Conference delegates in Edinburgh

Webchat: what makes a winning conference proposal?

Rebecca Atkinson, 25.01.2013
Put your questions to the conference panel for a live webchat on 31 January
There is still time to put forward a session proposal for the Museums Association's (MA) annual Conference and Exhibition, which takes place on 11 and 12 November in Liverpool.

With last year's event in Edinburgh attracting the highest delegate and visitor attendance in five years, the pressure is on for a dynamic and innovative programme for Liverpool 2013.

Competition for sessions is tough, so the MA is holding a live webchat with members from the conference panel to offer advice to anyone thinking about putting forward a proposal.

Whether you want to know their views on what makes a successful session or are looking for advice on how to ensure your proposal includes audience participation, post your questions below and join us on Thursday 31 January from 12-2pm to take part in the discussion.

Members of the conference panel taking part in the discussion include:

  • Sharon Heal, head of publications and events at the MA
  • Iain Watson, director of Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums
  • David Fleming, director of National Museums Liverpool
  • May Redfern, museum consultant

Comments

Sort by: Most recent - Most liked
Sharon Heal
MA Member
Head of Publications
31.01.2013, 13:03
I agree - maybe one of the themes this year should be The Political Museum?
David Fleming
MA Member
Director, National Museums Liverpool
31.01.2013, 12:53
The only people who complain about conference sessions being too political are those who seem to be unable to grasp that museums ARE political, like it or not! That's been a major shift in museum thinking, worldwide, over the past thirty years and it smacks of King Canute for anyone to try to turn back the clock. That doesn't mean we shouldn't have sessions that are about internal practices, like documenting collections, but let's not pretend that we live in an insular world.
Iain Watson
MA Member
Director, Tyne
31.01.2013, 12:46
Have we done much in the way of 'problem solving' sessions? I'm thinknig of the way that the digital community seem very good at coming together for Hack Days and tackling problems or challenges. Could we do something similar for non-digital challenges - invite people to suibmit the challenges and then bring together a 'Brains Trust' to develop some solutions in front of the participants?
May Redfern
MA Member
31.01.2013, 12:45
There is usually the main exhibition space although it can be quite noisy. A couple of people have asked me if we can have a green room or festival type area this time for various drop in activities.
Sharon Heal
MA Member
Head of Publications
31.01.2013, 14:02
Great ideas - thanks for your contributions everyone - 2013 conference is clearly going to be a good one!
David Fleming
MA Member
Director, National Museums Liverpool
31.01.2013, 13:17
Also, I have come to realise that emotion in museums is what the public reacts to most - for a long time we have been asking the wrong question re entertainment or education? We should have been asking emotion or neutrality? In pursuing pseudo-neutral agendas (not really neutral, but pretending to be) museums have alienated and failed uncounted numbers of potential users. How about emotion as a theme?
Steve Garland
MA Member
31.01.2013, 13:08
Yes - sounds interesting. Might address situation when you leave buzzing session wishing had gone another 30mins, talking with everyone around you - only to find yourself sitting in the next recording notes of ideas you hope you can remember later!
David Fleming
MA Member
Director, National Museums Liverpool
31.01.2013, 13:07
That might even tempt a few people to speak up and confront some of the real issues facing the profession, instead of keeping their heads down and hoping the rest of us will keep quiet and stop rocking the (political) boat...
Rebecca Atkinson
MA Member
