Meetings in a digitalized era—New types of conferences on the rise

Ironically, personal contact between people gains ever more unexpected importance in our world, which continues to digitalize and virtualize. This development can be observed in particular in those sectors that have already been forced to deal with digitalization on a large scale. In former times, concerts were only a necessary evil for the music industry, now they are part of their main sources of income. The same applies to the “concerts of the business sector”, i.e. conferences, presentations, discussion panels, etc. Pictures of the event are not posted to facebook, but at least the participation is communicated on Xing or declared on Twitter by means of the corresponding hashtag.

However, not only the run-up of events becomes ever more personal and the participation more transparent, it is also the event itself. The focus is on contacts of any kinds, the trend leaves discussion panels with a silent audience behind and leads to interactive approaches of sufficient scope for personal contacts. Some of these types of conferences will be presented in the following:

  • Speed dating: Talks of two are led within a slot of 15 minutes. The pairs are centrally combined according to previously submitted preferences and can be checked via an electronic calendar on the smartphones of the participants. The speed dating is a simple and first and foremost informal opportunity for the participants to get into a conversation with other interesting participants.
  • Fish bowl: Four chairs are put in the middle of the plenum whereas two are permanently occupied by the discussion leaders. Both remaining chairs can be used by the members of the plenum in order to involve contributions, questions or comments in the discussion. After a short time, the chair will then be free for others. The resulting discussions are more diverse and especially more dynamic thanks to the increased number of persons involved.
  • Topic laboratory: Exciting topics worthy of discussion are defined beforehand and one presenter is determined for each topic. People interested in a specific topic can gather at so-called “topic tables” and can exchange their opinion on their field of interest with the help of the presenter in a small group for a limited time slot.
  • Barcamp: Barcamps mostly, but not urgently have a superordinate topic, e.g. the perspective of cooperative banks that have been issue of the so-called GenoBarcamps (German article). After a short introduction, the day is divided in different slots. Single participants can offer sessions on a selected sub-topic within these time slots. Other participants can join (without registration) and jointly develop topics and elaborate results. After having completed the work phase, the results of all sessions are collected and thus serve as a basis for other ideas.

These and similar approaches have in common that the distance between the speaker and the plenum is significantly reduced. However, this reduction does not apply to respect. Increased action and interaction make topics more tangible and enhanced integration of different perspectives of participants supports a holistic examination of the topic. Speakers have the opportunity to receive direct feedback of participants who previously only were silent bystanders. Sufficient time at the end of the events gives room for setting up personal contacts apart from the program.

These approaches can also be considered an expression of a new work and interaction culture. The “infallibility of the presentation” is replaced by a less hierarchy-driven type of discussion—for that the speaker does not face the participants from the podium anymore, but is at eye level with them. The thought of participation as it can already be observed in other areas of society becomes more apparent in the working environment and is going to trigger further changes in this area.


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Dr. Matthias Uebing

Partner zeb Berlin

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