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1009 - Producing for 2,000 Learners: Elliott's Back Story

Elliott Masie’s Learning TRENDS - October 12, 2018.
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Many Learning TRENDS readers have asked me to share some of the Back Story for Producing and Designing a learning event for 2,000 colleagues. 

Here are a few of my perspectives - 23 days before Learning 2018: 

Q: What are the most unusual and different aspects of Producing this experience?
A:  Let me list my top 3:

- Secret Service Security: This is my fourth conference with a keynoter who is protected by Secret Service.  They are amazing folks and for the most part the security aspects work seamlessly - especially since Disney has deep experience.  But, when you add time for sniffing dogs to “clear a room” - it changes the schedule flow.  Personal connection with the Secret Service starts weeks before and we collaborate to make it a perfectly easy experience for both Former First Lady Laura Bush and our 2,000 participants.

- Music Matters: We have several Broadway stars that will be performing at Learning 2018 - including Hamilton lead Leslie Odom, Jr. and Aladdin Star Telly Leung by video from NYC.  We use a combination of “track” music - which is pre-recorded tunes for the star to sing with - or a video conference feed to a studio near Broadway.  Music is critical to hear the amazing voices of our stars.

- Lego Blocks and 4,000 Legs Moving in a Keynote:  We will have a small pile of Lego Blocks at every table - as we explore building content in a BlockChain ready model.  That’s a lot of blocks and I am shopping for some really big ones for the stage.  And, we will ask two thousand people to get up a few times and have a key discussion with others in the room - in the middle of a keynote.  4,000 legs moving is interesting. 

Q: How do you pick the key content early on - for a field that is changing every few months?
A. We don’t pick early.  In fact, the final Program Guide will not be released until next week - as we have added content, context, experiences, challenges and more.  Many events lay out their schedules six months ahead of time.  But, I love the Just in Time alignment of our program to a changing field.  In fact, a few weeks ago when I was in Africa, conversations with learning leaders from that region triggered some changes in our format. 

Q. What is the strangest thing for you as a facilitator on this huge stage?
A. The stage and the 110 foot screen behind it are huge!  It gives us display space for many live and stored video elements - which have to be integrated into the program.  I have to make sure to work the stage - from every angle - and to use the video to bring the conversations personally to the people at the very back of the room.  And, we need to use Disney’s Cosmetologist to make up every keynote speaker - since a pimple or random face hair becomes huge on the high def screen. 

Q. How often do you make big mistakes in the Production of a Learning Event?
A. Every year!!!  In fact, if we don’t make any mistakes - then we are not innovating and evolving how learning is changing.  Here are some mistakes of the past:

​* A few topics that interested no one!  There were 2 sessions with no people in attendance.  But, that is the marketplace of content.

* Keynotes were too long.  I have shortened most presentations to 12 or so minutes - and made almost all of the longer ones into interactive conversations.

* Hype Words.  Sometimes words like Machine Learning are “hot” but also filled with hype.  I have learned to be careful and agile in how we talk about emerging topics.  Remember when Second Life was going to eliminate meetings?

* People Listen at Different Speeds:  Sometimes there is a very exciting speaker, but they are talking twice as fast as people are involved in engaged listening.  Watching the audience is real time UserExperience for me.

* Boring Boring: Confession to make.  14 years ago I brought an expert on content in by satellite.  They were so boring - the audience was about to fall asleep.  So, I asked the satellite company to move the dish to “lose” them with a deep apology.  Wow, it was brave but the right thing to do.  And, we sent great written content from the speaker as follow-up. 

Q: So, Elliott - what is it like to do your 28th Learning Event?
​A.  I make every event feel like my first conference.  As Broadway producers- we know the feel of the excitement of the participants (audience).  I come to the event as a learner - ready to learn from every keynote and every participant I interact with during the event.  Learning comes from Curiosity.  And, being a Learning Producer comes from Honoring and Extending Curiosity and Innovation.  I can’t wait! 

There are still about 110 hotel rooms left at Disney for our event and we can’t wait to add your colleagues as learners at Learning 2018.  Go to for information and registration. 

Yours in learning, 

Elliott Masie
Twitter: @emasie 

MASIE Center Seminars, Events and Services: 

- Learning 2018 - Nov 4 to 7 - Orlando  (Advance Registration Discounts Until October 31)
- Learning LABS at MASIE Center and Beyond - Starting January 2019
- Membership in The Learning CONSORTIUM 

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