to rate a session I’d just attended – or was still sitting in – just with a happy, neutral or sad face, and the option to provide more detail. I did this probably a dozen times over the two-day conference, maybe more.

I suspect they got more accurate, thoughtful feedback from me than they’d get a few days after the fact, and, more to the point for me as an attendee, I was more engaged in the question of what was and wasn’t working for me at the event. I was assessing my own experience while it was still happening, and I had a chance to influence it – what was I getting out of it? what was I putting into it? and why? – as I was providing that feedback on an ongoing basis. I suspect this had an impact on my choice of sessions (more variety) and my interaction with others (more apt to ask them what they thought of a session we’d just been in).

5/ You can create a welcoming atmosphere with some of the very simplest of decisions.

At registration, we were given a badge and invited to add our own labels to it (you can see the photo above). Some labels available were specific to status or credentials (e.g. CAE), and others were just conversation-starters (“Rule-breaker”). But the invitation to decide for myself how I wanted to present myself to others was subtly profound, in the sense of autonomy and agency it offered.

6/ You’ll have to take my word for it that the food was great.

Empty Plate

I’m happy to share my knowledge and my experience – but I wouldn’t have shared that cookie with anyone. In a conference, where we often don’t get a chance to leave the hotel, it’s nice when the food reflects the location, and it seemed to me that the Hyatt Regency Orlando did a great job of this with varied menus with a Florida flavour. Poolside. Under the palm trees. In the sunshine. Did I mention this was in Orlando? In March?

You could tell who was from a snowy clime – we were the ones who were particularly blissed-out.

It didn’t strike me that these are terrifically complicated ideas to try, if you want to do something along these lines for your own event. However, it may be more about the design of the experience, than specific experiments to conduct or techniques to try. What might be possible to try at your own event to get you closer to the desired experience you can design for attendees, based on their priorities, their objectives, their reasons for being there? (Don’t know what those are? That’s an issue to think about fixing.)

Again, many thanks to all the organizers, speakers, and, maybe most of all, attendees, who made this such a great co-created experience.

If you’d like to talk about any of these (including that cookie), please get in touch.

Contact us at or call 416-737-3935 to discuss how we might be able to help.


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