Important Briefing Notes for #cong20

We are almost there.  CongRegation will be a different experience in 2020 as a virtual event for reasons we are all familiar with.  However with the right mindset of openness armed with your thoughts it will be stimulating and fascinating day.

I have gathered some notes to help orientate yourself for this year’s CongRegation.

First the Basics

Date: Saturday 21 Nov

Time start: 10:15am orientation

Huddles: 10:30-11:30am, 12:00-1:00pm, 2:00-3:00pm and 3:30-4:30pm

Platform: Zoom and breakout rooms

Evening entertainment: Poetry Open Mic 7pm  and StandUp 8-9.30pm


CongRegation will be delivered via the Zoom platform this year.  All the registrations are being centralised via this zoom link.  Once you register (very simple name, organisation, contact details) you will receive a link and connection details for the day.  I will resend these again the day before but it is advisable to put the link into a calendar entry for the day.  Although you don’t need a zoom account, it’s a better experience if you have one so my strong advice is to set up a Zoom account (its free to set up) especially if you need to download any software.


Before Saturday 21st it really helps if you read as many of the submissions as possible.  Rather than homework this just opens your mind on the breath of thinking on the theme.  The next ask is comment on ones that inspire you and please share as much as your comfortable with.  This advance sharing is not just self serving (ie letting people know about the event) but more about spreading the discussions and engagement on this important arena.

Assuming you have submitted your thoughts, have a think about how you would like to present it.  In general people have historically just shared their thoughts verbally but we maybe able to accommodate shared screens if you wish to show something.  It might be helpful to make some notes about what you wish to say focusing particularly on how you wish to close your contribution.  You decide when, when and how you present.

On the day

I am taking a very flexible approach to #cong20.  I will open CongRegation at 10:15am with a short introduction and orientation.  At the end of this I will spilt the group into a smaller number of huddles.  The max number will be 10 people per huddle but I believe smaller huddles will lead to more intimate conversations.  After all you only need two people to have a conversation.  On screen you will receive a notification telling you which room to go to.  You must click accept.  You will then be brought to the huddle which will essentially be the video feed or icons/photos of the people in your huddle.  Please keep your camera on as much as you can.  Once in the huddle switch to grid view (button at the top of the screen) to see everyone in the room.  If using someone elses account change your name by clicking on the attendee button at the bottom of the screen and change it to your name.  If the group is big or if there is a lot of background noise the chair may ask everyone to mute, especially for the first few huddles.  Even with no background noise some PCs pick up background noise.  If joining with a tablet or phone you may need to press your screen to see the different options available.


The chair will welcome everyone and start proceedings by asking each person to introduce themselves and share a life hack.  Please limit your personal introduction to one or two sentences rather than your entire biography.  You will be asked to do this at each huddle.  For your life hack pick a life tip, pragmatic piece of advice or something you live your life by.  It can simple, funny or deep and meaningful but frequently this is something people really remember.  They are important as they start the conversation flowing.

The chair will invite three people to present per huddle.  It really helps if we have three people lined up at the start of the huddle and early volunteers really help the establishing of a momentum.  Each person will be give 10 minutes to share their thoughts followed by a 5 minute Q&A.  While the person is presenting please keep yourself muted unless they specifically invite people to interject while they are talking.  The chat function is a particularly good function to raise points you would like to discuss or questions you would like to ask.  You can send messages to the entire group or specifically to one person e.g. the chair.  During the Q&A its appreciated if you thank the speaker but it also useful if you state your name as is might be obvious who is speaking. Following each contribution the chair will summarise some of the key points before asking for comments or questions.  The chair may kick start the discussion with some questions of his/her own and might also start with comments or questions on chat.  Please step up and share your own thoughts on what you have heard but follow some of the guidance below on the rules of engagement.  The contributions are meant to be catalyst for conversations rather than perfect portrayals of this vast arena.  The chair will be keeping a close eye on time so please be understanding if they move to the next speaker while the discussion is ongoing.  We want to make sure there is time for everyone to present.  The chair may also give you hand signals or a polite reminder of how much time is remains to keep contributions to the 10 minutes.  The chair will also use their own discretion and experience on the time allowed so some contributions might run over the 10 minutes allocated.  The chair may also call on specific people to encourage them to give their own views.  They may also ask some others to limit their views in the spirit of fairness and letting all voices to float to the top.  As we are online this year you might find it useful to check out the contribution being discussed by reading it on screen.  We won’t know what you are looking at and it might really add to the quality of debate.

A one minute notice of the ending of each huddle will appear on screen, after which you will be brought back to the main group.  Once the huddle is finished there is a 30 minute break but please come back as promptly as possible as I will be splitting the group into new huddles.

The allocation of breakout room is random but If you find yourself in the same collection of people come back to the main area (just leave the breakout room) and I will try allocate you to a new huddle.  You may need to log out and log back in for me to do this.  You can also summon me to the huddle if you wish to check out something.

Each huddle will follow the same structure with the aim of finishing at 4.30pm.  We will all regroup for a group shot – virtual screen grab this year.

Please feel free to tweet or post to your favourite social media platform as the day progresses.  Please ask for group consent before recording anything.  Full agreement of all before recording anything.

To make it feel a little bit more like Cong Village I have designed up some simple virtual backdrops that you can use.

Self Help

Sitting a PC all day can be draining regardless of how stimulating the experience is.

At a start have a good supply of refreshment available – I suggest a flask of coffee but thats my choice of poison.

During the break Declan and Jason from KD Corporate Wellness have kindly agreed to walk us through some simple stretching, mindfulness and nutrition tips to keep our minds and body in tune.


Evening Time Entertainment

Poetry Open Mic

I am delighted that Paul O’Mahony will once again MC the poetry Open Mic.  Let us know if you wish to be added to the list of poets.  This can be a self penned piece, your favourite poem or a funny limerick.  However poems should be relatively short.  Full guidance will be given in advance.  This session kicks off at 7.30pm but ask all poets to assemble at 6.15pm so Paul can schedule everyone.  We will use the same link.


We are planning a stand up session this year with actor and comedian Eric Lalor.  This will be broken into two parts.  First Eric will share hints, tips, insights on what to expect and a chance to have a Q&A with him.  The second part is the stand up session itself which Eric will MC.  You don’t have to do the stand up to attend the mini workshop but it’s a golden opportunity. Its worth doing even if just to equip yourself better for work presentations.

Rules of Engagement

Below is not designed to restrict you but rather a common sense approach to make sure we are all be respectful.