Online Publications Editor, Museums Association
31.01.2013, 12:28
I'd like to see a session at Conference using objects to facilitate discussion - I'm not sure how practical this would be, but I can imagine it would provoke some great conversations around interpretation and display.
Patrick Steel
MA Member
Website Editor, Museums Association
31.01.2013, 12:27
Hi May - consensus here too is that David's intro was very impressive last year - if you're interested you can download a copy here: www.museumsassociation.org/download?id=943552
Amy Dale
MA Member
Digital Communications Development Manager, Museums Galleries Scotland
31.01.2013, 12:24
Maybe now with the 'power of social media' you might be able to share info about this hot topic sessions last minute. Won't get the message to everyone but might create a buzz.
Sharon Heal
MA Member
Head of Publications
31.01.2013, 12:19
Hi - my experience is that it depends on content - if it's really a burning issue or something intriguing then it can work. I was wondering if this year we should save some space for really last minute stuff and not programme it at all?
Rebecca Shelley
Project Leader – Museum Learning and Public Participation, Turtlewings Centre for Creativity
31.01.2013, 12:17
Great! Thanks Amy and Sharon. Leading on from that thought: is there usually a central/communal gathering space where an ongoing activity could be situated – being added to throughout the day, for example, or serving more than one workshop session? I know that sounds a bit abstract... I’m just trying to picture the possibilities :)
Sally Colvin
MA Member
Collections Coordinator, Museums Association
31.01.2013, 12:16
The conference sessions I remember are either because of a brilliant speaker who is very motivating (and hard to find for those of us who put sessions together), or because of activities that get people involved and build a bit of energy in the room. I like less formal sessions, like the challenge to draw the museum professional of the future at last year’s conference.In those cases, I think a firm (but friendly) and organised chairperson is key – activities take a lot of time so you need someone who can keep things on track.
Sharon Heal
MA Member
Head of Publications
31.01.2013, 12:12
Hi - participatory is always good - this is what a lot of delegates want and our main spaces in Liverpool will be standard conference room set up. But there's always room to do something different - there are big foyer spaces in the conference centre and outside spaces in Liverpool - why not take the delegates outside (weather permitting - it will be November)? There's always the Liverpool Eye...
Sharon Heal
MA Member
Head of Publications
31.01.2013, 12:03
Hi everyone! I'm just back from a three day Clore short course - lots of ideas for different formats and engaging audiences - the drumming workshop has to be one of the best conference sessions i've ever attended tho not sure what I learnt apart from that it really makes your hands hurt!
Amy Dale
MA Member
Digital Communications Development Manager, Museums Galleries Scotland
31.01.2013, 11:58
I remember last year in Edinburgh one of the most popular sessions involved drama and lots noise! The chairs got moved out of the way to allow people to more space to take part. However this did cause some problems for the next session as there’s such a quick turnaround. So it might be nice to have some open space set aside this year!
David Fleming
MA Member
Director, National Museums Liverpool
31.01.2013, 14:02
The International Slavery Museum and the Museum of Liverpool are both emotional places - so we should be able to use them as examples of how museums are able to engage with people's emotions, and in so doing, how they can create impact.
Rebecca Atkinson
MA Member
Online Publications Editor, Museums Association
31.01.2013, 14:00
I'm afraid we're out of time and are going to have to wrap things up now. Thank your for all your questions and comments - it will remain available online for future reference.

