Lucky enough to arrive at KMWorld the night before the main portion of the conference, I had the pleasure of catching a Nancy Dixon session that evening called “High Impact Storytelling“. Although it was not a competition, there was one story in that session that rose above all the others. Although I doubt I will do the story full justice, I will try to re-tell it here
The original storyteller, Lt Col Karuna Ramanathan, lives in Singapore and has a pretty heavy accent when speaking English. Although accents often create a communication gap, in this case I believe it helped because one had to concentrate throughout to pick up all the words.
As you can imagine from his title, Karuna is part of the military in Singapore. He starts out by setting the scene and explaining that military personnel in Singapore are very reluctant to share their opinions due to their culture. This can make for a very quiet after-action-review (AAR). In order to maximize the value of the program, they need to coax out the tacit knowledge. So, his team developed a framework they call 2-5-1. It goes like this:
- Who you are
- Summary of your experience
- 5 fingers
- Little finger – what parts of the effort did not get enough attention
- Ring finger – What relationships were formed, what you learned about relationship building
- Middle finger – what you disliked, what/who made you frustrated
- Pointer finger – what you would do better next time around, what you want to tell those who were “in charge” about what they could do better
- Thumb (up) – what went well. What was good.
- 1 – the most important takeaway from the effort
This is a framework that everyone can relate to. It is also a framework that is easily remembered and easily walked through while standing up in front of a group. Those who are uncomfortable speaking in front of a group can use one hand to grasp the corresponding finger on the other hand for each section…adding to their comfort level by giving them a prop.
If you have a good storytelling framework, tell us about it in the comments.
At the recent KMWorld09 conference in San Jose, CA; Nancy Dixon ran a session on the evening before the main conference began. It was the true essence of “teaching-by-doing” rather than just “teaching-by-telling”. She calls it, “High Impact Storytelling”.
In contrast, the majority of the sessions at KMWorld are traditional lectures with slides and a few questions at the end if there is time. My open letter to the KMWorld organizers describes some ways to improve the conference. I hope they will engage in a discussion to make KMWorld10 a better experience for KMer attendees. One of my suggestions was to include more sessions like Nancy’s (eg. Buzz Sessions) and increase significant peer to peer interactions.
How the session goes:
After a brief intro, Nancy introduces herself and requests that people move into small groups (4-5 ppl). Each group consists of chairs facing each other with no table in the middle.
- Nancy asks each person to take turns telling a story on particular topic. Ours was what was your best experience ever with KM.
- Each person has 2 minutes to tell their story before a bell rings and you move onto the next person
- Once you have made it all the way around the circle, she asks everyone to get up and find a new group
- Everyone is asked to tell the same story again, but to a new set of people. Of course, each of the other stories is new to you, even though it is the teller’s second time
- She repeats this one more time so that everyone moves to a new group and then tells their story a 3rd time
To close out the session:
- Nancy asks everyone to get up and put a hand on the shoulder of the person who they felt told the best story
- The person who garners the biggest crowd around them is asked to tell their story one more time for anyone who may not have heard it. Our winner was “2-5-1 storytelling“
- Then Nancy asks everyone to form one large circle and she facilitates a discussion about what was gained from the exercise
Here are some of my takeaways
- Telling a story multiple times makes you significantly better at telling it
- Because you want to get better at telling your story, you are not only listening to the stories of others, but also to HOW they tell their story in order to use their best practices to improve your own
- There is a significant level of bonding that is gained from a participatory shared experience. If one of your goals for a conference is to build relationships, this is a far superior format to sitting in a lecture.
- Tables are useful to put things on, but they are also a psychological barrier between people
If you have other high-impact conference session formats, please share them in the comments below.
Thanks for creating the environment where I can catch up with some old friends and meet lots of interesting new ones. We used KMWorld09 as a platform to launch the new http://KMers.org community and it was very successful in that regard.
As requested from our in-person discussion, here are some specific recommendations for conference improvement.
- Create an online environment where attendees can provide feedback about the conference. Not a survey, but quick comments. Use a tool that lets everyone see each other’s comments and vote on whether or not they agree. Try crowdsound, uservoice, or ideascale. All very cheap and probably free for KMWorld in return for the exposure they would get to KMers. Your audience will help you improve if you give them the tools.
- Create a physical Q&A room where speakers go after they finish speaking so that people can continue asking questions. Put the Q&A room on the schedule. If you don’t want to pay for another room, designate a table in the lobby where the speaker will hold court for an additional 30mins or so.
- Create a track which has only collaborative type sessions. Nancy Dixon’s session was a great example. Here is a description of another good format called Buzz
- Make sure that every speaker, speaks for a maximum of 2/3rds of the time slot. Too many sessions I attended just ended with zero chance to interact with the content.
- Simulcast the keynotes online. This will create significantly more exposure and therefore likely more awareness for next year’s conference
- Provide a place online where people can rate speakers and sessions. Not sure how you were vetting sessions this year, but it seemed that everyone came from a reputable source, but some were downright embarrasingly poor at communicating. I used to work at WSB so I know that the presentation is as important as the content for whether people enjoy and retain.
- Kudos for being on Twitter and for pushing out blog content during the conference. However, the hashtag should be a communal conversation. The tweeters are people and should be connected with as people. The way you used Twitter this time around is akin to walking into a cocktail party and just talking to everyone you walked up to, never listening, and never responding to their ideas. The best conferences are listening to their hashtag streams and engaging wherever they see an opportunity.
- Get the hashtag buzz going before the conference. This will help with registration.
- There are a variety of ways to use Twitter in sessions. Here is an article that I wrote for MPI’s One+ magazine
There are some excellent meeting planners who have great ideas about how to make conferences better
Please let me know if I can help. We all want KM to thrive. Conferences are an important part of maintaining a solid community.
All the best,