CONFERENCES, SEMINARS, WORKSHOPS, UNCONFERENCES
We may classify events can in a few broad categories based on their purpose and objective:
Leisure Events [leisure, sport, music, recreation]
Cultural Events [ceremonial, religious, art, heritage, and folklore]
Personal Events [weddings, birthdays, anniversaries]
Organisational Events [commercial, political, charitable, sales, product launch, trade fairs, shows, road shows etc]
Academic Events [ conferences, workshops, seminars, symposium, unconference]
In this first part of the article, let us focus on Academic Events, since that’s what I am most conversant with, having been a teacher and training manager for most part of my career, and having participated in, actively presenting papers and passively as delegate, and also organised many Conferences, Seminars, Workshops, Symposia et al. [Of course, I have organized and participated in many other types of events as well, and may write about it subsequently].
The two main stakeholders in an academic event are the organisers and the participants or delegates.
From the academic point of view the Organisers view the event as one-way communication, a gathering where they impart information to the attendees. [Of course there may be other commercial and career ambition motives as well!].
The Delegates may look at the event from different points of view – there are a number of reasons why persons attend academic events like conferences: learning experience, enjoyment, professional networking, seeking peer group approval and prestige [by presenting their research papers], as a perk or reward for good performance etc.
Conference: A meeting of individuals or representatives of various bodies for the purpose of discussing and/or acting on topics of common interest or theme. A conference is a large event, lasting several days and attracting a large number of delegates. Typically a conference may attract more than a thousand delegates.
A session is an unbroken period within a conference; the plenary session is a session at which all delegates are present. The “Graveyard Shift” is the session immediately after lunch when most delegates are likely to feel drowsy, siesta and nap off. A poster session affords opportunity for authors of papers which are not actually presented in the conference to display posters, summaries and abstracts of their papers to delegates and stand by to discuss and answer questions. This is held during conference session breaks outside the main conference hall in the foyers and adjacent lobbies.
Convention: A convention, or congress, is a gathering of greater importance than a conference, much larger in size, with a few thousand participants, with a formal agenda and programme, with the aim of formulating policy.
Seminar: A seminar is a small to medium sized event with the number of delegates ranging from 20/30 to around 100/200. Seminars are compact one or two day events designed to educate and inform delegates of the subject(s) of interest and discuss issues of common concern.
Symposium: A symposium is a Seminar where only a single topic or subject is discussed in an informal way encouraging inter-delegate-speaker communication and debate.
Colloquium: In a colloquium one or more experts or eminent academicians deliver lectures on a subject followed by a question and answer session. A colloquium is purely academic in nature.
Workshop: A workshop is a small gathering of delegates to discuss and exchange ideas on specific topics or to solve particular problems. It is like a symposium but more formal in nature.
Meeting: A meeting is a much smaller event, maybe involving a few executives or invitees, discussing business or a precise agenda.
Information Flow: In a symposium and workshop the flow of information is between all the participants, delegates and speakers; whereas in a seminar and colloquium the flow of information is primarily one-way from the speakers to the audience. Of course, in a meeting there is more of presentation, deliberation and discussion with the aim of collective consensus and decision-making.
Clinic: A clinic is a meeting of a select group of persons with common interests, confronting and discussing real-life situations and problems, organised for the purpose of diagnosing, analysing and seeking solutions to specific problems.
Unconference: An “unconference” is a facilitated, participant-driven face-to-face conference centred on a theme or purpose.
At traditional conferences, the most productive moments often occur during informal networking, tête-à-tête and discussions between the formal sessions, in tea and lunch breaks and in the evenings – that is what an unconference aims to achieve.
The cardinal premise of an “unconference” is that there are no spectators and that everyone is a participant.
This sets the stage for everyone to actively contribute and is another factor in making this event so unique.
The idea of “unconference” probably emanated from the Fundamental Law of Conventional Conferences: “The sum of the expertise of the people in the audience is greater than the sum of expertise of the people on stage.”
The aim of an unconference is to break the barrier between the audience and the speakers on the podium. Members of the audience and participants write topics they're interested in on boards, consolidate the topics, and then break into discussion groups.
At traditional conferences, the most productive moments often occur during informal networking, tête-à-tête and discussions between the formal sessions, in tea and lunch breaks and in the evenings – that is what unconferences aim to achieve.
With the advent of the internet and increasing virtual interaction, meetings, conferencing, networking and modern forms of “formal” and “informal” web-based communication and learning technologies, the concept of “unconferencing” is more attractive than traditional conferences of the “old mould” type.
So how does one plan and organise such academic events? There are so many aspects and factors to be considered – topic, venue, dates, programme, speakers, papers, delegates, technology, communication, budget, accommodation, food, entertainment, PR, promotion, publication, sponsorship, commercial aspects, check-off lists… I’ll end here now… more on this and about other types of events later on this blog.
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