8 Ways to Use Cracker Barrel Sessions

PCMA Craker BarrelEvent innovation doesn't always involve inventing brand new formats. Sometimes re-thinking the use of existing formats can create more interactive and engaging conferences and meetings.

In comments, and discussions on LinkedIn, there have been some interesting reactions to recent posts about improving panel discussions and alternatives to traditional panels. They focused on strategies to modify panel discussions and deploy panelists to deliver more interactive content. The core messages were:

  • Use them primarily for breakout sessions and small audiences.
  • For large audiences, keep panel discussions short and deploy the panelists for smaller more interactive using formats like cracker barrels or table top discussions.

Today, we'll focus on new ways to use cracker barrel sessions. While cracker barrels are typically sessions in which a facilitator guides participants as they share their expertise and learn from each other, it's not the only way to use this interactive format.

Cracker barrel sessions can also be used for:

  1. Crowdsourcing: Content can be crowdsourced a few months prior to a meeting or conference (my preference), at the very beginning of a meeting or conference, or even towards the end of an annual conference in preparation for next year.
  2. Icebreakers: Short "get to know you" activities with a "fun factor."
  3. Session Starters: A short exercise in pairs or trios to kick off a meeting or conference. Unlike icebreakers, they are content focused.
  4. Pre-session question Development: Participants work in small groups to identify question they would like to see answered through the session content. Every time content is covered that answers a question, it is crossed off the list. Towards the end of the session, unanswered questions are presented to the speakers, panelists or facilitators.
  5. Brainstorming
  6. Practice: A short case or situation to analyze in the light of the session content.
  7. Review or Re-cap: Cracker barrels are ideal formats for review or re-cap quizzes and contests. Alternatively, participants create a brief summary of content. Specific topics or sessions are assigned to each table and the summaries are then present to the group verbally or in a handout that is distributed after the meeting conference.
  8. Post Session Question Formulation: This is just prior to the question period.

By using existing formats in new ways, it is possible to design conferences and meetings that are less passive and more participatory.

How many other ways can you think of to use Cracker Barrel Sessions?

For more discussions about innovation in meeting design, also read Meeting and Conference Design: Catering to Kinesthetic and Visual Learners, Conference and Meeting Design: Catering to Analytical and Structured Learners, Meeting Innovation: Spice Up Conference Panels with Competition, and Designing Meaningful Content for Executive Meetings and Events.

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