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Engaging the right chemistry

Engaging the right chemistry


Adrian Segar is an expert in particle physics who knows how to get the chemistry of conferences just right. He champions a collaborative approach to event planning, one that involves every person in the room.

Speaking about his upcoming participation at BLEND Abu Dhabi, Segar says: “In my workshop, I’ll give participants a taste of what experiential learning can be like. Participants will learn useful information about each other, and experience the benefits of active rather than passive learning.”

The perfect showcase of this contemporary approach to conferences, BLEND Abu Dhabi aims to engage guests in an interactive setting. Moving away from traditional lecture-style speaker formats, and instead opting for a more active experience, participants can take part in the day’s programme of creative content while lounging on bean bags, before networking with other delegates in a picnic-style lunch format.

It’s exactly this style of participant-led conference that Segar strongly advocates as a model for the industry going forward.

He says: “We’ve known for a long time now that the learning model that most traditional conferences use — having experts talking at people — is a terrible way for people to learn.

“Today we have all these amazing ways to learn through broadcast content. We don’t need to go physically to hear an amazing lecture anymore. We can just watch it on YouTube or on the Internet. And so, if you’re going to spend all this time and money sending people to face-to-face events and they’re just going to sit and listen to someone recap their YouTube video, that’s not a really good use of people’s time,” says Segar.

“My point of view is that a room full of adult professionals collectively knows far more than any one person or two people who are up on the stage for an hour or so. We need to have conferences that tap that knowledge and also have methodologies that allow us to meet the people in that room, those 10 people in that room of 200 people who we would really like to get to know, because they know some interesting stuff, and they really want to get to know us, because we’ve done something interesting.”

He adds: “Slowly but surely, the conference industry is accepting these ideas, and moving towards conference formats that involve far more peer learning, connection, and engagement. Conferences that don’t make this shift successfully are at risk of becoming increasingly irrelevant and obsolete.”

Having started out with a Ph.D in elementary particle physics, Segar’s varied career has seen him dabble in everything from solar energy to teaching, but it’s his expertise in shaping successful conferences that has garnered the most acclaim, with two best-selling books, and a third on the way.

He says: “Since my physics days, I have convened conferences on topics in which I was professionally involved. In 1992, I began creating participant-led and participation-rich events, commonly known as unconferences, because I was working in a new field where there were no established experts.”

And for Segar, consulting an expert is one of the most important ways a planner can shape the right type of conference.

He says: “The most important action planners need to take to make participatory conferences work is to involve experienced conference designers and facilitators early on — and there are very few of these right now — who know how to work with meeting stakeholders to create appropriate peer learning, connection, engagement, and outcomes at conferences.”

The right venue is also vital to the overall result, and for Segar, venues that are spacious, bright and flexible deliver a better experience – in much the same way Yas Conference Centre provides a dynamic new space for creative conferences in the capital.

He explains: “Some venues that are designed for presentation-style conferences create a significant barrier to creating meaningful engagement. Auditoriums are the classic example. I am always looking for venues with large open flexible spaces that can be set in a variety of ways. Give me flexible space and I can design an event that meets owner, sponsor, and participant needs.”

Learn more insights from Segar during his BLEND Abu Dhabi presentation ‘Creating Participatory Meetings That Deliver Learning, Connection, Engagement, and Action’. His workshop ‘Participation Rich Meetings’ also promises to be a fascinating session.

Adrian Segar, and the rest of the expert panel, are part of a packed schedule for the one-day conference at Yas Conference Centre on 17 October.