  1. We are all peers and equal respect should be shown to all attendees.
  2. Please do not give or take offense.
  3. Dialogue is good but should be constructive.
  4. This is not a competition but a meeting of minds.
  5. Contributions are a catalyst for conversation rather than things to be challenged.
  6. Aim for one or two areas that really inspired you and build on conversations.
  7. Be succinct. Long rambling points can be very disconcerting especially in an online forum.  Make your point or addition but also practice self restraint.
  8. Huddles can very comfortable and safe environments but do not confused them with therapy sessions.
  9. Please keep unrelated personal stories to offline exchanges.
  10. Stick to the theme of Society 3.0. Fascinating as other segues may be, people have given up their Saturday to hear about the topic area.
  11. Help quieter voices – ask other attendees if they have views. This will really help the chairs.
  12. Everyone has given up substantial time composing their contribution and valuable time on a Saturday. Please respect this.
  13. Think about the impact of what you say can have on other people. What you might think is a fair point could be taken as deeply offensive.  Pause and paraphrase.
  14. Offensive, sexist, racist, homophobic, ageist or personally abusive comments will not be tolerated.
  15. Follow the directions of the chair. They have the toughest job of all and give their time to keep proceedings flowing.
  16. Debates can become heated and robust exchanges are expected but please draw a breath, forgive, rephrase and if necessary apologise. We all make mistakes and comments in anger and are rarely the best portrayal of our true selves.
  17. Anyone deliberately disrupting huddles may be asked to leave.
  18. Please step up and share but practice self restraint. Be mindful others may also wish to speak but too shy to interrupt.
  19. We are all adults and are here to progress collective thinking.

Virtually There – Virtual Zoom Backgrounds for #cong20

I know its a bitter disappointment to not be able to celebrate CongRegation in Cong itself.  However in an attempt to get closer to the feel of the village I have made some virtual background from the different venues.  Hopefully they should bring back some happy memories.  There are 12 in total with the last two for the evening poetry open mic and stand up.


  1. Right click on the image (or images) below and click ‘save as’ to your computer
  2. Log into zoom (you can do this before hand if you have an account)
  3. Once you are in a meeting scroll over the screen until the icons appear at the bottom.
  4. Turn on your video.
  5. Beside the ‘Stop Video’ you should see a little arrow.
  6. Click on it until you see ‘Choose Virtual Background’ appear.
  7. Click the small plus button (+) and find your background you saved to your computer.
  8. You can repeat this for all the images and change for the different huddles

Virtual Backgrounds below.

1. Toghers Photos Gallery

2. Byrne & Butler

3. Puddleducks

4. Rare and Recent 

5. Lydons

6. The Quiet Cailin

7. Ryans Hotel

8. Pat Cohan’s

9. Danagher’s

10. The Court House 

11. Poetry Open Mic/Stand Up

12. Danagher Bar Open Mic


Introducing Conger…

When you opened up the CongRegation website you may have noticed a dialogue box on the right introducing you to ‘Conger’ the IBM Watson powered chatbot for CongRegation.   This designed to help with finding the key details about CongRegation from theme, getting a ticket, submissions, the workshops, schedule and other areas related to the #cong20 event this year.

The first prompt is to enter you name and after that you can ask Conger any question you have about this year’s event.  The chatbot is still in training but I hope you enjoy the experience.

Meanwhile I have put out a public call for submissions for this year under the board ‘Society 3.0’ call.  This year the deadline for entries is end of September but he earlier the better as we are limited to 100 people this year.  Full detail on the theme are here where you might get some inspiration.

Snap Shot of #cong19 and Details of #cong20

Now that the dust has settled on CongRegation its time to reflect on the number and diversity of events that took place as part of the 3 day event.  I also wanted to announce the theme and dates for #cong20 (Spoiler‘Society 3.0’ Nov 20-22nd details at the bottom).

The theme for the 7th CongRegation Nov 22-24th was ‘Community’ and we expanded the number of events and increased the number of attendees.

In summary:

  • 3 Days Nov 22-24th
  • 9 Separate events
  • 38 Attendees at Ashford Castle Evening with 5 guest speakers
  • 90 Attendees at Unconference
  • 32 Huddles
  • 27 Children at 3 workshops
  • 25 people on the Mindfulness Walk in Cong Woods
  • 72 Submissions uploaded to the website

Profile of Attendee

The profile and backgrounds of CongRegation attendees reflects the diversity of people attracted ranging from youngest 16 to oldest at 83 tears old.  60% were male and 40% female.  Two speakers flew in London.  Background were equally varied from Gardai, Academia, Business (multinationals to SMEs), Public and Private Sector, Social Entrepreneurship, Coaching to Retired.  This year we had one attendee virtually attend the huddles through zoom.

Social Media

Across Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook there was in excess of 450 uses of the #cong19.  In addition there were over 30 online videos and podcasts and over 300 photos of the event posted across multiple platforms.  This is a manual calculation so the real number is probably a good bit higher.  Mental note to set the alert/recording earlier.


The event was publicised through Think Business, Irish Tech News, local media and at various events in the run up.  This was supported by five large road signs and 30 A4 posters.


In order to increase the interaction between attendees and children a series of workshops and extra events were organised including:

  • Maker Meeting Friday Evening
  • Children’s Workshops – Maker Meet/STEM, Drama and Clay Modelling
  • Poetry Open Mike
  • Tin Whistle
  • Music Demo by Hyphurm
  • Mindfulness Cong Woods
  • Exploration of sound by Curly Organ
  • Online creative problem solving muse Thypia

Food and Drink

Breakfast, tea/coffee during the day, lunch and post event canapés were supplied as part of the free ticket entry with a special tapas evening also organised.

Economic Impact

Accounting for the money spent on accommodation, food and drink and related services is in excess of €20,000.


In addition to event photography attendees were also offered the opportunity to get free portrait photos taken in a professional mobile photo studio which were supplied digitally following the event.

Submissions and Impact

All the submissions were uploaded to the CongRegation website supported by designed imagery.  In addition attendees submitted a post event reflection which was analysed by a semantic robot to measure the impact of the event on the attendee perception of the theme ‘Community’.  The results are fascinating and are available here.  Event feedback forms were also filled out.

The longest submission this year was 3,700 words long.  There were 20,848 reads of the submissions.  Average number of reads was 300.  Top was Joy Redmonds at 1,274. 481 likes on Facebook of the submissions with top liked was Aisling Irvine’s with 87 Facebook likes.

The top ten reads were

  1. Joy Redmond- Community Rotten Apples and Hidden Gems: 1274 reads
  2. Bob Kennedy – Communities of Excellence: 810 reads
  3. Ailish Irvine – You are not the boss of my community: 774 reads
  4. Mick Hogan- Nature & Community: 570 reads
  5. Sean McGrath- Community – a Disability Perspective: 553 reads
  6. Sabine Mckenna- Scratch – An Online Community Experience: 542 reads
  7. Derval Dunford- Community Soup: 486 reads
  8. Samantha Kelly- How to Build an Engaged Community Online: 455 reads
  9. Aine McManamon- Community – The Sense of Belonging: 445 reads


All the photography and video has now been added to the website so previous talks and photos from each of the 7 years can now be viewed.

Plans for 2020

The selected theme for 2020 is ‘Society 3.0’ with full details of theme available on the website. This is a wide reaching and challenging topic and we are planning a similar number of events with some tweaks on the final session to gather the insights in one session.

We are now calling for outline topics, challenging each attendee to take their own insights, opinions, experience, research, aspiration and translate them in to a title and quick synopsis.  Full submissions due in summer.

Get your pencils sharpened, read the briefing and come back with your topic title and summary to me as soon as you can.

Did CongRegation Change Our Thinking on Community

 Congregation 2019 on “Community” 

Did it change our thinking? 

(The answer is yes. Read more to find out how…) 


Hello I’m Alastair from Linguabrand. 