You can download a conference proposal form here - http://www.museumsassociation.org/news/07012013-call-for-proposals-for-conference-2013
Sharon Heal
MA Member
Head of Publications
31.01.2013, 13:56
I can still remember exactly where I was and what I felt when the miners went back to work after the strike. The things we remember most in life are moments of heightened emotion: so we want tears of joy and sadness and a big dose of emotion at conference. Let's make people think by engaging all their senses.
Iain Watson
MA Member
Director, Tyne
31.01.2013, 13:51
The issue of 'whose truth' could be another area to explore both in context of what it says about history being the history of the victors and how the so-called 'non-expert' voice is recognised and listened to and in terms of the ease of access to learning
Rebecca Shelley
Project Leader – Museum Learning and Public Participation, Turtlewings Centre for Creativity
31.01.2013, 13:48
Grief and anger are valid emotional responses too – I looked at this in my MA dissertation. The fact of how important it is for visitors to be able to “unlike”, reject and cheat during their museum visit. The performance/theatre studies field is doing interesting research on this issue – Jenny Kidd is another good reference ( the 2 I mentioned above)
Iain Watson
MA Member
Director, Tyne
31.01.2013, 13:46
Yes, i agree, we must cover what are sometimes, wrongly, characterised as the 'negative' emotions as well. they are at least as powerful!
May Redfern
MA Member
31.01.2013, 13:44
Yes, if we can’t engage visitors emotionally I think we are letting them down. I don’t see how we can consider things like Derry as capital of culture, up-coming programming on world war one and the 30 year anniversary of the miner’s strike in 2014 without all sorts of emotions getting involved.
David Fleming
MA Member
Director, National Museums Liverpool
31.01.2013, 13:39
Except that doesn't cover more basic emotions like grief and anger - the kind of stuff that characterises Liverpool, according to expert southerner Boris Johnson.
Rebecca Shelley
Project Leader – Museum Learning and Public Participation, Turtlewings Centre for Creativity
31.01.2013, 13:38
Emotion is an important theme. I work with theatre, games and visual arts in museums, and last year, I attended the IMTAL (http://www.imtal-europe.org/) annual conference. They had fantastic speakers on this issue (emotional/personal engagement v.s “authentic historical truth”): Anna Farthing and Anthony Jackson!
Sharon Heal
MA Member
Head of Publications
31.01.2013, 13:35
I wonder if we could do something with the tourism sector in Liverpool; Beatles Story, Cathedrals, Ferry across The Mersey etc, what about a proposal with some of these to discuss if they have an education role? Why don't you put in a proposal.
Iain Watson
MA Member
Director, Tyne
31.01.2013, 13:35
I'm not sure if awe and wonder are emotional or intellectual (suspect they've got a bit of both in them) and I've been having some interesting conversations recently with people from outside the sector about museums, awe and wonder. Would be interested in exporing this idea further
Andrew Lawton
MA Member
Biology Curatorial Trainee, Manchester Museum
31.01.2013, 13:28
Well you can't ask Fiona Hyslop to give a keynote address and it not be political!
Steve Garland
MA Member
31.01.2013, 13:28
Yes. We have often concentrated on intellectual engagement. Emotional or spiritual supposedly comes as a 'higher' level. I think that most visitors can go straight in at the emotional, given the right stimulus - not 'intelligence' dependant.
Nicholas Sturgess
MA Member
Alex Henshaw Curator, RAF Museum Cosford
31.01.2013, 13:17
I did my MA dissertation on museums as tourist attractions and whether it affects its educational role. Would definitely attend a talk on this.
Simon Stephens
MA Member
Deputy Editor, Museums Journal, Museums Association
31.01.2013, 13:13
With the city's history of radicalism, how could we have a conference in Liverpool and not be political!
Iain Watson
MA Member
Director, Tyne
31.01.2013, 13:10
sounds exciting and would be good if it could explore the relationship between museums and politics at a very grass roots level as well as where this interplay takes place on national/intnernational stage
Sharon Heal
MA Member
Head of Publications
31.01.2013, 13:05
I like this! A sort of mini thinktank/surgery where people can bring challenges and then delegates try to solve them?
May Redfern
MA Member
31.01.2013, 12:52
Yes, like a kind of hack camp. This would be a great way of getting people in from other sectors, across all age groups too perhaps.
Sharon Heal
MA Member
Head of Publications
31.01.2013, 12:50
i'm all for more theatre! The course i've just come back from used actors to facilitate and run sessions and it really added a lot to the fun and learning.
Sharon Heal
MA Member
Head of Publications
31.01.2013, 12:45
Entertainment, entertainment entertainment! You never remember the interesting points from a dull session. Especially not if you were asleep...
Rebecca Atkinson
MA Member
Online Publications Editor, Museums Association
31.01.2013, 12:43
I know case study presentations can be dull, but I think this is often because they tend to be "this is what we did". I would love to see more speakers be honest about what went wrong - often this is where the biggest lessons are.
Steve Garland
MA Member
31.01.2013, 12:43
I'd like to see us home in on areas/services/councils/trusts that are bucking the trend. Examples of where things are happening, where culture has been supported in the face of austerity - and is working. HLF Conference the other week had talk from leader of Derbys Co Council - said were maintaining cultural spending because it was critical.
Rebecca Shelley
Project Leader – Museum Learning and Public Participation, Turtlewings Centre for Creativity
31.01.2013, 12:43
It was great fun! Great for networking because everyone introduced themselves briefly to the crowd (which took a loooooong time, but was worth it). Then when themes were suggested, it meant that like-minded people could group together, head off and brainstorm the issues that interested them. The report back session at the end also took time, but meant that we all got a basic overview of each of the topics and ideas raised during the day. It sounds messy, but it was actually very well-organised.
Sharon Heal
MA Member
Head of Publications
31.01.2013, 12:42
Hi David, get what you mean re quirky but content is key - last year some people said conference was too "political" - what do you think?
Patrick Steel
MA Member
Website Editor, Museums Association
31.01.2013, 12:41
What are the thoughts of the panel on the balance between entertainment and information/education?

