Reshet Roundup: Space Between Floors--Conference Networking

At the Prizmah conference in Atlanta, I was reminded of the midrash from Bereshit Rabbah 7:3 that praises God as an excellent interior decorator. According to the midrash, when a human king builds a palace, the king puts inhabitants into the upper and lower floors. God, however, was brilliant enough to use the space between the floors. The Prizmah conference was revolutionary in its design. Rather than entirely focusing on the formal presentations and presenters (of which there were many), the conference, like the midrash, was strategically focused on the space between the sessions as well.

The conference intentionally brought “networking” to the forefront. It capitalized on the types of connections and conversations that would typically take place in hallways, elevators and buffet lines at a conference. The networking that took place at Prizmah was strategically facilitated through a variety of mediums. Networking started even before the conference began, through an amazing app that included ways to connect with each conference participant directly, photos of each participant and presenter, and a Twitter-like feed for the conference itself. This app enabled networking to begin virtually and set the stage for the importance of networking throughout the conference.

Built into the conference itself was a variety of opportunities and tracks for people to come together through facilitated conversations by “network weavers” for professional peers, from admissions and marketing professionals to heads of school, Judaic studies administrators and lay leaders. These formal sessions enabled networking to occur as part of the sessions themselves and to spill over into the hallways and banquet tables. The creative dessert bars certainly helped to foster more opportunities for conversation as well.

There were also many kinds of presentations, from TED-style talks to lightning rounds (five-minute presentations followed by q&a), which enabled more individuals to have a chance to share their stories, propose best practices and make contributions to the field. Conference participants could then build upon these examples to share their own dreams for Jewish education.

I was so struck by the conference design that, following the conference, I reached out to Debra Shaffer Seeman, whose official title is “Network Weaving Director” at Prizmah. I noticed that, aside from facilitating the Eli Talks and lightning rounds (at which I presented), Debra played a more behind-the-scenes role of encouraging people to fill out Post-it Notes on a board in a hallway (for example: “My name is ____ and I have experience in___”). Reflecting upon the conference, Debra explained that networking is actually “the fourth lever” of Prizmah’s strategic plan. This networking lever is designed to weave through all of the other content areas at Prizmah. Debra shared how she is invested in growing the “wisdom in the room,” rather than a “sage-on-the-stage” model, which is typical at many conferences and presentations.

It is clear that the Prizmah conference in Atlanta set a new stage for this model of decentralizing learning itself and empowering more individuals to share their wisdom with one another. By putting networking at the forefront, Prizmah inspired me and I hope many of the other 1,100 participants to intentionally think about how we, like the midrash, find the spaces between the floors. May we continue to build meaningful connections and opportunities to learn from one another as we engage in our sacred work.

Yael Buechler, Lower School Rabbi-in-Residence
Deepening Talent