During Congregation 2019 Eoin and I came up with the idea of testing whether people gathering to talk makes any difference to our collective thinking. That was brave of Eoin don’t you think? Imagine if he’s had people turning up each year and everyone goes back thinking the same as when they arrived… 

At Linguabrand we specialise in deep listening. We’re interested in what language says about the way people are thinking and feeling more than just the things they’re talking about. The problem is that people aren’t very good listeners at the best of times. And even trained discourse analysts, working very slowly, miss most of the deeper psychological content. That’s why we invented Bob. 

Bob is our own deep-listening robot. He reads 120x faster than humans and he surfaces key psychological indicators. He’s totally consistent and he benchmarks it all, too. So, you know his metrics are statistically significant. But, of course, his work only makes sense when it’s interpreted by humans. He does things we can’t; leaving us to focus on what we do best – using our imaginations and creativity. 


Eoin asked people to write their thoughts on community after the event. We’ve combined those responses into a single dataset. Then we took the pre-event blogs of the same people, and put them into a single dataset. 

So, we have a BEFORE blog-based measure of 21,241 words (that’s the same as The Merchant of Venice). And an AFTER response-based measure of 8,197 words (that’s an hour-long documentary). 

Let’s listen to what Bob discovered… 

We changed what we were talking about 

There were only three ideas that remained at the forefront of our thinking. ‘Needs’ (including what needs to happen), sharing and groups. ‘Sharing’ rose in importance.

‘People’ and ‘ideas’. ‘Differences’ and ‘place’… these became more important than ‘technology’, ‘time’ and ‘work’. I’m taking a stab that Congregation got us more human-focused. What’s your take on these two lists? 

Interestingly, although we started to talk more about ‘others’ our focus remained very largely egotistical. Both sets of writing are centred around ourselves – ‘me’, ‘my’, ‘I’ and ‘mine’ is nearly 3x higher than we’d expect to hear both BEFORE and AFTER. And empathy – reference to others like ‘her’, ‘him’, ‘they’ or ‘their’– are both 30% lower than we’d expect to hear. But in both cases we were asked to provide our opinions, and many wrote of their own experiences, so perhaps it’s not surprising. 

Our levels of confidence and humility didn’t change significantly. So, it’s unlikely we experienced big redefining moments, as a group at least. 

We became 77% more emotionally engaged 

Sensory language levels are a really good proxy for emotional engagement. The more sensory-based language we use the more emotionally engaged we are. Bob picks this up in social media and company culture analysis all the time. 

The primary sense used in these two sets of writing is auditory. We wrote about ‘talking’ and ‘listening’ and ‘saying’ and so on. 

BEFORE Congregation our sensory level was only 96% the level we’d expect to hear. 

But AFTER the event it zipped up to 170%. That’s a leap of 77%. 

We did a lot of thinking. Most of it trying to be logical and rational. 

Bob measures three thinking styles: reasoning, quant and action. We were mostly offering knowledge, pointing out discrepancies and drawing conclusions. These are the elements of logical reasoning. Logic was 2.5x the benchmark BEFORE and 2.7x AFTER. 

But we also did some good quant thinking (‘more’, ‘less’ etc). And AFTER we also became more action-orientated – by 18.4%, to be precise 

Our approach to time remained focused on the present 

Although many people shared stories of the past, use of the past tense was underweight. And maybe we should have been focusing on the future? But we weren’t. The future was not significantly weighted and actually fell away slightly AFTER the event. 

The present tense was upweighted by 69% BEFORE and 70% AFTER. So, our approach towards time was absolutely consistently on the here and now. 

What does that mean? I’m not sure. Do you have any thoughts on this? 

Our attitudes towards change became less radical 

Now here’s an interesting thing. We didn’t leave filled with a revolutionary fervour for radical change. 

Bear in mind that Evolutionary change (that’s where things get better incrementally) is the preferred form of change for everyone, including us writing about community. 

But BEFORE, our attitudes were about average on Tradition and +80% on Revolution. Revolutionary change is advocating the radical, the reinvention or transformation. Our blogs had a significant element of advocating radical change. 

AFTER there was a shift. We became +31% on Tradition. That’s things like heritage, history and roots. And Revolution fell to just +17% over the benchmark. 

Talking together made our opinions more traditional and less radical than as individuals before the event. 

That doesn’t mean we’re not advocating change. But the nature of that change? Well, it changed. 

Our deeper framing of communities is consistent…with some important twists 

Our deeper framing is revealed by the picture language we use. For the linguistically minded, these are metaphorical persuasion frames. The human mind developed beyond other animals by its ability to describe one thing in terms of another. 

Here’s our deeper psychological approach to communities: 

1. Communities are containers. With an inside, boundary and outside. 

2. Communities are connections. Connected as a collective or with direct links or lacking links (separation – the inverse of connection). 

3. Communities are structures. They have foundations, offer support and need building. 

4. Communities are a valuable resource. 

Communities as a valuable resource levels stayed exactly the same. (Interestingly, ‘lacking resource’ didn’t really enter our deeper thinking). 

But we made a significant mind-shift away from outside the community container to inside. BEFORE outside was +215% and inside was -20%. But AFTER outside fell to +141% and inside shot up to +140%. 

In other words, our psychological framing shifted towards inside over outside. It’s possible that this reflects the fact that prior to Congregation we were actually outside. We were writing as individuals from multiple places. Then we came together in a very small village with water defining unusually tight boundaries. 

We also rewired our brains more towards connection (+29%). We also upped our thinking around ‘building’ and communities as ‘structures’ by +20%. 


Some things were constant. 

We still talked about groups of people. And our focus was consistently on present day needs. We kept our levels of confidence and humility either side of the event. And we remained pretty ego-centric. Logical reasoning remained our predominant form of thinking. 

But there’s no doubt that Congregation changed us in many ways. 

Our agenda on ideas around community altered significantly. ‘People’, ‘ideas’, ‘others’, ‘differences’, ‘place’…all became more important. 

The event really got us emotionally engaged. It also made us, as a group, measurably less radical in our attitudes towards change. But our action thinking notched up. 

Building connections became more important to our deeper thinking. And there was a shift in our framing towards ‘insideness’, or belonging. 

On a personal note, I’d like to thank everyone who responded to Eoin’s call for post-event thoughts. Without you this analysis wouldn’t have been possible. I’d love to hear your thoughts, comments or questions. Or just saying hello. 

Warm regards 

Alastair Mobile: 00447980222914 

#cong19 Attendee Briefing Note

Instructions and Schedule for CongRegation 2019 #cong19

With there weeks to go to CongRegation #cong18 (Nov 22nd – 24th) I wanted to give you one centralised run down and briefing to make the event as enjoyable as possible.  In total there are 8 events so this is a long read.  Please take time to read and check the centralised registration link.

Overall Schedule.

Friday 23rd Ashford Castle (Booked Out)

19.00-22.00 Community Talks.  Reception followed by 5 Presentations in the Private Cinema.

20.00-23.00 Maker Meet in Danaghers Hotel.  (earlier session for those not attending Ashford Castle)

Saturday 24th Unconference. Cong Village

9.30 : Registration Children’s workshops in the Crossroads Centre

9.30-10.20 : Registration in Ryan’s Hotel

10.20-10.30 : Opening address and move to venues.

