The toughest job in business these days? Conference organizer, if you ask me. Meeting the diverse expectations of anywhere from 100 to 1,000 attendees is nearly impossible, and is, at the least, a thankful task.
An example of one of the spectrum was the gentleman who attended a panel discussion I was on, and asked the panel “what are the 3 things you’d recommend I do when I get back to the office on Monday morning?”
For the record, I despise that question. How the hell should I know what you should do on Monday morning? Do I know what you’ve been doing the past 520 Monday mornings? Do I know what the unique challenges and opportunities your organization faces are? Do I know what is and isn’t working at your organization today? Who are you, anyway? And why aren’t you doing what your boss tells you to do? Or, better yet, why are you doing what he or she tells you to do?
No. My fellow panelist, Mark Zmarzly from Deluxe, was up first, and gave the absolutely perfect answer to the man’s question: “That depends.” Bingo.
At the other end of the spectrum was an example that Mark wrote about on his own blog. Writing about his experience at the recent Financial Brand Forum, he mentioned that he had heard “at least one conference participant say that the ideas presented at the conference weren’t revolutionary.”
I had two immediate reactions to this: 1) These people didn’t see my presentation, and 2) (doing my best Jack Nicholson impression) “YOU CAN’T HANDLE REVOLUTIONARY!”
Ignoring my first reaction for a moment (which, of course, may have the result of serious self delusions of grandeur), these comments about the lack of “revolutionary” ideas are troubling.
First off, one man’s revolutionary idea is another man’s impractical idea.
Second, exactly how are we defining “revolutionary”? Going back to my potential self-delusions, I would like to think that at least of the ideas I presented qualified as “revolutionary.” But I guess not. Or maybe those people really didn’t see my presentation. Hey, a boy can dream.
Speaking of impracticality, here’s a dilemma.
Assume that the speakers at a conference really focused on the “three things attendees should do when they get back to the office.” If there were eight speakers, attendees would be left with (up to) 24 things to do on Monday morning.
Good luck with that!
And if every attendee did the 24 things the speakers told them to do on Monday morning, we’d be left with even less differentiation among competitors than we already have today, because every firm would be doing the same things.
In his blog post, Mark mentioned that his favorite Financial Brand Forum presentation was from the CMO of a very respected west coast bank.
After getting over the sting of my presentation not being his favorite, I thought, “Really?”
I never did get the appeal of some exec getting up in front of conference attendees and talking about what his or her firm did. Like there was anybody sitting in the audience who could pull off the same things this west coast bank does. Or that should pull off the same things. Different banks + different capabilities + different markets = Different strategies and tactics.
But I am aware, however, of the real value of this kind of presentation….
Successful conferences balance three types of speaker presentations: Education, Inspiration, and Instigation.
Whether attendees take away the “three things they should do on Monday morning” or not, I can’t argue that attendees shouldn’t learn something. But if all they come for is to learn, than I think they miss out on a few things.
Like inspiration, for example. That’s the real value of the CMO presentation, as far as I’m concerned. Presentations like the one Mark liked inspire people to do great (or at least better) things at their own company. Even if there isn’t a shot in hell of them doing the same things the presenter did a his/her company.
Beyond education and inspiration, there is a third type of presentation, or benefit to be gleaned from a conference presentation: Instigation. If you want your existing views and opinions of the world to be confirmed, then stay home and read any of a gazillion blogs that exist.
A good conference presentation can be neither educational or inspirational, but still valuable because it challenges how you see the world. Maybe the ideas don’t rise to the level of “revolutionary,” but they could help you to see the world in a new light.
Personally, I aspire to deliver the third type of presentation. I’m hoping there’s a place for that in the conference world.
There is, sadly, a fourth type of conference presentation: The bad song.
I’m not even going to include a link to that Let’s Get Social video that made the rounds recently. Somebody should be arrested for that.