ActKM should abandon its conference

Posted by  Shawn Callahan —October 30, 2005
Filed in Employee Engagement

I would like ActKM to abandon the speaker-audience model in their conferences and adopt something radically different—discussions. Dave Winer sums the problem up beautifully:

The problem with most conferences is that the intelligence is sitting in the dark with its hands folded, falling asleep while a bunch of idiots on stage with PowerPoints talking nonsense because they are so scared they need crutches to keep from having a nervous breakdown. This has been going on for twenty years. It’s time to try something new.

Right on!

As I reflect on the ActKM conference I realise the reason I enjoyed it so much was the great conversations we had, but they didn’t occur during the presentations, they happened in the coffee break area. David Glynn-Jones, this year’s organiser, specifically made the coffee area a focal point and it was an excellent decision. That was definitely a step in the right direction but why not convert the entire conference into a organised coffee break. I believe this was the thinking that also led to Open Space approach to meetings.

Check out Dave’s post because it describes how such a conference could work. He calls it unconferencing.

About  Shawn Callahan

Shawn, author of Putting Stories to Work, is one of the world's leading business storytelling consultants. He helps executive teams find and tell the story of their strategy. When he is not working on strategy communication, Shawn is helping leaders find and tell business stories to engage, to influence and to inspire. Shawn works with Global 1000 companies including Shell, IBM, SAP, Bayer, Microsoft & Danone. Connect with Shawn on:


  1. From you as one of the particularly engaging speakers at the conference, that’s somewhat provocative Shawn! (I declare an interest… I was also one of the “idiots on stage with Powerpoints”).
    There is one big reason why the speaker model works well: first, you get to see a display of what somebody knows, composed in a thorough and careful way, and presented systematically, in a way that does not emerge so effectively in discussion or conversation. If it’s done well, it means you have the starting point for a conversation to follow. I guess it’s the difference between a short blog and a well-worked monograph or article. Both have their value.
    As you know, I’m a big believer in open space… in fact, I practice it at conferences. I use my two feet to either attend or not attend sessions, and if I’m not at a session, I’m having conversations with the other people who are stepping out, resting, conversing.
    So I don’t agree, I’m afraid… I like the ACT-KM model the way it is! We don’t want to throw out the baby with the bath water.

  2. I was chatting to Andrew about this today and we discussed your presentation which was a highlight at the conference. It started us thinking that some of the conference would benefit from well thought out and presented arguments, like yours, and the rest composed of discussions.
    I thought the best session of the two days was when we sat in a circle and discussed how the ActKM list actually worked (or didn’t). Getting viewpoints from a range of people was extremely valuable and in 60 minutes we had contributions from 6-8 people instead of one.

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