10.30-11.30 : Huddle 1

12.00-13:00 : Huddle 2

13.00-14.00 : Lunch

14.00-15.00 : Huddle 3

15.30-16.30 : Huddle 4

16.30 : Photo at Cong Cross

17.00 : Reception in Ryan’s

18.00-19.30 : Dinner in Lydons/Ryans/Danaghers

19.30 : Poetry Open Mic Danagers.  MC Paul O’Mahony

20.00–21.00 :  Whistle Your Way to Music Glory – Tin Whistle Workshop.  Jenny Mulvey

21.00-22.00 : Hyphurm – New Ambient Music by Max Hastings

Sunday 25th. Mindfulness through Daftness, Cong Woods.

Assemble at the John Wayne Statue

11.00-13.00: Hangover cure breathing to mindfulness session in Cong Woods (weather permitting).  Led by Derval Dunford.

Ashford Castle Evening

Themed under a ‘Community Talks’ our speakers will share stories of community insights from the Quiet Man Movie, explore the concept of belong, explain what bonds communities together, share the insights of how a community project went from zero to 5 countries with no budget in under a year and finally how to really hear and know what your community thinks. 

This event is fully booked out with a waiting list on the registration sheet.  The venue can only hold 32 people so please check the sheet to see if your name is included. The full line up is the website.  Also, please note although we may have a reception beforehand, please grab something to eat before you get there as we won’t be serving food.

There is a reception in the castle from 7pm with presentations kicking off at 8pm sharp.  Parking is in the car park located behind ‘Cullens At The Cottage’ (on the right before the bridge entrance) as the hotel is fully booked. There will be a shuttle service from the car park to the castle for attendees who would prefer not to walk but it a 1 minute walk.

The provisional running order is:

• Professor Pat Dolan, NUIG on ‘The Quiet Man …. and the not so Quiet Man’

•          Leadership and Development Coach, Nadine McCarthy on ‘ Weaving the thread of Community – From I to We (…whilst still including me)’

•          Author Kevin McDermott on ‘Belonging’

•          Semantics Expert Alastair Herbert, LinguaBrand on ‘Why Listening Beats Talking’

•          Community Builder, Tracy Keogh, BOI/Grow Remote on Building a Community from Scratch

(Note this event is now full but you can leave your name on the waiting list – see below.  No food will be served at this event so please ensure you have eaten before you get to Ashford Castle)

After Ashford Castle we will retire to Danaghers where Pamela O’Brien, Chris Reina and Hassan Dabbagh will run a special ‘Maker Meet’.  Expect engineering and electronics challenges.  There will be two sessions – one at 8.00pm for those not attending Ashford Castle and after 10pm.

Saturday Unconference Running Order

Registration takes place from 9.30-10.15 in Ryans Hotel with huddles beginning at each of the 8 venues at 10.30 sharp.  On arrival you will be given a number along with lanyard.  Your number and the spread sheet tells you what venue you will be in and at what time.  Each venue has a chairperson who guides proceedings and will be completely briefed. The chairperson will ask 3 people to volunteer to speak at each huddle.  You have 10 minutes to discuss your topic, followed by a 5 minute Q&A. You choose how, where and when you wish to present.  This year we have a card/clock system in operation and you will be given notice of 2 minutes left (green) and 30 seconds to wrap up (red).  Each huddle will kick start with a short introduction of who you are and what you do but please limit this to a few short sentences (plenty of time at the breaks to share more about you).  The ice breaker is a ‘life hack’.  This is tip for helping with personal or business life and could range from a handy online tool you use to philosophical perspective.  This is designed to get everyone contributing from the start and is really helpful to all.  The earlier huddles will start with 3 speakers and the later ones may have two but this all depends on the final number on the day.  Those who have experienced CongRegation previously might volunteer for early presentations to get things moving.  The chair has a difficult task to keep things running smoothly so I would ask you to follow their guidance especially on timing, keeping on topic and including everyone in the narrative.  Expect robust exchanges but please be respectful and probe with questions rather than direct conflict.  Be willing to agree to disagree. 

The spreadsheet on your lanyard is designed to try to ensure you meet new people at each session.  Each session lasts one hour and you have 30 minutes to move to the next venue and chat with the other attendees. There are 4 sessions through out the day – two in the morning and two in the afternoon.  We finish at 4.30/5pm with a group photo at the Cross in Cong Village.

We will all congregate in Ryan’s Hotel for a post unconference reception.  Dinner will be in Ryans/Danaghers and Lydons.  We are also exploring the option of a special banquet. 

Free Headshots

As part of your ticket you can get a free headshot taken by professional photographer Gerry, Dreamline Photo Studio.  Gerry will set up a mobile studio in Ryan’s Hotel and send them to you following the event.  Make sure you brush your hair. 

Thypia – Creative Muse

Over the course of the CongRegation you can simply enter a problem at and a creative muse will deliver an anonymous personalized response to your problem.  All we can promise is you will get a creative response.  Our muse is already working on problems so you don’t have to wait until #cong19.  Try it out today

19.30 Poetry Open Mic

At the inaugural poetry open mic in 2018 I was stunned by the calibre of original poetry and the willingness of people to grasp the opportunity to recite their favourite poems.  A cliché I know but you could hear a pin drop.  Thankfully Paul O’Mahony has agreed to MC once again.  Put your name down on the sheet if you intend to take to the stage but you can also decide on the night.  These are rapid fire sessions.  

20.00 Whistle Your Way to Music Glory – Tin Whistle Workshop

This year we are embracing the humble Tin Whistle.  We will have 30-50 Tin Whistle at this fun 1 hour workshop starting with the basics and finishing with a jamming session under the expert guidance of Jenny Mulvey.  If you have a tin whistle (or your children’s) bring it along or you can buy one for €7 each.  This session starts at 20.00 until 21.00.  This is a great chance to meet some new people, create a piece of music and collaborate.  We might not get beyond ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb’ but should be fun.

21.00 Hyphurm – New Ambient Music by Max Hastings 

Following the music session you will have a chance to sit back and listen as Max Hastings, who has attended many CongRegations, will demo his new ambient music material under the Aklivitus label.  You can sample some it on his Soundcloud.

Sunday Mindfulness through Daftness 11.00

We are lucky with the vast skills of CongRegation attendees and Derval Dunford will lead a fun but practical mindfulness session in Cong Woods.  For those who over indulged the ‘Hangover Cure Breathing’ could be particularly attractive.  Sturdy boots, hat, gloves and full waterproofs just in case of bad weather are a must.  Meeting point is the John Wayne status at 11am.

Venues and Chairs

The chairs and the 8 venues for #cong19 are:

1.         Robbie Canavan | Byrne and Fallon | Two groups here. Lunch served.

2.         Mags Amond | Danaghers | One group in the café to the right. Lunch served.

3.         Ruairi Kavanagh | Puddleducks | One group. Table at the window. Lunch served.

4.         Don Delaney | Elizabeth Togher’s | One group. Round table. Lunch in Byrne & Butler.

5.         Barry Kennedy | Lydons | One group. Downstairs. Lunch served here.

6.         Averil Staunton | Rare and Recent | One group. Lunch in Ryans.

7.         Mike O’Rourke | Byrne and Fallon | Two groups. Lunch Served.

8.         Tony O’Kelly | Ryans | One Group | Upstairs area over the bar. Lunch served.


All venues have wifi but be warned it can be temperamental at best, so treat as a nice to have rather than guaranteed.   Similarly on phone coverage, some sides of the village are better than others.


