The design of the "conference experience" is an interest of mine, as one who has played various roles in designing different portions of conference experiences and, of course, as one who prefers to have a good experience at conferences I attend.
I was particularly interested in the design of the experience of the one-day, single-track Mobile Persuasion conference held at Stanford University last Friday.
The conference content was itself of great interest. The diverse collection of topics addressed included augmenting reality with mobile technology, using cell phones as performance coaches, using cell phones to facilitate social change, mobile advertising, mobile dating, using mobile technology for health and wellness, and the relationships people have with their mobile phones. Of particular interest to me, as one who has engaged in, managed, and advocated "ethnographic" research in business (see, for example, "Designing for emerging, non-western markets"), was the session on the different roles mobile phones play in different cultures.
Thirty-one speakers, not counting session moderators, were spread across 8 sessions, limiting each presentation to just a few minutes. "I thought the communicated limit of 9 minutes for my presentation was just a typo," proclaimed one speaker in the men's room. Some speakers were permitted even less time. And in the final "lessons learned" wrap-up session, each of the 4 speakers who were asked to share their interpretations of what they heard and saw during the previous 7 sessions were permitted to speak no more than 30 seconds at a time (each could speak several times, but for no longer than 30 seconds each time). And everyone was carefully timed.
Such limits can prompt experiences and expressions of frustration from speakers and attendees alike, unless each session and each piece thereof is appropriately designed. As suggested earlier, not quite all of the speakers were fully prepared to be constrained by such time limits; as Jeremy Lind blogged, some presenters were "skipping and flipping their slides (note to self: always prepare your slides for the right time limit)." And most presentations appeared to be independently prepared, without much knowledge of or reference to the contributions of other participants in the same session.
Yet, most speakers were ready for and, thankfully, didn't fight the time limit. And, in my view, the final session of the day in which the participants could speak in only 30-second bursts was greatly enhanced by that constraint, making the session more conversational -- more interactive, prompting more contrasts and comparisons of perspectives and resulting in comments that leveraged and built off of the comments of others.
I applaud the jam-packed sessions and the associated time constraints imposed by Conference Chair BJ Fogg, who had previously participated as a presenter in a conference program with similarly jam-packed sessions and for which I was a Program Chair -- DUX 2003.
Since so much mobile persuasion itself occurs in short, high-speed bursts, ...
Note that the above posting is not a comprehensive review of the conference experience. Among conference features not mentioned were the many small, tall tables intended to attract attendees during breaks for discussions about the different mobile persuasion topics displayed on signs above the tables. And there were the fun giveaways that could be received only if an attendee returned from a break on time (that BJ is a stickler for time, no?). And...