Objectives for these Notes
1 These notes define some important terms which describe some parts and processes which occur in conferences.
2 An understanding of these parts and processes will help Readers to –
(a) plan a conference better,
(b) analyse what occurs in a conference, and
(c) decide the extent to which various conference activities help, hinder, or have no effect on achieving conference objectives.
3 Note: the terms do not aim to evaluate the activities; they merely describe a part or a process.
4 These notes also provIde a basis for a group discussion of the definitions with the aim – Achieve consensus on the definitions given in these notes. (This objective uses consensus as defined in the following notes.)
A Distinction between a Meeting and a Conference
5 Meeting – A group of people in a situation where they can communicate orally with each other at the same time where, at least, one person achieves communication with the others.
6 Conference – A group of people in a situation where they can communicate orally with each other and where two-way communication occurs between at least two people.
7 Or, more briefly, a meeting where two-way communication occurs between at least two people.
8 The distinction between a meeting and a conference rests on the point about whether two-way communication exists. Two-way communication describes a Discussion defined as: two or more people communicate with each other on at least one topic.
9 Thus a simpler definition of a conference exists – a meeting where discussion occurs.
10 The following diagram illustrates the above two definitions.
(a) Inside the shaded square one or two-way communication can occur.
(b) Inside the white area only one-way communication occurs.
(c) For an activity to fit into the inner area labelled conference, two-way communication must occur.
A Contribution – The Basic Element of any Conference (or Interview)
11 Contribution – a communication signal that one person sends and/or other people perceive, from the time when the sending or perception starts until it finishes (or from when the perceiver believes the signal starts until he/she believes it finishes)
12 The start and finish of a contribution will sometimes prove difficult to identify; hence the more useful next definition.
13 Spoken Contribution – an oral communication signal from when one Conference Member starts to speak (or other Members perceive the Member to start to speak) until the Member finishes speaking (or others perceive that the Member has stopped speaking) and some other Member starts to speak (or other Members perceive the other Member to start).
14 In some cases, spoken contributions from two different Members will overlap – when two people talk at once. However where only one Member talks at one time it will prove easy to identify each person’s spoken contribution.
15 A Procedure Contribution includes any (spoken) contribution which relates to how the Conference Members should discuss a particular topic.
16 The ‘how” would include points on (a) who should contribute and (b) when a contribution should start and/or stop and/or the sequence and/or duration of contributions.
17 A Content Contribution refers to any (spoken) contribution which does not relate to how the Conference Members should discuss a particular topic.
18 A Relevant Contribution describes a content contribution which rates as on the official discussion topic.19 See paragraph 32 for a definition of the official discussion topic.
20 An Irrelevant Contribution describes a content contribution which rates as off the official discussion topic.
A Diagram of Various Types of Contributions
21 The following diagram shows (a) various types of contribution and (b) relates them to varying degrees of helpfulness.
Combinations of Various Types of Contributions
22 As shown in the previous diagram, various combinations of contributions exist.
23 Examples. A contribution could exist that rates as verbal, content, and irrelevant. The conference has the official topic of deciding who should speak at the annual dinner and one Conference Member states: “I think we should re-arrange the annual dinner so that we do not have a speaker” The Contributor in this example has spoken and therefore made a verbal contribution. The contribution does not attempt to alter the discussion procedure and therefore rates as content. However it does not refer to other persons acting as annual speaker; therefore it rates as an irrelevant contribution. Nevertheless the term “irrelevant” does necessarily imply harmful. This contribution may put forward a useful idea on a new topic. Eventually the conference might discuss this topic and agree that they should not use a Speaker.
24 Another example - “I think we should stop discussing this topic and discuss whether we should use an annual dinner speaker at all”. This contribution rates as a verbal, procedure contribution. The classification of procedure does not allow for a rating of relevant or irrelevant (to an official topic). However someone could rate the contribution on a scale of helpfulness.
25 A third example - A Leader puts up his hand using a nonverbal signal and directs the gesture toward a couple having a conversation at the side in an attempt to quieten them. (Non-verbal, Procedure, Contribution – which probably rates as Helpful to the Conference.)
26 A Contribution will contain one or more Points or ideas.
27 A Contribution will refer to one or more Topics.
Topics & Points - Important Aspects of all Contributions
28 Topic: (Conference Topic) – the subject matter of a communication (in a conference)
29 Point: an idea about a particular Topic.
Difficulties of Defining the Boundary of a Topic
30 It will prove difficult to set boundaries for any one idea. However a relationship exists between a topic and a point – a point always refers to a topic and rates as a smaller concept.
31 Examples of Topics and Points:Point - Bradman made more runs in Test Cricket than Benaud. This point relates to each of the following topics:(a) Cricket or (b) Who do you rate as the best Test Batsman? or (c) Who do you rate as the best Australian batsman or (d) the respective cricketinq ability of Bradman and Benaud or (e) the respective batting ability of Bradman and Benaud, etc.
