Friday, September 21, 2007

"Our plans miscarry if they have no aim. When a man does not know what harbor he is making for, no wind is the right wind." Seneca

"It is a common experience that a problem difficult at night is resolved in the morning after the committee of sleep has worked on it." John Steinbeck

"The ability to ask the right question is more than half the battle of finding the answer." Thomas J. Watson

Yesterday Dave Winer posted an interesting take on the need for convention reinvention. You should take a moment and read Dave's post Time to shake up conferences?, I'll wait here.

This was certainly not the first time Dave has written on the topic but it was the first time I took chase of that subject matter on this blog.

The accepted conventions of conventions are just not working any longer.

My guess is what's at work here is inertia and, perhaps, a wee bit of early entropy.

Let's be honest. The subject matter needs attention, deserves work. It's not about getting better, it's about getting different. It should be about the shared experience(s), about outcomes.

The world has changed and conventions are being staged and presented pretty much the same way they were ten if not thirty years ago. The hang (i.e., the social aspects) is almost always good and worth the trip but, hold up, what we are paying for? Why are we away from home at some hotel, resort or convention center? Where's the continuing professional education? Why the same format of talking head panels or sage from the stage? Why the same speakers (the usual suspects plus some average keynote du jour working the circuit pushing a book)? Why are so many panelists allowed to "wing it" rather than being required to come prepared with something of substance. Why the continued acceptance of sessions with low and sometimes zero practical take away? You've been there. "How was the session?" "Uh, it was ok, I guess."

Are we better off having attended? Did we get real value for our dollar?

Where's the conversation, the interactivity? Where's the learning? Where's our chance to participate, what opportunities were baked-in to the program to get everyone involved?

This happens because we allow it to happen, we continue to register, to pay, to attend while we fail to really complain, formally. We just accept it and bitch. We say "It is what it is." We fail because we don't demand to get back real value for our dollar, for our time. Over time attendance falls off. Increasingly, companies are not paying the freight and why should they? The ratio of vendors (sellers) to attendees (buyers) has never been more pronounced. Hint: the status quo ain't working for the vendors either.

It doesn't have to be this way.

My schedule has me in a different part of the world at the start of this year's NAB Radio Show. I like and respect David Rehr, John David and this year's event chair, Rick Cummings. Moreover, much respect for Erica Farber, a pal and former colleague. I wish them all very successful shows. I'm most certain they will allow me a respectful question.

What if ?

What if you could attend the NAB Radio Show or the R&R and not have to go to Charlotte?

What if you were able to attend via webcast, able to download ppts, word docs, PDFs? What if you were able to attend a dinner in your town or some other place close by to hang out and discuss the issues of the convention day with like minded folks? It is a fair wager that more people from your market and in your neighborhood are at home than attending the conference. (For example - how cool would it be to hang out at dinner with Dave Logan, Scott Sutherland, Dave McDonald, Steve Rivers and other PNW folks in Seattle. Let's say you're unable to attend for whatever reason, Seattle is the city most near you and you have an opportunity to enjoy dinner with others, like you, who are not away attending the main event?) What if you could jump to a place online to engage in an active conversation of the day's issues? Wiki fueled session by session forums? Presenters signed on, full live interaction (If Howie Kurtz and the other big dogs at WaPo can do online sessions live certainly conference speakers can as well). And if you missed it live you can catch the action in archive.

I agree with Dave Winer that Tony Perkins' gang at AO are doing an outstanding job of serving up cool ways to discover what's happening, ways to catch the vibe without leaving the comforts of home (I was in the city for one day of AO Media this year and able to take in some of that missed via the web). My question is why not borrow from what Dave, Tony and others are suggesting and doing?

Fire up different, richer experience(s), a deeper, more meaningful conversation? The trainer in me wants to ask about transfer of training. Do these events produce more productivity back home? Are we, at least, having folks come back pumped and excited about doing much cooler work, inspired and on fire about doing work that matters?

The very cool thing about tech is we can do more than ever before and reach more people than at any other time. We need to change format.

Let's reboot the conference, time for convention reinvention. Let's allow the committee of sleep to work on it. By the way, I'm confident David, John, Erica and others will listen. Your thoughts are welcome here, always.

My thanks to Dave Winer for the inspiration.

Full disclosure: My bias is clear. As someone who delivers an annual brief at or concomitant to a number of industry events including the spring NAB (Mediascape: the digital futures update) and is also engaged to give talks at conventions, meetings and in closed sessions (client and corporate) it is in my self-interest to improve attendance, satisfaction and take away. My employer invests in my continuing professional education as a trainer; I remain a serious student of developments, advances and best practices in the fields related and applicable to adult learning. As this post clearly shows, I'm a fan of Rehr, David, Cummings, Farber, Winer, Perkins, Logan, Sutherland, McDonald, Rivers and Steinbeck. I remain pro meeting and especially pro pro-am meeting.

P.S. A bonus of ten additional IQ points (with all commensurate advantages) to the first organization to invite Dave Winer in for a meeting to talk about what's now possible. NAB, RAB, R&R, CRS, Conclave, MS Bootcamp, RTNDA, NATPE, Promax/BDA, BEA, CTAM, NASBA? Nothing but upside. Listen to Dave.

Congrats & cheers: GSD&M on another great AT&T execution. njoy@utube idk my bff rose + bffjill Outstanding creative! Kudos too to Mark Prince the very smart media strategist that gets these flying through the air and racing through the wires. Brian Stelter bows his very cool new - and must-read - TV blog, TV Decoder via NYT here.

Light blogging ahead - on the road - time zones away.