People often say their best learning experiences don't come in breakouts or general sessions, but instead from the casual get-togethers in the hallways and lobbies. Stowe Boyd, in reference to one of these sessions at the ETech conference that he posted about on the Conferenza blog, described it so beautifully that I have to repeat it here:
The question for meeting planners is how to encourage that wild sprouting, even in the midst of the well-pruned roses.
Also, there's some fascinating reading in this Conferenza post about the TechDirt Greenhouse event. From what Shel Israel posts, it sounds like the organizers did some interesting things, format-wise.
After hearing several of them, the audience of about 50 would subdivided into small groups, where they would work on generating specific suggestions on how to resolve the problems. For example, I followed a company called Loomia, which described itself as a company that gets beyond search to give you relevance. The problem is that to accomplish this, they need to know something about your tastes and preferences and this leads to a privacy issue.
I joined the breakout group headed by Tracy Sheridan who met with the Loomia founder and gave him armloads of constructive ideas on how the problem might be addressed or circumvented. When the group merged into the general assembly, Tracyâ€™s representative read the list of suggestions we had come up with as did the other subcommittee heads.
It's similar to a structure I've been seeing more of lately in meeting planner association events, except, instead of having one pundit (or a panel of pundits) talk about something, then break the audience into small groups to further discuss the topic and report back, they used the wisdom of the crowd to come up with actual answers to specific problems. I love this!