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Who Said Stuffy Conference Rooms Work Best?

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Who Said Stuffy Conference Rooms Work Best?

Conference rooms can be claustrophobic. They’re often temperature controlled, with no view, and a dull stillness that is intended to cut out distractions.

Instead of enhancing creativity, they often deaden everything: emotions, innovation, connectedness.

Who said that conference rooms work best?

Certainly not Kerry Grace, CEO of Regional Development Mid North Coast (RDAMNC):

“I want to promote my region and all that is on offer. I’m not going to get that by supporting just one venue and keeping people indoors. I want them to experience the community, the business offerings, the food, the climate, the Aboriginal history, the sense of possibility. And I also want to include local artisans, performers and community groups.”

The IGNITE Mid North Coast Symposium (IGNITE MNC) is an unconference of sorts run by Regional Development Australia, Mid North Coast. Now in its second year, this extraordinary event draws together the government sector, not for profits, business owners and the community to share information and ideas and connect people who might not usually have the opportunity to meet.

The Symposium brings every Council in the region into one place in a fun and exciting day that is talked about all year. Its purpose is to IGNITE business in the region.

This year the theme was Transformation by Design, and a stuffy conference room just wasn’t going to cut it. So what makes IGNITE MNC so different? How does it IGNITE connection, communication, innovation and business development for the region?

Here are 11 ways it got participants out of the conference room and into reality:

1. The venue.

Last year it was held in the Bowraville Theatre, and this year in the Bellingen Memorial Hall. These are wonderful places with a vintage feel. Just being in a venue that usually showcases theatre and art makes the event more creative.

2. The decor.

RDAMNC arranged for a local visual artist to create a landscape that became more lush as the day went on, showcasing the talent of the artist and creating a great mood for attendees.

3. Actors as marshals.

Two ‘clouds’, actresses dressed as clouds called Sunrise and Cirrus, guided participants up and down the road to the various parts of the day.

4. Smoking Ceremony.

Participants gathered outside the information centre for a traditional smoking ceremony to start the day.

5. Making our own name-tags.

A craft session was encouraged by marshalls in fluoro pink t-shirts, which offered a chance to mingle and connect before the day started.

6. Tea in a hall.

A chance to stretch our legs, and guided by the ‘clouds’ to tea made by a local Small Business, with displays by local councils and businesses on offer.

7. Lunch at local eateries.

Each participant chose an eaterie, got a coloured sticker to remind them which it was, and followed a pink fluoro t-shirted lady (volunteers deemed ‘local hosts’ from the Visitor’s Information Centre) to lunch. A great way to connect, and to support local business. Delicious food too.

8. Facilitation by a celebrity.

Clare Bowditch created a mood of connection and transformation, using song and story to hold the participants to the theme Transformation by Design.

9. Sessions on couches.

Most sessions were conversational and stretched the theme to include extraordinary stories like the story told by Dr Gregory Smith of his personal transformation through ten years living in the forest.

10. Clever tricks to connect.

Each person received a name of someone to find during the day, lunch was with people who had chosen the same eaterie, and the movement created a number of opportunities to make connections.

11. Evolving art.

Sand artist John Thiering created a magnificent backdrop to Clare Bowditch singing about transformation by design, and as she sang, a girl who was free to follow her dreams emerged on the screen behind Claire. Memorable, powerful and on point.

None of the trappings of a ‘normal’ conference to be seen here.

Thea O’Conner, one of the speakers who challenged what we do to our bodies and minds at work, said:

“Our work culture sanctions artificial stimulants like coffee and sugar but is suspicious of real rejuvenation like napping.”

Our work culture doesn’t usually encourage natural environments where we feel the weather, experience our surroundings and connect with real people in real time.

So here’s the challenge:

How can you take your next event out of a conference room into an environment where everyone wins – where the material is memorable, you support Small Business in the area, and you create an event that leaves everything we expect from boring old stuffy events behind?

I’d love to hear from you.

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  • Anetta Pizag
    Reply

    Excellent article Rosemary. Thank you for writing about this experience. After seeing so many conferences and training events held in boring, windowless, soulless rooms, it’s encouraging to see that some event organisers finally use the power of the space – and art – for bringing people together, and for bringing ideas to people. I hope we will see more of such events in future.

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