The word conference has been derived from confer that means to consult together compare opinions carry on a discussion by bring(ing) together. So a conference is essentially a gathering or coming together of people of a particular area of interest or related areas of interest to exchange information. More and more organizations – private, government, no – governmental, multinational, academic and scientific – are holding periodic, mostly annual, conferences/ convention/ colloquiums, primarily with a view to having information up – date. Moreover, especially in a large conference, delegates representing various organization, “sometimes co – operative, sometimes hostile”, meet to consider a problem and to recommend a joint course of action.
A conference, in this way, is coming together of a much larger number of participants/members/delegates than in a committee meeting. Planning fairly in advance is the first important step in this direction. In fact, a special committee has to e constituted to work out the logistics of the conference. Its task would chiefly consist of announcing the rubric or subject of the conference, deciding the date/dates, venue, number of sessions, sending out invitations, contacting the specialists, resources persons, working out the expenditure, printing the material to be circulated arranging boarding and lodging for the guests, security arrangements, cultural programmes/sightseeing and so on.
An organization may holt a yearly national or international conference inviting other organizations to participate in detailed discussions on the latest technologies, marketing strategies, national/global situation vis – a – vis the constraints of the organization etc. all of us are familiar with the conferences hosted by cement companies, rubber companies, textiles manufacturers, information technology companies, surgical instruments suppliers, pharmaceutical companies, pharmacists associations and so on.
Within the organization, the sales/marketing manager may hold a monthly conference or a weekly session with the a sales persons in his team to review the monthly/weekly sales situation and invite their views to improve it or to give them instructions to achieve the target or to share with them the views of the management/customers. In the same way the managers/regional managers may e invited to an annual conference at a scenic spot abroad. It will not only serve the purpose of exchange of information but also that of a strong incentive to earn both pleasure and profit.
Since the scope of a conference is generally vast, it has to be divided into several groups or sub groups for discussion, and to be presided over by duly elected chairpersons or group leaders. The reports of all these groups and their discussion/series of discussions are read out at the end of the conference. The most important part of these reports is the recommendations made by the participants on the basis of their ‘pooled in’ expertise. The reports and recommendations of these groups are complied into a consolidated report edited and published for wide circulation or brought out in book form for internal circulation among the concerned members/managers/trainees of the organization.
As a result of all these discussions, and publication of its reports, a conference acquires immense educational value. Even by ‘actively listening’ to the expert experienced speakers, the audience improves upon their already acquired knowledge. They learn new skills and sharpen their minds. Through discussion the participants improve their interaction and establish useful business contacts. Very often transactions are made in the course of the conference itself.
A seminar is a meeting for exchanging information and holding discussions on a somewhat smaller scale than a conference. Moreover, a seminar is more limited and formal in its nature while a conference is wider and more informal. As a result more serious discussions are help in a seminar within a limited period than in a conference. Every participant in a seminar is supposed to present a paper after the reading of which all the participants are supposed to discuss it in great detail. Sitting quiet in a seminar is generally not expected.
A workshop, by definition, is “a period of discussion or practical work on a particular subject in which a group of people learn about the subject by sharing their knowledge or experience”. Hence the emphasis is on the practical training aspect of the knowledge/information sharing and decision – making activity. Most of the seminars and workshops begin with the address of an expert specially invited spelt out in the expert’s address and start working on the task assigned to them.
In this connection it is worthwhile to take note of the activities of INSSAN, the Indian National Suggestion Schemes Association that coordinates the implementation of corporate suggestion schemes that help maximize human resource potential in an organization, with inputs from the employees themselves. It is the Indian counter part of the United Kingdom Association of Suggestion Schemes (UKASS), The Employees Involvement Association (EIA) of the United States which was formerly known as the National Association of Suggestion Schemes (NASS).
INSSAN is a registered association of industrial and business organizations founded under the aegis of the Bombay Chamber of Commerce and Industry in 1987. At present it has a membership of over 200 organizations representing different kinds of companies. It is a professional support network dedicated to assisting organizations to create, maintain and reinforce their employee suggestion schemes.
