An idea worth firing up

ANFP’s IGNITE sessions are Steal This Idea for conferences.

As someone who has been attending foodservice industry conferences for nearly 30 years and helping to stage our own MenuDirections conferences for the last seven, I know how difficult it is to come up with the next “big thing.” But at the recent National Leadership Conference of the Association of Nutrition and Foodservice Professionals (ANFP), held in Minneapolis, the conference planning committee offered a session that might be exactly that.

The second full day of the conference opened with what ANFP calls “IGNITE” sessions. Two hour-long sessions were held simultaneously. Here’s how the conference program described them:

“IGNITE sessions are rapid-fire learning experiences that happen in 8-minute increments, featuring topics selected and presented by NLC attendees. These dynamic, energetic sessions may cover a variety of topics, from human resources to culinary, general management or leadership, a personal passion or inspiration, something technical in nature or a unique perspective relating to your career that you’d like to share with your colleagues.”

The session I attended featured an eclectic mix of six presentations from both operators and vendors. Topics included a kitchen renovation, visual merchandising, team-building exercises and the importance of keeping your resume up to date; this last by a foodservice director who recently made the transition from long-term care to corrections.

Each presentation was supported graphically by eight to 10 slides, and the session moved quickly from one presenter to the next without time for questions. As I sat there, I thought, “This is the conference equivalent of Steal This Idea,” our magazine’s wildly popular feature in which we present on one page about 10 ideas—usually about 50 words.

I was impressed. Although the format doesn’t allow for a lot of presentations, it does encourage some interaction on the part of attendees. And it seems like a non-threatening way to get people up in front of their peers; eight minutes is a lot easier to do than even 15 or 20 minutes on a panel.

I think the ANFP leadership should encourage this, and I hope they will do this at the regional level, if they haven’t already implemented it. Some other suggestions might be to lengthen the session to 90 minutes or do one session with operator stories and one with vendor presentations. Another way to generate buzz might be to do a series of mini-sessions, sprinkled throughout the conference. For example, after a general session, you would have two IGNITE presentations, before moving to the next session.

But however ANFP treats this in the future, the organization certainly has developed an idea it should expand on.

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