32 Official Discussion Topic – the subject matter which one or more people rate as correct for a group of people to discuss at any point or period of time.
33 A Discussion consists of two or more Contributions on the one Topic where at least two people contribute at least once on one Topic.
Discussions - Different Types
34 Discussion – the exchanging of views and ideas on a particular topic between two or more people.
35 Thus, if four people at a meeting make one contribution each but each contribution relates to a different topic then they have not carried out a discussion.
36 Leader-Centred Discussion – the Leader makes many contributions in relation to the number made by the Conference Participants.
37 Group-Centred Discussion – the Leader makes few contributions in relation to the number made by the Conference Participants.
38 Directed Discussion a discussion where the Conference Leader aims to get the Conference Participants to agree on an idea, an attitude, or a decision which someone (sometimes the Conference Leader) has predetermined before the discussion started or the Conference Leader decides to aim for a particular idea, attitude, or decision during the discussion.
39 Assisted Discussion – a discussion where the Conference Leader aims to help the Conference Participants agree on an idea, an attitude, or a decision but does not aim to influence the content of any agreement of the Conference Participants on the topic discussed.
40 The statement – “I aim to help you make decisions; I do not aim to help you make wise decisions” sums up the attitude a Conference Leader will take to an Assisted discussion.
41 A Conference consists of one or more Discussions.
Butterflying - A Common Process in Conferences
42 Butterflying – A period of time in a conference which includes a “high’ number of topics in comparison with the number of contributions made.
43 Generalised Example of Butterflying: In conferences the following situation occurs quite often. Person A talks on Topic 1. Person B comments on Topic i. Person C introduces Topic 2. B comments on Topic 2 and introduces Topic 3 .D comments on Topic 1. E introduces Topic 4.Person A returns to Topic 1 again. F comments on Topic 1. E comments on Topic 4 and topic 2; and so on.
44 High Degree of Butterflying. If ten consecutive contributions occur and they include at least five different topics, then a high degree of butterflying exists.
45 Low Degree of Butterflying. If ten consecutive contributions occur and they include no more than two different topics then a low degree of butterflying exists.
46 No Butterflying. If ten consecutive contributions occur and all contributions refer to the same topic then no butterflying exists.
Consensus - A Wise Objective for all Discussions
47 Consensus – Exists when all (100%) Conference Members achieve ONE or more of the following three situations:
(a) Understand another person’s ideas(or a group’s ideas) The Person(s) may, or may not, belong to the Conference Group.
48 Examples. (a) We understand what the Bible says about love thy neighbour or what Barnard (a Management Writer) means by the word “authority”. (b) The Conference Group understands that Mary (a Conference Member) does not want to discuss whether we should take a vote.
(b) Acknowledge that disagreement exists - about a topic, including an action. This heading really fits into the previous heading. However it deserves highlighting since too few Conferees use this state of disagreement as a means of helping a Conference to proceed further.
(c) Make a decision. This involves agreeing on some matters such as: the problem to discuss, some action to take.
49 Readers should note that consensus exists if the Conference Group reaches any one of the above situations at any time. A Group may achieve one of the first two and decide to try to achieve a decision; but they need not do so to achieve consensus.
50 In the case of (c), the decision could include the following: “We agree to disagree about that point and we agree to defer further discussion and move on to the next point”.
Classes of Conference Personnel
51 Conference Originator – a person who identifies an end objective and tries to achieve it by the means of the Conference.
52 A Conference Originator may not necessarily take part in the conference which the Originator originates; i.e. the Conference Originator may not become a Conference Member.
53 Conference Member – any person who takes part in a Conference.
54 Conference Leader – any person who make a procedure contribution; i.e. a person who tries to influence the procedures used by the Conference Members in discussing one or more topics.
55 Official Conference Leader – a person selected – (a) to help the group achieve the groups objectives (assisted conference) or (b) given the objective which someone (often the Conference Originator) wants a group to achieve (directed conference) . Thus, usually, Official Conference Leaders will make more procedure contributions than any other Conference Member.
56 Conference Participant – a person who takes part in a conference but who does not warrant the description Official Conference Leader.
A Summary Diagram of the Classes of Conference Personnel
 A specific definition exists in the notes – “Types of Meetings, Conferences, Discussions, and Contributions.”
Other notes offer a specific definition of butterflying, i.e. they substitute a number in place of “high”.
 However the word consensus gets used in the business community at different times without people defining what they mean by the term. In order to check how someone uses “consensus”, ask such questions as: Does consensus just mean agreement? (If so, why use consensus?) Does consensus just mean 100% agreement or 51% or two-thirds or what percentage? However, expect some annoyance from the receiver of your questions - because you have put the person “on the spot”. Some will answer - “everyone knows what consensus mean, you’re just splitting hairs”.
 Sometimes the Conference Originator will make the selection. Sometimes the group will do so. Sometimes one or a few members of the group will do so because of their dominance and/or interest and/or the lack of interest of the other members.