You will have free tea/coffee in all venues and lunch on Saturday is all covered by the generous support of the sponsors –, Advanced Productivity Skillnet, MKC Communications and Blacknight.  Outside of the four venues (Togher Photo Studio, Rare and Recent book store) lunch will be in the last pre lunch venue.


There is now one ATM in Cong located in Danaghers Hotel but best to bring some cash with you.  The next nearest ATM is Clonbur Village about 5km away.


We are exploring the option of a special CongRegation Banquet in Butler & Byrne (minimum of 25 people) but dinner is also available in Ryans, Danaghers and Lydons on Saturday night from 18.00.  This really is a great opportunity to connect with each other and explore some of the areas discussed.  There is a nice range of choices available and individual billing is available.

Children’s Workshops

We are expecting over 30 children for the ‘Maker Meet’ and Drama/Clay Modelling workshops in the Crossroad Community Centre on the way into Cong Village.  You can check your children in from 9.30 and please collect them after the group photo before 17.00.  You will be asked to sign your children in and out.  Please let us know of any allergies in advance.  We would like to take some photos/video of the workshop in practice.  Let me know if this presents any difficulty.

If you intend to avail of this I do need to know in advance.  Food, drinks and movie at lunch time are all organised with a garda vetted minder overseeing the day so the children will be in good hands and have a blast.

Blog Submission

In preparation for #cong19 I really encourage you to read the other submissions and start the process of connecting with each other by either posting them on social media or commenting on the website.  The synopsis will help you speed read and focus on the ones that interest you. Community was a challenging topic for this year and impossible for one submission to cover it all but I have been fascinated by the range of perspectives and angle that you have all taken.  For any still to submit please send them to me as soon as you can or let me know how you are getting on.  We are flexible on timing but really need to know that you will be there on the day.


Please use the large car park at the entrance to the village at the roundbout or behind O’Connor’s Spar Shop/Garage (closes at 7pm) and behind Ryans Hotel (be care of the tight turn – we have had a few bumps in the past).  Please do not park in front of Ryan’s Butchers and narrow points of the road (especially the front of Ryan’s Hotel) as large trucks have difficulty passing.  Daily we have in excess of 40 large articulated trucks passing through the village.

Getting to Cong

Most people are driving to Cong and the list of those willing to car pool is on the registration sheet.  If you are happy to take someone with you (great chance to get to know people) please let me know and similarly if looking for a lift please consult and connect with people.  There are a number of people looking for lifts from Galway.  You should allow for at least three hours for the car trip from Dublin.  If you are travelling by car for Friday evening in Ashford Castle my strong recommendation is to avoid Galway City and to detour off the Motorway for Claregalway, Corrundula and then back on to the Headford road to Cong Village.  This involves 20 mins of national roads but will save you a lot of time getting through Galway traffic chaos.  On Saturday morning this will not be a problem.

Buses to Galway are available every half hour from Citylink, GoBus and Bus Eireann. The nearest train station is Claremorris (30 mins), Galway (45 mins) and Castlebar (40 mins)


Let’s assume it will be wet and cold so please bring warm clothing and wet gear especially if planning on walks in the woods.


As it’s a tourist venue Cong has a good supply of hotels and B&Bs but most of the immediate rooms are booked out.  If you have yet to book please check out the listings on the site but a quick search will produce more options a short trip away in Clonbur Village.  It is best to phone the hotels as they have block booked rooms for us. Taxi services are available to get back to your accommodation if outside the village.  There are also some nice options on AirBnB.  There are still places available in Ryans and Danaghers but these will vanish pretty fast.

Centralised Registration

I have centralised registration booking for the 8 different events on this sheet to give us rough numbers.  This covers all the different events but the really important ones are Ashford Castle (we cannot squeeze any more than the lucky 32 in so check if your name is on the sheet before going to the castle), the Children’s workshops, the Tin Whistle session (all can attend but we have only bought so many Tin Whistles) and the Sunday Mindfulness. Please check out the different tabs and put in your names and numbers.

Health & Safety

Dr Michael Regan is the nearest doctor located near the entrance to Cong Village in the Lynn Medical Centre  (094) 9546006.  The is one modern pharmacy in Cong Village run by Cormac on (094) 954 6119.  The defibrillator is located outside O’Connors Spar Shop.  Please report any medical incidents to Eoin on 086 8339540. 

Problem Solving Muse.

Once again this year we recruited our CongRegation problem solving creative Muse called Thypia

We challenge you to input drop in whatever problem you are facing and our creative solution provider will deliver a personalised response to you by email.  We cannot promise it will be the perfect answer but we do guarantee that a creative muse will review, analyse and give an anonymous response.  You can start adding your problems now through this link but we will also have cards on the day that you can fill out.

At this point we are on target for over 80-100 attendees, 8 chairs, 30 children and some observers.  Your attendance is really important to the smooth running of the event and if by any chance you cannot make it please let me as soon as possible as we will need to find replacements.  It is also not too late for new people to attend so if you know of anyone please share this email, direct them to me or the website.

In the event of something unforeseen happening could you please add your mobile number to the registration sheet or send to me.

Respectful Debate

The range of perspectives in the submissions this year will be a catalyst for lots of debates and sharing of insights .  Expect divergent views and opinions.  I just ask you to be respectful but don’t shy from challenge and the richness of discussion this offers.  I am also extending a challenge to the more confident to encourage the quieter voices through inclusive contributions.  Please also take the guidance of the chairs who have a difficult task and only wish to have all voices heard.

This event would not be possible without the generous support of, Advanced Productivity Skillnet, MKC Communications and Blacknight and I would like to show my sincerely appreciation for their leap of faith in enabling this event to take place.

I am really looking forward to seeing you in Cong and I really appreciate the great effort you are making in a taking the trip and producing some inspiring submissions.


#cong19 Chairing Instructions

Huddle Structure

•          12 people per huddle (could be less/more)

•          Roundtable style

•          2-3 Present

•          10 Minute presentation

•          5-10 Minute discussion

•          4 rotating 1 hr huddles

•          Start with simple introduction and life hack

Session Breakdown

•          1 hour

•          Welcome/ground rules – 5 mins

•          Introductions/ice breaker – 10 mins (2 mins each) (15 mins elapsed)

•          Speakers selected

•          Presentation 1 – 10 mins (25 minutes elapsed)

•          Q&A – 5 minutes  (30 minutes elapsed)

•          Presentation 2 – 10 minutes (40 minutes elapsed)

•          Q&A – 5 minutes (45 minutes elapsed)

•          Presentation 3 (55 minutes elapsed)

•          Q&A 5 mins (60 minutes elapsed)

•          Thank all speakers/last thoughts/comments

Main Focus

•          Timings

•          Flow of conversation

•          Inclusion of all voices


•          Timer (phone)

•          Note pad


Each huddle will have a chairperson who manages the session flow and ensures time keeping and interaction.  The chairs role is to kick start proceedings, manage the introductions, ice breakers, encourage the three/two speakers and more importantly enjoy the session.

