How to avoid boring everybody?

The mould-breaking publisher, Unbound, wanted to organise a conference with leading authors, to reinvent an industry in decline.

They asked me to get involved. And we sent out invitations…

But several authors were wary, sceptical about the value of the exercise. Yikes!

From left: JP Flintoff with Unbound founders Dan Kieran and John Mitchinson

The last thing we wanted to do was put on an event that was useless.

We didn’t want to drag people out, only to send them home feeling they’d wasted their time.

I don’t know about you, but when I’ve attended events like that, I’ve felt incredibly frustrated, even resentful towards the organisers.

Which is REALLY not what anybody intends, when they devote time and money to putting on an event of this kind.

But that’s exactly what happens, when organisers lack confidence in their guests.

They assume they need to provide ALL the ideas themselves.

“Dazzle attendees with brilliant content.”

But what attendees want, more often than not, is a chance to share their own ideas.

Contribute something.

That’s why, when speakers invite questions, people in the audience often stand up and deliver little speeches.

Not because they’re crazed egomaniacs but because, like so many others in the audience, they feel they have been lectured, and just want to be heard.

Quite right too!

So, going back to that event with Unbound…

We wanted to create an open space where every author who came would be able to discuss what they really cared about, and develop new projects together.

I had a pretty good idea how to do this, having learned from friends who pulled it off in other industries.

I told Unbound, who liked the idea, and they asked me to put the system into effect, as a kind of MC.

So what happened?

Now, if you aren’t an author yourself, you won’t particularly care about what we ended up discussing.

But try to imagine what it felt like for individual authors to raise questions they simply couldn’t openly discuss elsewhere, such as:

  • Should authors make their money like bands by going on tour?
  • Are online patronage and serialisation viable options?
  • If the author is networking, and closing deals, what’s an agent for?
  • How can we improve our own writing skills, when we’re supposed to be good already?
  • How do we communicate value for money?

This was only possible because of the system we used, to organise the discussion.

It’s actually very simple, and I’d be happy to share it with you. (Just ask!)

But the result was amazing, because it allowed people to discuss only the topics that truly interested them, and to write up reports themselves.

Several of the ideas dreamed up on that day have subsequently been made real.

Additionally, individuals reported a feeling of genuine, meaningful participation that is horribly lacking from most conferences and other networking events.

Here’s how Dan Keiran, Unbound’s CEO, remembered the event some months later:

1 min 23 secs

What about you?

Have you been to events like this? Or has your experience of conferences and masterminds been less satisfying?

Leave a comment below.

Tell me ONE thing that makes a really successful gathering… I love to keep learning.

And if you want to know about the system we used, just send me an email.

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