INSSAN operates a country – wide consultancy service providing guidance and advice related to the implementation and development of a Continuous Improvement Programme (CIP) by focusing on the following.
- The importance of an ideal programme as part of business strategy.
- The complimentary relationship of suggestion schemes and other CIP’s and
- The value of recognition as a motivator in employee involvement.
INSSAN achieves these objectives through a network of chapters at Pune, Jamshedpur, New Delhi, Bangalore and its headquarters in Mumbai. Its services include magazines and bulletins on its activities, library services, annual conventions, workshops, seminars, training programmes, assistance in developing schemes compatible with organizational cultural, corporate missions, values and objectives.
It is looked after by a dedicated team of suggestion schemes practitioners with hands on experience and works with organizations in all areas of industry, – private as well as public, manufacturing, financial and service sectors. It provides opportunities to network with other organizations at sector group meetings and to chalk out benchmarking schemes involving both large and small organizations.
Just as before leading a group discussion or meeting a chairperson has to be well prepared so should a member be well ‘armed’ before participating in the group decision making process. Some useful instructions in this regard are given below.
- In the first place the participant must be clear about the purpose of the meeting, and thoroughly familiar with the agenda, viz, the items that are going to be discussed.
- Having become familiar with the agenda, he must do all possible/permissible homework. In other words he must carefully and seriously prepare for the meeting. He must make sure how best he can contribute to the decision – making process. If, for examples, he has anything important to say about a sales problem in a particular area he must gather important information/facts, arrange them serially, and be ready to put them forward as and when needed.
- Have patience, and listen. This is very important. A participant in a meeting must be a good, ‘active’ listener. No meaningful contribution can ever be made to a discussion unless the participants first get into a receptive mood. They must wait for the chairperson to call the meeting to order, ask the secretary to read out the minutes of the previous meeting, and the agenda of the meeting that has been convened. This done, the participant best informed or the one who has something vitally important to say regarding the first item on the agenda, or the minutes of the previous meeting. Will arise his hand and seek the chairperson’s permission to speak. In this way the ball will be set rolling, and the discussion will follow a logical order.
- Be precise and relevant. Every meeting is called to fulfill a definite purpose. A participant has, therefore, to see to it that whatever he says is related to the agenda and the point being discussed at that moment.
- It means that there is no scope for impulsive, uncontrolled, or emotional talking. There is all the scope for reason, but hardly any scope for emotion.
- One must be large – hearted enough to give chance to others to speak. It is a common failing on the part of some speakers to try to dominate the discussion. But that is the surest way to mar a meeting. Every is equally important and, therefore, has equal right to speak.
- One must check oneself from interrupting a speaker.
- In the same way, one must never criticize a speaker. ‘Thou shalt not judge’. Only the chairperson has the right to cut short a member’s speech, and that too without criticizing. Only the relevance or otherwise of a speaker’s point can be politely indicated.
- It is not the chairperson’s but every member’s responsibility to take care that all the items on the agenda are taken up, and also other matter, if there is one, within the time limit fixed for the meeting. If the meeting is allowed to drag on, it will adversely affect the working of the organization.
- Some very basic equipment like a note pad, pen, and calculator, jotted down points/facts/figures must be kept ready at hand. Normally the organizers of the meeting provide folders containing stationery, useful information/printed material for quick scanning/facts and figures etc. But it is incumbent upon every member to have some basic material of his own. Entering the committee room empty handed seems just casual. And attending a meeting is no casual matter.
Group decision making is the most important activity of an organization. It is a complex communication activity, encompassing a whole gamut of communication events, various angles, variables, membership groups, implications, sequences and consequences. It, therefore, requires careful planning and meaningful participation at every stage. It also upholds the triumph of the group over the individual even though very often it is the vision of an individual that leads the group. No individual can succeed without a group in the same in the same way as no group can ultimately be effective without the expert guidance and leadership qualities of the individual at the helm of affairs of the organization.