I have attended my first World Future Society conference, and I have to say, I think it will be my last. Not because there is anything wrong with it, but like most conferences I attend, I learned nothing new. Perhaps I should not expect to? As many people said to me, the conference is better for connecting minds via networking than for the sessions, which may be true but that's fairly damning of the people who present the sessions, and that probably is unfair.
And I did meet some really interesting new people, and met some folks I have built a relationship with via Twitter and the Association of Professional Futurists. I finally got to meet Frank Spencer, who was was as delightful as his Twitter activity suggests, Ruben Nelson, whose contributions to the listservs of the APF and WFSF are significant, and met some of the APF (Association of Professional Futurists) Board, of which I am Co-Chair, for the first time.
I guess because I was attending a conference about the future, I expected to learn new ideas and new thinking around what was influencing the future. I obviously didn't attend every session, and those I did were generally focused around leadership.
The opening keynote was on leadership and delivered with the slickness one expects of a well paid, professional speaker (Lance Secretan, who I had never heard of before). The content however, was not great, and was little more than a re-hash of existing leadership theory dressed up as the spark, the flame and the torch (the title of his book). Not a good opening.
The next morning, I headed for a session on The Future of Business, expecting to hear about the future of business, and instead got little more than a lecture on 'the future of business is social' - how long has that been around? Nothing new about that, and it would have been good to explore what might be coming after 'social'. A later session by Maria Andersen on the Future of elearning was, as expected, excellent, and probably the best example of how to present in ways that take us beyond the standard power point.
A session on a New Zealand foresight project run by the Sustainable Futures Institute was something new; an example of running a complex foresight exercise very well, and involving many stakeholders. I attended a session teaching futures and foresight which was good, and a keynote at a luncheon session on the Future of Ageing which was informative, and gave us all hope!
On the last day, I attended the Professional Members Forum, and while it was well planned, it too fell prey to standard approaches to dealing with presentations, the obligatory audience engagement exercises, and drawn out feedback processes. I do learn a lot from conferences about what not to do in my presentations, so I guess that is a good thing.
The APF held a professional development day just before the conference, and that was excellent, with presentations on comparisons between foresight and competitive intelligence, negotiating, managing the digital environment and a sharing exercise among participants. This was held in the Vancouver Library, which is an impressive building. A reception for members and guests was held in Gastown on Saturday night, and that was a great night, catching up with old friends and meeting new people. Both events demonstrated the value of being in a room with like minded people, who openly share their knowledge and can engage in a meaningful conversation.
This all got me to thinking about conferences and presentations. My hopes for future conferences I attend are simple:
- that more people have read Presentation Zen, The Naked Presenter or Presentation Zen Design, so that we avoid powerpoint slides full of very small text (yes it still happens), - that some of us experiment with Prezi and Pecha Kucha presentations, and - that presenters ensure that their delivery is crisp and succinct, and recognise that everyone's time is valuable.
Where possible, presenters should use new media to support their presentations, so we can have a conversation before and after the event.
And for futures/foresight conferences, my hope is that presenters move beyond telling us what we all know, or should know, and take us to the cutting edge of thinking about how the future might evolve - beyond the next five or ten years.
Tweets about the conference can be found by searching on the hashtags #wf11 and #wfs11.