Shows, Fringes and Chillies

Aren’t people amazing! The last three days in London have been just amazing because of the people I’ve been with, the human connections I’ve made, the new ideas I’ve picked up.

Two of those days were at the CIPD L&D Show. Day 1 was steady ( but day 2 definitely picked up pace with speakers seeming more confident and informed about their content, content generally having a greater depth to it, and – maybe? – my expectations being different after day 1?

Putting on such an event is a real challenge. You have a full spectrum of attendees from brand new people to the profession who may or may not be studying, well established professionals, people who have come to HR / L&D later in their career but who are experienced in other areas of organisations….and no doubt more.

How do you cater for such a wide variety of customers and get it right for all of them?

It’s a challenge that many a business faces. Who are our customers, what are their needs, what do we provide, do we provide what they’re asking for today or what we think they’ll want tomorrow but don’t yet know it!

And there’s a danger with businesses trying to be all things to all people because then they don’t necessarily do anything very well.

But is the CIPD different?

Should they cater for the wide variety of people who are part of their customer-base? Is that their purpose? To be fully inclusive? Should they be role modelling the leadership behaviours with their attendees in how they run these events, that their attendees hear so much about in the sessions (sharing a purpose, human, not perfect, honest, non-hierarchical, inclusive, listening, asking great questions, providing a positive future and hope, teaching where needed but coaching where not).

If that’s the case then, after much discussion with other folk over the last couple of days, but specifically with Julie Drybrough, Sarah Boyd and Gareth Jones today, we think we may have some ideas for ways forward!

What if the conferences were based on the format of the Edinburgh Festival & Fringe. You have some ‘theatre’ sessions where you get a ‘proper’ show. You get smaller theatre sessions where you get mini bite sized shows. So not massively dissimilar to where we are today I hear you cry…..

but then… have The Fringe.

Stuff going on all around the conference hall – in the main exhibition hall, in open spaces to the side – only lasting maybe 15 mins where people are facilitating rapid working sessions to turn what’s been heard into reality, to gather ideas from people about core topics, to hear what people are loving and what they’d want more of at the next event, to connect people who may not otherwise connect, to enable new people to the profession explore what options could be ahead on their career and which they might focus on.

And maybe, in the interests of non-hierarchical, all of this is priced at the same amount – no such thing as the ‘cheap seats’. If you’re at a 15 minute Fringe session you can expect the same high standard of content and facilitator as you’ll get in a speaker in a theatre session.

But then, more than that, a ‘chilli’ rating (or something like that) – you know the ones which you get on Indian restaurant menus. So that rather than sessions just being classed as ‘big theatre’, ‘small theatre’ or ‘fringe’ you can also pick out the one chilli rated content as the ‘nuts and bolts’ content, the bread and butter of the subject. All the way through to the three chilli rated content which is the brand new, boundary-pushing, experimental content – which may be great for some and completely inappropriate for others.

And set up as learning sessions – what would be better than showing delegates new and effective ways of delivering learning using these sessions as a platform? Where the sessions role model what great learning facilitation looks like. Sessions that meet the needs of what we’re discovering through neuroscience, and what we know works best for learning being absorbed (i.e. not being talked through some slides for an hour or more) and maybe even a quiet indoor garden space where people can go to reflect and gather their thoughts before they go to learn more and meet more great people!

I’ve no doubt there are loads more ideas out there……what do you think? What would you do if it was your event?

11 thoughts on “Shows, Fringes and Chillies

  1. Like it Helen, and co. The general feedback I sensed and saw matches yours – day two better than day one. I agree delivering a big event is a challenge, and I think the CIPD and others need to rethink some of what they do. Meg Peppin and I facilitated a fringe event at last year’s CIPD annual conference – it was great fun and brought something a little different to the mix. Here’s some more information about it – in case you and your readers are interested.

    And I enjoyed following your tweets from the event this week – thanks.


  2. Nice work guys.

    On my day 1 wanderings, I noticed quite a few people on their own, sitting in corners or mooching about. I was thinking firstly that would have been me, pre- Twitter days. And secondly, wouldn’t it be great to have some people whose brief was to meet, greet and connect. Y’know, Twitter IRL. Draw in the solo operators and help them get involved, if they want to. Not everyone will of course, but some would. It’d be a deeper opportunity than the speed networking sessions and it might just help people get what they’ve come for…

  3. Get rid of the whole vendors section in the middle. Replace it with one of those touch screens you see in big shopping malls that allows you to interact.

    Eradicate tribal conferences like this one and recruitment and software, etc and give it the one week of great, joined up and aligned People Strategies

    Fixate less with the FTSE 100 representatives. They are presenting less and less relevance on how to deal with the modern issues we face.

    Prepare people going to it to select a series of connected events and try and ensure some type of learning after it too.

    Bring more non-HR relevance to the event. Be honest with where we are currently ultimately try and create momentum around it for each year as a way of accelerating our development as a profession.

    Have better sandwiches, more cake and less sweets 🙂

    • Some great ideas! One challenge though is that the vendors will fund a significant part of the costs. What other ways do you think could be used to compensate for that reduced cash stream?

      • Replace membership with a season ticket that tells you what you get and this face to face showpiece takes the place of other ‘bad money’ ventures from CIPD. There can be an advertising line but standing around in booths hS to end.

  4. Hi Helen. Great post and I agree the event needs a review. In fact I wonder if the conference in its current guise will be dead and gone in 3-4 years. Love the idea of ‘fringe’ that is integrated and part of it too.

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