The principal behind small huddles and using social venues is that it is supposed to replicate real world conversations rather than artificial presentations from a podium.  We have structured the sessions to avoid chaos but the chairs judgement of the group is paramount and there is lots of flexibility built in.  You do not have to an expert on the theme but your view is also important so you can decide to contribute or not.  Some people will be quite nervous and anxious while some will be very confident and naturally monopolise time.  The range of people and topics is very broad so you will have a very diverse group who different backgrounds, interests, occupations and ages profile.

Your role is to make people feel comfortable, relaxed, manage the introductions, time manage the sessions, read the group and over all flow of the session. The real challenge will be to make it inclusive but this is no different to normal conversations in social situations.

I really do appreciate your time and I hope you enjoy.  I have included some guidance below which should help but also reading as many of the posts as possible will really assist you and they are genuinely very varied and interesting.

The chairs for the 8 venues for #cong18 are:

1.         Robbie Canavan | Byrne and Fallon | Two groups here. Lunch served.

2.         Mags Amond | Danaghers | One group in the café to the right. Lunch served.

3.         Ruairi Kavanagh | Puddleducks | One group. Table at the window. Lunch served.

4.         Don Delaney | Elizabeth Togher’s | One group. Round table. Lunch in Byrne & Butler.

5.         Barry Kennedy| Lydons | One group. Upstairs. Lunch in Ryans or Danaghers.

6.         Averil Staunton | Rare and Recent | One group. Lunch in Ryans.

7.         Mike O’Rourke | Byrne and Fallon | Two groups. Lunch Served.

8.         Tony O’Kelly | Ryans | One Group | Upstairs area over the bar. Lunch served.

Below are the instructions for the chairs but its also useful for everyone to understand the role/process.

You have been allocated one huddle to chair (as per above)

Some venues will also be open to the public but we will have blocked off areas in all venues

Huddles kick off at 10.30am so check out your location in advance ideally from from 10am.

Briefing for chairs takes place at 10am in Ryans Hotel (registration venue). One of the chairs might run this as registration tends to get busy.

There will be max 10-12 people in each huddle but numbers may vary.

There will be four huddles throughout the day according to the lanyard schedule.

Kick off each huddle by introducing yourself.

Explain overall running order – 1hr, introductions, life hack, two/three 10-15 minute talks followed by discussion after each one.

Ask people to introduce themselves and give their ‘Life Hack: as an ice breaker.

In their introductions people should state their name, what they do for a living but most importantly AVOID any sales pitches or overly lengthy life stories. Short and snappy is best and there is plenty of time during the breaks to dig deeper into work life and build connections.  This might be a bit tricky at the start as people are unsure of how much they should say but encourage them too keep short.  It works if you give an example with your own introduction.

A ‘life hack’ is a tip from a productivity tip, social media tool or as broad as a philosophical tip on life.  This is designed to get people talking to each other.  Aim for max of two minutes.

The introductions are very important part of people getting to know each other and people will be doing it 4 times during the day.  However this is an area where you can lose a lot of time, making it difficult to catch up later.  You should aim to keep this to 15 minutes max with the first presentation starting not later than 15 minutes after group arrive (you may need to start before everyone is in attendance).  Strong time keeping at the beginning will make it easier to rein in conversations later and keep control of the sessions.  This means you will may have to interrupt (perhaps asking for the life hack if introduction is long winded) and constant reminders of the amount of time available.  You should keep your time keeping device (phone, clock, hour glass;) close at hand and don’t be afraid to point at it or look at it to remind people.  Tight time keeping at the start creates a statement of intent for your chairmanship of the session.

Next up ask which three/two people would like to present.

Agree who goes first.

Explain that each speaker has 10-15 minutes to present and encourage everyone to contribute/ask questions.

Some talks might go on longer/shorter but the key is to measure the atmosphere in the group.

Occasionally the group have been happy to have just one speaker especially if it spawns engaged debate but best to try have a number of speakers at each huddle.

Use judgement – if people are riveted to the speaker then allow more time especially if only 2 speakers.

Ask if anyone is recording or streaming the session – just so everyone knows. Encourage people to tweet or post on social media using the #cong19.

Explain that tea/coffee is available for them to use – let me know if supplies run low.

Details for lunch venues will be on the lanyard.

Start the clock when the person starts presenting.

Remember everyone gets to speak on the day and needs a minimum of 10-15 mins and 5mins Q&A.

Main thing to police is NO SELF PROMOTION – people will want to know more about you based on your insight.

Give the speaker 3 minutes notice of the time with a hand signal.

Thank the speaker and congratulate them.  Some people will be nervous, some very confident.

Encourage questions after the speaker.  In general people contribute willingly. Please ask people to be respectful of the speaker and their points of view. Differences of opinion are valuable and should not be avoided. Phrasing is key and probing questions are preferred to abrupt disagreement. As chair you are entitled to intervene, trying not to take side but perhaps rephrasing as a question.

Synopsise or highlight some element from the talk as possible icebreaker.

Ask a question of your own or add own experience if needed.

If you are short a speaker consider calling out one of the posts from the site or ask if anyone wishes to present again.  I don’t see this being necessary but looking at the blog posts in advance will greatly help you and personally I have enjoyed them.

Politely move conversations on if one person is monopolising and watch for others who would like to ask questions/comment – see video.

A persistent challenge arises when the conversation is opened to the floor and then either the speaker continues to dominate the conversation, or one or two other people engage in a conversation with the speaker, or themselves, and the rest of the group can feel like onlookers.

In order to mitigate against this at the beginning of each huddle remind the group that the aim of the huddle is to include everyone’s contribution and to that end, asks everyone in the group to only respond briefly and once to the speaker’s topic, until it’s clear that everyone who wants to contribute has had the opportunity to do so.  You can encourage this by making eye contact with everyone in the huddle, especially those she/he’s identified as someone needing encouragement. Then once everyone who wants to has contributed, people can come back in with a second response.

We have plenty of time to catch up on over runs during the day.

Wrap up the session after the hour.  Frequently it feels unfair to shut down lively discussions at the end of the hour but it is better that people leave wanting more and they can continue the conversation on the way to the next venue.  If possible stick to the schedule as otherwise groups get bunched together.   The weather may also be cold and perhaps wet so best not to leave people waiting outside the venue.  People have 30 mins to get to the next venue (which will take them 30 seconds) so they have plenty of time to chat.

Ideally orientate yourself to Cong so you can direct people to their next huddle and be aware of the overall timings for the day.   There is a map on the back of the lanyards.

Finally enjoy.  This is not the army, we have structure but only to ensure smooth running of the event – the two key elements you control are timings and flow of the conversations. This is a great bunch of minds so take your own mind for a gallop also.


At registration I will explain how the spreadsheet (which will be on people lanyards) operates.  The spreadsheet is built around 80+ people attending.  This is spread across 8 venues running at the same time, with four sessions through out the day.  If 3 people present at each huddle this means 96 presentations.  Why is this important.  It means you will have 3 presentations at some and 2 at others. If more or less people arrive on the day we will adjust accordingly – ie if 84 people show each huddle has to accommodate 3 speakers so that everyone presents.  As people register we allocate a number to each person.  They then use the spreadsheet to see what venue they are due in.  This is done so that we can mix the groups up so in theory you will end up with an entirely new group of people at each huddle.  I know this seems complicated but in reality it works out fine. Mathematically some huddles may be down some numbers especially if less people show so please bear that in mind. Some of the really enriched conversation took place in very small huddles.

