“Washlines”: a 20-Year STC Florida Tradition

Sharing the Summit: A Colorful Approach to Bringing
Conference Information Back to Your Community


Dan Voss

By: Dan Voss
Fellow, STC Florida Chapter

Editor’s Note: This article is intended as a reference for other STC communities who are eager to bring back what they learned at the Summit and share it with their colleagues. We are including it in the June edition of Memo to Members to set the stage for a new spin on the traditional “Washlines” meeting at the August chapter meeting, where several chapter members who attended the Summit in Orlando last month will share ideas from the sessions they attended.

Bringing back information from the previous spring’s STC international conference to share with chapter members at the August chapter meeting is a longstanding tradition with the STC Florida Chapter (and the heritage Orlando Central Florida and Orlando chapters which preceded it). The original concept was an interactive panel discussion where the audience selected topics based on colorful signs strung along a clothesline across the meeting room: hence the name “Washlines.”

In the beginning … the Giant Hairball!

 

The format was based on a unique and memorable interactive keynote address by the late creative guru Gordon MacKenzie, author of the amazing—and still-in-print—Orbiting the Giant Hairball: A Corporate Fool’s Guide to Surviving with Grace  (see page 3 of the September 2001 edition of Memo to Members), at the 41st annual international conference in Minneapolis/St. Paul in 1994. The presenter strung a rope across the stage bearing huge signs where the audience could call out topics they wanted MacKenzie to address. He responded with an extemporaneous 1- to 5-minute distilled mini-presentation for all requested topics.

Part of the STC Florida tradition has been to bring the “motif” of the conference city back to Orlando. For example, in “Washlines XII: As the Roulette Wheel Turns” after the 53rd annual international conference in Las Vegas in 2006, we set up a “casino” in the meeting room where attendees played roulette, poker, craps, e-slots, and other games of chance (not for money, of course; that would have knocked out our 503(c)b status for sure!). Several of the panelists even got into the Vegas motif with colorful costumes, including the roulette table host in a tux and a panelist sporting a red feather boa (see newsletter event coverage below).

Over the years, the format evolved from an interactive panel discussion to six progression tables (“venues”), identified by color-coded balloons. Each host, generally wearing the color of his/her venue, was prepared to speak on anywhere from 1 to 4 topics from the previous spring’s international conference; the choice was up to each audience around the table. The progression format consisted of three 25-minute rotations with 5 minutes in between to change venue. Each table was “dark” for one of the three rotations to give the venue hosts a chance to visit one other table. We preserved the “Washlines” tradition with a clothesline strung with colorful signs identifying the various topics available at the six venues, but the interactive topic selections varied by table and by rotation.

In more recent years, the trend has been 1 or, at most, 2 topics per table to allow a more detailed summary by the venue host along with time for Q&A’s and interactive discussion on the topic.

The progression format is not difficult to set up. You can use the below rotation matrix for a six-venue progression as a template and just fill in the venue hosts and their topic(s). The matrix can be easily adjusted to range anywhere from 3 to 8 venues topics, although 5 or 6 are usually optimal.

Note the progression approach could easily be expanded to a 4-hour “mini-conference” workshop by adding a few venues, going through four 30-minute rotations with 10 minutes in between and having each venue “on” for two rotations and “dark” for two rotations.

Some tips for preparing for, executing, and following up the progression:

  1. Before the international conference, encourage chapter members who are attending to take good notes at the sessions they attend—especially on topics that are likely to be of greatest interest to chapter members back home–and download the speaker’s posted slides and/or collateral materials from the conference website.
  2. Immediately after the conference, line up the venue hosts (or, in some cases with first-time speakers such as student members, co-hosts) and have them provide the title(s) for the topics they will cover at their tables. It’s important to strike while the conference iron is still hot!
  3. Assign venue (and balloon) colors on a first-come, first-serve basis. Note that this can become quite competitive!
  4. Decide whether or not you wish to “theme” the event based on the host city for the previous spring’s conference. This optional twist adds color to the event, but it also adds preparation in terms of decorations, venue hosts’ attire, etc.

“Washlines XII” panelists Jen Selix (Active Member shirt) and Heather Sterns (red feather boa) helped bring Vegas to Orlando.

  1. Decide whether or not you want to go with the “Washlines” motif. If you do, get each venue host to provide a suitable colorful sign (preferably with a visual element) for his/her topic. Here again, this adds color to the event, but it also adds preparation.
  2. Encourage your venue hosts to provide at least one take-away handout for their table.
  3. Optionally, you can encourage your venue hosts to “compete” for attendees by hawking candy, cookies, even hot hors d’oeuvres, and other “swag” at their tables. This creates a carnival-like atmosphere that nicely counterpoints the exchange of professional information. In one case, following the international conference in Chicago, one of the venues was based on Al Capone, and the venue host came packing a rapid-fire water “tommy gun” that saw considerable action during the evening. Clearly, if you base your “Washlines” meeting on the conference in Orlando, at least one of the venue hosts should be wearing mouse ears. You get the idea!
  4. Assuming you have enough venue hosts for at least 3 tables , the two potential “choke points” for the program coordinator in executing the event are (1) getting the speakers’ topics {using the exact titles and speakers of the conference presentations being summarized) and, if you are using the “Washlines” format, (2) getting the graphics for their signs that go along with their topics. The second is optional, although if you use that approach, you should have signs for all topics. The first is crucial, because you cannot set up the rotation matrix until you have all the venue hosts’ topic titles and the conference speakers who presented on those topics.
  5. The rotation matrix, in turn, becomes key to promoting the event. Printed color copies of the rotation also becomes the program for the event. It is the equivalent of the conference program for two morning sessions or afternoon sessions at the Summit. You can see how easily that could be parlayed into a 4-hour mini-conference workshop with little to no additional preparation on the part of the venue hosts—just a few more venues (see above).
  6. Be sure to get photos at the event for coverage in the next month’s chapter newsletter or other communication forum. This is an excellent way for student members to get a pubs credit for their resumes and portfolios by reporting on topics covered at the venues. If you do this, be sure to pre-assign the writers to venues to avoid duplication and ensure all venues are covered. Also get photos of each venue host in action (including the colored balloon identifying the venue).

For pre-event promotion and post-event coverage of a typical original panel-style

Do you feel lucky?

“Washlines” meeting following the Las Vegas Summit in 2006 (“Washlines XII: As the Roulette Wheel Turns”), see the July/August (pages 1, 4, 6, 10, and 11) and September (pages 1, 2, 6, and 12) 2006 editions of the STC Florida (then Orlando) chapter newsletter, Memo to Members, respectively. For pre-event promotion of a more recent progression-style “Washlines” meeting after the 57th international Summit in Atlanta in 2013, see the August Part I (“What’ll Ya Have? Get Ready for Action … We’re Bringing ‘The Varsity’ for Washlines XIX”) and August Part II (“Special Washlines”) editions of Memo to Members. For post-event coverage, see the September 2013 (“If You Missed the Last Meeting”) edition of Memo to Members.

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COMING ATTRACTION!

STC Florida Chapter members … watch for the August meeting as incoming Vice President Nick Ducharme puts a new spin on the traditional “Washlines” theme by bringing the Orlando Summit—well, back to Orlando! Details in the August Memo to Members.

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