For instance, I really enjoyed Tim Smit's keynote in Brighton, and it seemed to cause a buzz, but I didn't feel as though I learned anything very practical from it. On the other hand, I've attended some very dry sessions full of important information but struggled to stay awake through them!

And would the panel consider looking beyond the sector at all for speakers and topics this year?
Iain Watson
MA Member
Director, Tyne
31.01.2013, 12:37
Yes, I've been to a couple of 'open space' events facilitated by colleagues with a theatre background wherre the particpatns come along and 'post' or host discussions on themes important to them in different parts of the room. People move between these as the interest takes them. There is never a shortage of ideas for sessions or people joining in conversations!
Amy Dale
MA Member
Digital Communications Development Manager, Museums Galleries Scotland
31.01.2013, 12:35
That's a good idea! I heard Museum Camp was really enjoyable with loads of discussion.
David Fleming
MA Member
Director, National Museums Liverpool
31.01.2013, 12:34
It's the quirky stuff people seem to like best, not necessarily because the content is strong, but to break the pattern of sitting and listening, which can become really stuffy during a conference. Having said that, there's nothing better than a great speaker!
Iain Watson
MA Member
Director, Tyne
31.01.2013, 12:33
I agree with Sharon. People are normally really pleased to be asked and I've done this a number of times explaining that things are to be confirmed. Even if the session doesn't happen it can be a way of opening up new conversations!
Rebecca Shelley
Project Leader – Museum Learning and Public Participation, Turtlewings Centre for Creativity
31.01.2013, 12:32
I attended the Museum Camp “unconference” last year in Birmingham (http://museumcamp.org/). The concept certainly wasn’t as orderly as a regular conference, but it ensured that small groups could propose and discuss up to the minute / trending issues, then report back to the rest of the conference. Why not make part of your programme an “un-programme” to allow for last minute issues?
Sharon Heal
MA Member
Head of Publications
31.01.2013, 12:20
Hi - any thoughts on themes - do they work - do you attend all the session in a particular theme - what should the themes be for 2013?
Steve Garland
MA Member
31.01.2013, 12:10
Last year there were sessions organised very late to try to hit the latest topical issues. Downside is sessions/speakers not listed in programme. Upside is can include trending big issues which can be important these days. Did these work?
May Redfern
MA Member
31.01.2013, 12:07
I can think of a few: I loved David Anderson’s intro to the social justice theme at last year’s conference - two minutes citing various incidents/cultural references on social injustice.Also some sessions at the American version of the MA conference - some good ‘how to’ or problem solving sessions whereby participants work in small teams to come up with an effective strategy or ten point plan on a specific topic. Session leaders provide good structure and follow up materials too.Finally a session by Chip Heath on industry analysis. It followed his six principles on how to make ideas stick - simplicity, unexpectedness, concreteness, credibility, emotions, and stories. He writes about this approach here, about half way down http://www.heathbrothers.com/madetostick/chapterone.php
Amy Dale
MA Member
Digital Communications Development Manager, Museums Galleries Scotland
31.01.2013, 12:07
That reminds me of a great session at Scottish Museums Federation conference where we all learnt fan etiquette. All the ladies were given fans and taught different signals to practice. That was YEARS ago now but I still remember it because it was really fun!
Sharon Heal
MA Member
Head of Publications
31.01.2013, 12:05
Hi - I would approach first and see if they are interested and if they are explain that the proposal is a draft and that you will confirm the session if it is selected. You can always put tbc on the form.
Rebecca Atkinson
MA Member
Online Publications Editor, Museums Association
31.01.2013, 12:02
Hi all - our expert panel is now online to answer your questions about putting forward a conference session proposal. It would also be really interesting to hear from people who have attended the MA and/or other conferences, and want to share their experiences on what makes a great (or not so great) session.
Amy Dale
MA Member
Digital Communications Development Manager, Museums Galleries Scotland
31.01.2013, 12:01
When I was reviewing the proposals last year, having the speakers confirmed made for a stronger proposal. It might also be good to have the opportunity to chat to them about your ideas as it gives them a chance to input too, which would hopefully make a more rounded case. What does everyone else think?
Anonymous
MA Member
31.01.2013, 10:44
I'm a bit nervous about asking people from outside the sector to be speakers without confirmation that the seminar will actually take place. Is it better to suggest speakers on the proposal form or approach them first to see if they are free and are interested in taking part?
Rebecca Shelley
Project Leader – Museum Learning and Public Participation, Turtlewings Centre for Creativity
30.01.2013, 13:46
Hi there. Looking forward to tomorrow’s discussion. I’d like to ask a question about space: would you prefer to have participatory activities that are designed with standard conference room facilities in mind (tables, chairs, rows of seats, etc), or will there be some open/empty/multipurpose space set aside?
Patrick Steel
MA Member
Website Editor, Museums Association
29.01.2013, 11:57
Question for the panel, and for anyone else with an opinion: what is the best conference session, museum-related or otherwise, that you have experienced, and why?