The first huddle is the hardest to get going and no one wants to jump straight in. A tip from Tony O’Kelly was to hover around the registration area to find some people who will be in your first huddle and agree with them in advance who will present.

I will ask you to put up your hand at the briefing to introduce you and ask people to follow you out to the first huddles.  Please familiarise yourself with the venue during registration so you know where to go and that the room is set up for you.  I will have checked in advance.

Below is the spreadsheet which will be on people name badges/lanyards.  Just in case you are wondering its upside down so when you till up to read it its aligned the right way up.  The instructions for lunch is being served will be on the lanyard.

Recording Insights

The chair role is a busy one and you are on your mental tops of your toes all the time.  However it is also a great opportunity to collate some of the key insights.  After the session if you could document any of the key points it would be appreciated especially for the eBook report.

Advance Preparation

Please reread all the instructions and be clear about the timings.

If possible read the submissions – even the synopsis, which will give you a good handle on what people will be talking about.

Do some dry runs at home so you are comfortable with your script (welcomes, introductions, requests for chairs, moving conversations on). Practice gesture (hand and eye) for moving things on and catching people attention. Chairing can be daunting but if you internalise the processes, timings and your script the more confident you will be and much better positioned to deal with any curve balls.


One of the wonderful aspects of CongRegation is that people can be passionate about their topic. The will also have spent considerable time preparing for CongRegation. However this means that any criticism can potentially be taken personally, even if not meant this way. Some people can tend to be very direct. All exchanges should be respectful/constructive and as chair you have a mandate to intervene before things get too hot. There is a fine line between healthy banter and hurtful comments. You can avoid much of this by explaining the ground rule early and taking early action. Rephrasing of positions, asking questions and allowing people to agree to disagree will help and avoid direct confrontations is possible. One attendee explained to me one year that his presentation evoked strong responses – some loved, one hated. He also explained that he embraced both but if it has happened the previous year it would have set him back. In short some people have strong personalities and we cannot know what is going on in some peoples world.

Off Topic

In general the atmosphere of huddles is very collegial and as everyone is a peer it is egalitarian. However this can also lead to some people opening up with very personal comments about their life status that are off topic. This can be jarring to the chair and group. These should be handled sensitively but not encouraged. Thank people for sharing and point out that we have lots of time build in to explore lots of other areas before guiding back to the theme of community. Again advising that the session is focused on the theme of ‘Community’ at the start will minimise this and empower you to bring back on topic.

My closing comments is that your role as chair is extremely important and people look to you to guide and manage the flow and to take action when needed.  This means you have a mandate to make decision and politely move things on.  If you manage the small things – starting on time, keeping the introductions tight etc it will be easier to assert your presence later on.

Feedback from past attendees is that they really respect chair who keep a tight ship on timekeeping and work hard to include all voices and not allow one or two to dominate.

I once again thank you for time and agreeing to chair.  The event could not run smoothly without it.

6 Minute Running a Huddle Insights

Alec Taylor has kindly put together his tips for running a huddle.  Worth watch especially for flow and managing of timings and getting comfortable with the group.


Running Order for #cong19

 With three weeks to go CongRegation I wanted to share the running order and some of the things to expect for #cong19. The theme this year is ‘Community’, Nov 22-24th in Cong, Co Mayo.  

First the basics.

There are 8 separate events as part of the weekend with the main unconference on Saturday Nov 23rd.  Tickets are via the website submission form and based on the ‘Community’ theme.  All submissions are shared on the website.  Everyone presents in small rotating huddles on the day.

Now the fun detail part.

CongRegation kicks off with a night of ‘Community Talks’ in Ashford Castle on Fri 22nd Nov at 7pm.  The line-up is:  

Professor Pat Dolan, NUIG on ‘The Quiet Man …. and the not so Quiet Man’

• Leadership and Development Coach, Nadine McCarthy on ‘ Weaving the thread of Community – From I to We (…whilst still including me)’

• Author Kevin McDermott on ‘Belonging’

• Semantics Expert Alastair Herbert, LinguaBrand on ‘Why Listening Beats Talking’

• Community Builder, Tracy Keogh, BOI/Grow Remote on Building a Community from Scratch

(Note this event is now full but you can leave your name on the waiting list – see below) 

Following the presentations we will retire to Danagher’s Hotel for an Maker Meet workshop led by Chris Reina and Pamela O’Brien.  Those not attending Ashford Castle are invited to an earlier Maker Session.

Saturday kicks off with the unconference following registration from 9.30am in Ryans Hotel and the full day features 4 rotating 1 hour huddles in 8 different venues.  Each of these are chaired with attendees deciding where, when and how they present.

Following the group photo and dinner the group will again assemble in Danagher’s Hotel for a series of fun sessions including:

• Poetry Open Mic led by Paul O’Mahony

• Learn the Tin Whistle by Jenny Mulvey

• Hyphurm – New Ambient Music by Max Hastings  

The Saturday Children’s Workshops will also see children of the attendees experiencing engineering, blue screen and electronics challenges in a special Maker Meet followed by a drama/music workshop in the Crossroads Centre.

On Sunday morning Derval Dunford of Suí Mindfulness will lead a special ‘Mindfulness through Daftness’ in Cong Woods which sounds really intriguing.

I have opened up registrations for the different events and the master schedule.  Note there are 7 separate tabs.  Please indicate which events you wish to attend (especially if availing of the childcare).

Looking forward to seeing you all in Cong. In the meanwhile try to take the time to read the other submission – I learn from each one of them. If you like why not post on social media or leave a comment on the site.

Community Insights Through Tribes

I have been interested in the modern take on Tribes since Seth Godins book ‘Tribes’ and the interesting analysis of videos like the ‘Dancing Guy’. 

As the theme for CongRegation is ‘Community’ I have been expanding my reading on the topic and this month I devoured (audio books versions) of I Found My Tribe by Ruth Fitzmaurice and It Takes a Tribe by Will Dean 

Both are very different books.  In ‘I Found My Tribe’ Ruth Fitzmaurice narrates how she coped and adopted her life following the life changing prognosis of Motor Neurone Disease that her husband Simon was received early in marriage.

Naturally much of the book is occupied with the ever present shadow of the disease and its impact and the emotional rollercoaster it creates but the author does dedicate time to discussing the importance, shape and evolution of her tribe – initially her family but mainly a group of friends whodiscovered a love of all year round sea swimming.  Her swimming companions all have their own stories and personalities but plunging to freezing and testing their bodies endurance made them stronger and formed extremely close sisterhood bonds.  This notion of pushing our bodies to help us deal with tragedy and survive life pressures can create strong communities, friendships and Tribes.

Will Dean’s ‘It takes a Tribe’ is written more a business book although it does so with the colour of the authors life and the establishing of ‘Tougher Mudder’ phenomenon. I was a bit sceptical of the book as I felt wondered how much I could learn from an assault course event.  The story line is compelling and documents the rise, challenges and failures in a fairly honest account of the growing a single event to the point where over 2 million people have participated.  

