Nine ways to change a conference

As I mentioned in a previous post, at Ethical Corporation we have re-invented our conferences for 2013.

We began this year by phasing out PowerPoint and set piece speeches more than ten minutes long.

But 2013 is when anyone attending all our events will really notice the difference.

If you come along to the Responsible Business Summit on May 7-8 2013 in London you will see what I mean.

We’ve got some great leaders from business, NGOs and academia, we’ve got some of the best heads of sustainability there are, from all over the world. We are not just UK-focused, and very proud of that. 

Here’s why it will be different:

  1. CEOs will not make the usual set piece speeches about their issue du jour. Instead, we’ll put near term scenarios in front of them and ask them to comment on their liklihood of success and offer advice.
  2. The focus is on genuine interactivity. PowerPoint is banned. Audience voting will be prominant. Speakers will, in places, “pitch” to speak and the audience will vote on who goes first, and gets more time.
  3. Speakers will do as we ask, not as they want. Gone are the days when we’ll allow anyone to agree to a topic, then turn up and do something different. Our moderators will be under strict instruction. There’s no time to waste, and anyone wasting it will be set back on the right course.
  4. Actually the whole idea of  ‘speakers’ is now out the window. That’s old school thinking. What we will enable now is participatory dialogue. In plain english, that means stimulating conversation about the big picture in our keynote sessions, and management tips and practical advice in our breakouts.
  5. We’re putting people into smaller and smaller groups. The best discussions happen with less than 20 people. We all know this. So why have 100 people in a room, some on their phones, when you can have 5 groups of 20 or less, all engaged and leaning forward rather than sitting back? That’s what we are now doing.
  6. Moderators will come from business. A head of sustainability knows the best questions to ask. So in 2013 heads of sustainability and CSR will be moderating sessions of non-competing companies. It’s logical, and it will make events much more interesting.
  7. Key stakeholder groups will be represented. Business often needs a nudge by NGOs to innovate on CSR. We all know this to be true. Not all NGO commentary or campaigns are fair, but they are challenging, and we only improve if we are challenged. Success teaches us little. So NGOs, the constructively critical ones, not the foaming at the mouth ones, will be a key part of all our conferences.
  8. Breakout sessions will be off the record. Actually the Chatham House rule: Which means you ask before you attribute quotes post event or during. Keynote sessions will be on the record, breakouts confidential. We hope this, and the small group format, will encourage companies to share more.
  9. We’re offering differentiated pricing.This means the number of consultants will be limited. This also means it will be more cost effective for anyone coming for a company based outside OECD nations.The consultants who do come will be asked to restrain themselves from the usual desperate “look at me, I’m a consultant” questions and responses.

Enough self interested blathering by me, see for yourself here, and let me know if you want a special rate to come along as a reader of this blog.


  1. I admire your work Toby so please don't take my comments out of context Great speakers those who tell stories and inspire and other skills will never be out of vogue

    A lot of the people you get to speak are great people but boring speakers with little or no skills in the art of speaking and this is where your problem lies

    Keep up the great work

  2. Out of 20-30 speakers or more I'm not sure we can expect them all to be trained professional speakers or inspiring natural talkers. That's why we are changing the format to get the best out the speakers we can and do get.

  3. But I'd love your suggestions as to the inspiring leaders and natural talkers and storytellers we could get… Thanks!

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