The Doggie-Bag Session

 

What if you could give each participant in your next major conference, a "doggie-bag" to take home? But instead of containing a chicken wing in tinfoil, a container of left-over sushi, and a half-eaten Napolean, this doggie-bag would contain each participant's selection of great ideas, information, and contacts.

By the end of your conference, your participants are grateful for the mental feast you've provided -- but they may also be feeling a little overwhelmed and uneasy. They may be wondering just how much of what they've learned, they'll be able to put to profitable use.

The Doggie-Bag Session (you may want to give it a more dignified name -- we called a recent one "Making the Magic Happen in Medical Marketing") gives them a departing dose of inspiration, focus, and commitment. It can make the difference between their recalling your meeting as 'just a great all around conference" and their remembering it as "the start of the three most important things I've gotten done this year."

You'll also be using one of the most powerful concepts in adult learning:
the "Time Continuum Model of Motivation" developed by Raymond Wlodkowski (ED.: sic), which posits that learners need different kinds of experiences at the beginning, during, and at the end of any learning process. At the end,
they need to focus on Competencies and Reinforcement. That's what the Doggie Bag session does.

There are five highly serviceable things you can accomplish with such a session at the end of your conference:

1. Celebrate your success

Evoke the peak moments of the conference,
savor them in rapid-fire succession, and provide a last chance
to capture the vital points. Use dramatization,
mind-mapping, or some other entertaining format.

Example: At a recent sales conference, "Hilda Sellabunch"
described how she used techniques she'd learned at
the conference, to double her sales. At another,
"Best-________-of-the-Conference were given out
for six goofy distinctions, in the form of Burger-King
Crowns.

2. Acknowledge the problems

Conferees know what's waiting for them on their desks when
they get home -- a pile-up of e-mail, voice-mail, faxes, and
those pesky little pink squares that say "While you were out,
_________ called. URGENT." Dealing with this directly
can greatly strengthen their capacity to avoid getting
sucked right back into the undertow of "Urgent but not
important" chores in their offices.

Example: I often hold up a fistful of those pink squares,
read a dozen for laughs, then thrown them up in the air.
As they flutter down around me like giant Japanese
cherry blossoms, I launch a discussion of how participants
can overcome being "interrupt-driven," and can capture
the time they need to follow-up on conference learning.

3. Help them "Take it Home!"

With a giant valise on the stage,
I pack a metaphoric "bag of tricks" which conferees can use
on the plane and on their first day back in the office. In dyads,
triads or larger groups if seating permits, conferees
identify 1 - 3 Great Ideas which they have learned at
the conference. Depending on the size and set-up,
some of these can be shared via overhead projection,
Donahue-style travelling microphone, or other means.
Participants are energized to "target" ways in which
they will use, back on the job.

Example: A simple Project Planning form that provides
space to fill in Benefits, Problems, Costgs, Personnel,
Approval, Initial Steps. A collective "mind map" by the
whole group, built up from their contributions via
overhead transparency, then instant-copied so everyone
leaves the session with a copy.

4. Buddy up

I often get conferees involved in small teams (2 or 3)
and get them committed to checking in on each other at the
end of a week, month, or whatever's appropriate, to encourage
follow-through. (See previous column, "Keeping Conference
Learning Alive," Convene, DATE.)

Of course, you may want to launch one or more networks of
participants who want to work together in the aftermath of the
conference.

5. Use Exemplars

Identify half a dozen participants who have already made
plans to implement something they've learned, and have
them present it in one minute. This makes clear that
different kids of ideas can be put to use in different kinds
of ways.

6. Market resources -- This is a prime time to mention audio-
tapes of sessions, and educational offerings that follow-up on
major conference themes.
By the end, they have been exposed to more than they can take in.

Is there anyone out there who hasn't sung "those final session Blues?!"

You know the feeling: it's the last plenary of a 5 day convention; the few who have turned out for the session are dressed the the plane, checked out, luggage stowed; even the speaker's looking a little piqued -- and she just came in last night!

As a top meeting planner, you've got a repertoire of ways to avoid this situation.
Here are some of the basic strategies which I've found most serviceable:

Your major annual conference is a rich banquet of ideas, information, and inspiration for your participants. By the end, they've tasted more delicious and nutritious "dishes" -- at the various session -- than at any other time during the year.

If so, they would welcome a "Doggie Bag" in which they can conveniently take home what they've most enjoyed, but haven't been able to take in! Many associations are finding such a session very much appreciated.

Copyright © 1999 Ronald Gross