One of the things I love to do, and find myself doing more and more of professionally, is organising highly-participative online events.
Most of these bring together up to around 50 people for a short event around a theme, mixing networking and learning for 90 minutes or so. But for each of the last three years there’s also been one big event: the Metaphorum. I’m just starting work on the next edition. Book your seat here.
Metaphorum involves about 150 people from all over the world. We’re all enthusiasts for Clean Language and its associated topics. We connect live via the internet on a single day, maybe for as long as 13 hours (to cover a bunch of timezones).
We get into video conference calls and talk about the stuff that matters to us. It’s pretty compelling: participants say they get so drawn into the discussions that their main problem with the event is remembering to eat, drink and move about!
Metaphorum is an online unconference. What’s that? Well, it’s an adaptation of Open Space Technology. There’s more about how it’s worked in the past here.
There’ll be further adaptations for this year’s event (happening on Friday, 22 November, 2019). My intention is to take it closer to the tried-and-tested in-the-room format of Open Space, in the expectation that it will make our day together more valuable.
Not only will we have fun and learn from each other. We’ll also get to the heart of some of the key issues in our field; thrash things out; have the conversations that really matter.
The truth is that the group’s most experienced Open Spacers were a little disappointed with the first three Metaphorums (Metaphora?). Too much was planned in advance: not enough was spontaneously organised on-the-day in response to what had just happened.
I have a fair idea about why that was. First time around, nobody had ever done this before. People were afraid of the technology. I was afraid nobody would turn up. So I scurried around inviting top-name Clean trainers to run sessions, planning them all into a schedule ahead of time. I was stressed about timezones, and I wanted to be sure that something exciting would always be going on.
I pretended these were just “seed sessions” and there was plenty of space for others – but the reality was that the “names” dominated the day.
Once that format worked first time, it was natural to repeat it. And repeat it. But there was a cost: we set up an “us and them” dynamic and missed out on a lot of wisdom from the other participants. And our conversations stayed at a fairly superficial level.
Now, we’re all more used to the reality of being online together. As a community – partly as a result of the Metaphorum – we’re ahead of the curve in our use of video conference technology. A lot of Clean trainers now use Zoom for at least a part of their courses. We’re not scared of being teleported into breakout rooms!
So, I reckon that this year’s Metaphorum, the fourth, needs a shift of structure. How can we make it easier and more natural for “ordinary participants” to propose and run sessions on the topics that matter to them? How can we ensure that Clean trainers and other thought leaders feel they learn loads from the day, rather than turning up to “deliver”?
For my part, I’m more experienced at running online events. I’m doing it for other organisations, as well as for the Clean community. I’m learning with a community of other online facilitators around the world. And I’ve attended a lot of in-the-room Open Space events.
I have a bunch of practical and technological ideas about things we might change this time, including:
- Schedule open pre-conference conversation/mixer sessions
- Don’t make centralised recordings (controversial?!)
- Limit the number and type of “seed sessions”
- Have longer, more frequent and more interactive plenary sessions, in which sessions are proposed and reported back.
And, those experienced Open Spacers tell me that the event should really launch with a compelling question.
I’m wondering about, “What would Clean like to have happen?”
- What do you reckon? Please comment below.