Its easy to believe that this happens through luck or just hard graft (both of which help) but where the book is more interesting is the thinking about the core of the organisation and the establishing, maintaining and growing a Tribe.  Getting to the levels the Tougher Mudder reached could only be done by looking at all components from the culture of the organisation, the design and ethos of the event and digging deep into human psyche and challenging the winner take all ethos.  

As a Harvard Business graduate (something he is fairly critical of) Will had the constructs, tools and case-studies to seek relentless improve from constant questioning (the 5 Whys?), establishing a manifesto, listening to the community, creating authenticity and harnessing the story telling power potential.     

Although Tougher Mudder is a business model (initially highly profitable), to the community it’s a way of life, an ethos and for some a life changing movement.   The movement plugs deep into an understanding of people needs to belong and achieving more by winning with others than solo runs.

Although the motivation of the community with earned head bands seem a bit gimmicky to have an impact they worked but the notion of people tattooing your brand on their body is an even greater impetus to stay true to your values.

Will Dean also put some meat on business concepts (through his own stories) on areas like leadership (delegation and permission to fail), fostering and maintaining an strong internal culture, the innovation process and dealing with failure.

Community is a widely abused term and not all organisations will have the extremes that Tougher Mudder has but the overriding obvious aspect that makes it so strong is that they continually meet their community at the events and have woven them into the fabric. Having a strong online only community is essential to communication/logistic but is not enough.

One of the mantra/rituals at the start of each event is a call on Tougher Mudders ‘When was the last time you did something new’, something I now ask myself daily.

#cong 18 Report – Three Days of Ideas | Engaging | Connecting | Sharing

Under the theme of ‘Ideas’ CongRegation 2018 the three day ‘mind mesh’ festival this year further expanded to include 7 different events as part of the weekend.

This was the sixth year of the event that witnessed over 100 Irish and international speakers debate, discuss and share their expert insights into the world of ‘Ideas’.

Consisting of 8 separate events over the weekend in 10 different venues the conference featured an evening of talks in Ashford Castle, Adults Physics Workshop, Full Day Unconference, Children’s Smart, Music and Drumming workshops, a learn the Ukulele music workshop, poetry recitals and finishing with foraging walk in Cong wood.

The centre piece of the weekend is the unconference which saw coffee shops, book shop, art gallery, restaurants and shops in Cong Village turned into mini conference centres or ‘huddles’ with attendees debating Ideas from the perspective of artificial intelligence to how to get ideas off the ground.

This year also saw the launch of a problem solving muse for attendees.  Over the course of the event attendees simply entered a problem at and a creative muse delivered an anonymous personalized response.

Once again, tickets were earned through the submission of a 600 word unique article on the theme of ‘Ideas’ that is posted on the conference website.  In total 97 articles were submitted using a range of mediums (audio, video, written) and format (from poems to quotations).

Ashford Castle and Physics Workshops.

This year the proceedings started with 5 International and Irish speakers sharing their unique insight on the world of ideas.  This was followed by a ‘Semi-Conductor’ workshop in Cong Village.  The full report and video is available here.

Unconference Day

Gathering in Ryans Hotel from 9am on November 24tha split of experienced CongRegation attendees mingled easily with first timers, as tips for the day and how to read the timetable were expressed. After a quick orientation by Eoin Kennedy the 100 attendees broke up into their randomized groups in 8 different locations.  This year included the newly opened Byrne & Butler, the relocated Rare & Recent Bookstore along side Pat Cohans bar & restaurant which remaining open for a longer season.  Ryan’s Hotel, Puddleducks Cafe, Elizabeth Toghers Gallery and Danaghers Hotel completed the list of locations.

Each location was managed by a specially briefed chairperson who guided proceedings.  Each session opened up with an ice breaker, which ranged from life tips, business guidance through to IT tips.  Frequently the ice breaker became the talking point of attendees as they floated between the 4 different sessions.  At each session 3-4 people were invited to speak for 10-15 minutes with moderated Q&A.  Attendees decided where, when and how they presented.

The talks were generally ‘off the cuff’ or a verbal chat through the article the attendee has submitted.  As the time available is short speakers focused on the strongest and most salient points which acted as a catalyst for conversation and connection.  Fueled by free flowing tea/coffee/pastries and lunch, attendees moved after each 1 hour huddle to a new venue with 12 new people until everyone has spoken.

The fourth huddle finished at 4.30pm with the customary photo at Cong Cross and a short thank you address, before retiring to Ryans Hotel for drinks followed by dinner in Pat Cohans and other venues.

Children’s Workshops

The children’s workshops at Congregation started as a way of easing the pressure on parents of attendees but have now grown to be a stand alone event.  Over 36 children attended the ‘Smart Fabric’ and precussion workshops in the Crossroads Community Centre.

Delivered by Shirley Coyle of Common Ground Design, the smart fabric workshop started by allowing children to design their own clothing on cutout models before exploring how to embed sensors into clothing and experimenting with different fabrics from slow vanishing UV light designs.  Mixing motor skills (sewing) with technology (embedded diodes, sensors) the morning session was spent making and experimenting.

Following a lunch from Byrne & Butler and a movie showing the group of children again assembled under the expert tuition of Anthony McNamee of One World Drum for a percussion workshop.  The two hour workshop ended with a 20 minute concert for the parents where the entire group worked in a coordinated drumming master class.

Poetry Open Mike

Following a request from John Davitt, who had published a book of poetry, a stand up session was introduced to this year preceding after the conference dinner in Danaghers.  The session was MCed by Paul O’Mahony who guided the poets through rapid fire recitals by John Davitt, Richard Millwood and Anne Tannam (both whose pieces were written for their fathers) and this years youngest attendee Caoimhe May.  A number of impromtus recitals were also delivered by including Karl Thomas, Gillian Godsil and Celia Keenaghan.  Fears about the reception the poetry session would receive were unwarranted as the audience listened with rapt attention.

Ukulele Workshop

Having delivered a master class on the bodhran and harmonica in previous years, Sean McGrath once again pushed the limits further with a ukulele workshop.  Focusing on the basics Sean has the entire group playing the instrument with minutes and finished up a with group composition.   He also left the group with no just the enthusiasm to play more but a full set of resources to continue the learning journey.

The impact of the deep sharing from the conference, the emotional experience of the poetry sessions and the fun of music playing was evident in the free flowing interaction amongst attendees that continued late in to the night.

Foraging Workshops

One of the things that make CongRegation special is the beauty of the physical surrondings of Cong Village.  A quick trip through the 12 century abbey and across a wide stone bridge, with leaping spawning salmon leads to the Cong Woods which was the location for a foraging walk guided by Alex, a cook in The Lodge Hotel. Over the course of 2 hours under blue skies and sunshine he located edible mushrooms, salad ingredients and natural flavouring in the ancient forest.  With opportunities to sample nature’s bounty he shared how they use the ingredients in the kitchens in the hotel.


As a free event CongRegation relies on sponsors to underwrite the cost of organizing and running the event.  However it is important to have sponsors who buy into the ethos of information sharing balanced with commerce.  This year sponsors have all supported previous years and delivered support beyond financial contributions.  Their ongoing support and engagement is very much appreciated.  I would personally like to thank (, the Advanced Productivity Skillnet ( MKC Communications ( Blacknight