The fiction of a good conference.

August 3, 2011

Caught in my usual post-conference blues (here’s my fun little post about how to cope) after a joyful, fulfilling and invigorating four days at the annual World Education Congress of Meeting Professionals International, I started thinking about the funny stories, silly behaviour and total immersion in the educational experience that leave me feeling so down after this type of gathering.

Have you ever finished a book and immediately wished for more pages to read? How about at the end of a fantastic movie where you sit through the entire credits and already yearn for a sequel? Well, if so, you’ve probably experienced total engagement with the story. And you’ve also probably felt what is frequently referred to as the “willful suspension of disbelief“, the concept of what a reader, viewer or audience member must enact if they are to thoroughly engage with fictional content. In my world, rather than the story of a movie or novel, I find myself completely immersed in the magic of fiction created by a sustained event like a conference/convention/congress.

Through immersion in an atmosphere that removes us from the weight of our everyday responsibilities and routines, we actually release some of the constraints of our minds and live a sort of fiction for a few days, or even hours. This release lends itself to total commitment to innovative ideas and acceptance of new educational materials.

The philosopher Samuel Taylor Coleridge is said to have coined this concept of willful suspension of disbelief. He suggested that if a writer could infuse a “human interest and a semblance of truth” into a fantastic tale, the reader would suspend judgment concerning the implausibility of the narrative. These “fictional premises may also lend to the engagement of the mind and perhaps proposition of thoughts, ideas, art and theories”.

Where else would you feel comfortable singing like this in public?

Personally, I think this idea of “poetic faith” is why I am able to sit and absorb the content of dozens of fellow presenters, engage in dozens of deep, meaningful conversations and strengthen the ties of business relationships. To get there, I think a moment or two of singing with thousands of strangers to Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin'” or sharing every meal with a table of new friends is simply mandatory.

As an avid conference-goer, I will certainly always be a fan of the complete surrender to the sustained immersion in the energy, the fiction of a great event that ultimately results in the attainment of our business objectives.