What makes a Conference different?

At dinner on the Wednesday night of the 2017 edition of the Big Picture Leadership conference, my colleague observed, “this is the first conference I ever attended when I didn't want to sneak off to go shopping or to take a nap.” Her comment was stuck in my head as I drove home Thursday. “What made this conference different?” I wondered.


On Wednesday morning, we had the chance to for some play with other attendees, to embrace the body & soul aspect of this "Mind, Body & Soul" gathering. Many opted for physical play, but I got on the bus and road to the Center for Dynamic Learning where we played with tools—real tools that required eye protection and that made loud noise. Our play did have a purpose; we were building pieces for a hydroponics system, but our interaction with ideas and tools were controlled by us. Despite this, useful products remained when we left. Play, and the chance to create, made the Big Picture Leadership conference different.


Leaving, of course, meant getting on a bus to ride through Providence traffic which gave ample time for riders to talk. Time to talk with others is one things educators sneak away from conferences to do, but here we had plenty of time to do it. The conversations with other attendees, each an expert in their craft, was as valuable as the presentations by the MET faculty and other BPL professionals. Conversation, and putting professionals together so they can talk, made the Big Picture Leadership conference different.


As you might predict, people who play together and who talk tend to develop relationships. At our last advisory, we had deep and difficult discussions. One team shared a very challenging situation that had focused their two days. The advisor led the group through a brief but effective protocol so the struggling team saw the problem from different perspectives. During that protocol, another in the group shared some distressing news. That individual was supported in the same manner the team that began the discussion was supported. Caring about other attendees made the Big Picture Leadership conference different.


Trying to capture the Big Picture Leadership Conference in a few paragraphs is difficult, but my advisory captured the essence of the experience for our group, “When going rogue, go hard.” It is difficult to realize that “going rogue” can mean providing meaningful experiences for students in schools, or trying to create structures that allow those experiences, or organizing a conference that keeps attendees engaged.


That's what makes the Big Picture Leadership conference different.