Seth Godin, known for his work on "permission (opt-in) marketing", writes a blog and this past week he posted an entry called "The new standard for meetings and conferences". I urge you to read Godin's complete posting as well as the comments and other blog entries written in response.
While Godin is referring to the conferences that he attends in the world of marketing and public relations, it is clear that his comments are applicable to almost any conference or meeting, small or large. He's talking about effective communications. Coming as they do on the eve of yet another NAFSA: Association of International Educators conference , I think it's worth considering Godin's words. I agree with him.
If you think a great conference is one where the presenters read a script while showing the audience bullet points, you're wrong. Or if you leave little time for attendees to engage with others, or worse, if you don't provide the levers to make it more likely that others will engage with each other, you're wrong as well.
It seems as if everyone now is presenting with a Powerpoint, rarely deviating from what they have prepared. I've seen more than my fair share of these types of presentations. Sometimes they have been presented in a compelling way. I have also seen many presentations so poorly done that I have left because I know I can find a better use of my time. Unfortunate, but true.
Godin goes on to say:
Here's what someone expects if they come to see you on an in-person sales call: that you'll be prepared, focused, enthusiastic and willing to engage honestly about the next steps. If you can't do that, don't have the meeting.
Here's what a speaker owes an audience that travels to engage in person: more than they could get by just reading the transcript.
Hallelujah! Amen! If all I wanted was a transcript or print marketing materials with bullet points, just email me the PDF, make it available as digital media or through Google Apps and save me the time and cost of coming to the conference/presentation! That's how I feel as an attendee.
As a presenter / trainer / teacher, I have always felt that it's incumbent on me to go beyond my outline or notes, to engage the audience. To pause and take their pulse. Am I missing something? Is there a question that needs to be answered in order for us to go to the next level? Is there a direction they want to go that I need to know about?
As I've watched the use of Twitter and other social media at conferences, I've become aware of how using it as a back channel may help presenters "true up" their course to meet the needs of the audience -- or help the session chair take care of that room temperature problem that is impeding the concentration of those in the room.
The bottom line for me as a presenter? Am I doing everything I can to allow the members of my audience to gain new levels of understanding and enthusiasm for what we are exploring together.
And then Godin addresses conference organizers and planning committees.
And here's what a conference organizer owes the attendees: surprise, juxtaposition, drama, engagement, souvenirs and just possibly, excitement.
It's not "business as usual" any more. What can we do to make our conference experiences even more relevant, useful and engaging?
Finally, I was excited to read Godin go on and apply his thoughts to the everyday workplace:
I'm on a roll here, so let me add one more new standard: If you're a knowledge worker, your boss shouldn't make you come to the (expensive) office every day unless there's something there that makes it worth your trip. She needs to provide you with resources or interactions or energy you can't find at home or at Starbucks. And if she does invite you in, don't bother showing up if you're just going to sit quietly.?
While many in international education or experiential education may not be able to have the luxury of choosing not to work in an office now, I want to challenge our field to consider that international and education abroad students and staff (with whom many of us work directly) may not want (or be able to !) to meet us in our offices either!
What tasks could be done remotely using simple technologies that are already available? What new types of communications techniques could we use? Which new forms of marketing communications might benefit our efforts?
Would this allow for even more flexible work schedules and employment? Would it allow us to serve some of our constituencies better by have a counselor or adviser available by phone or Skype in U.S. evening hours when Asia or Europe is wide awake? What if I can serve students better by working from my home remotely on a flexible schedule than by driving a gas-guzzling car to work in a space that might be better used for other pressing on-campus needs? Or by making print marketing materials more easily available through downloadable documents and e-books? Could strategic meetings include a more diverse group of people if done virtually through tools such as Skype, iMeet, GoToMeeting, WebEx, etc.?
Sometimes I think that we are too wedded to the status quo and "policies" (especially in academic environments) instead of approaching challenges and solving them with creativity and flexibility.
Interestingly enough, it's exactly that creativity and flexibility that we try to encourage in our students when sending them to other countries to engage other people. We tell them that creatively dealing with ambiguity and embracing differences are crucial to successfully moving between cultures. Are we just talking the talk or can we walk the walk, too?
There's a lot to consider here. Your thoughts?
- Influencer Marketing - What it is, and Why YOU Need to be Doing it (seomoz.org)
- Optimizing Search Conferences: How Differing Incentives Create Audience vs. Organizer Issues (seomoz.org)
- The Brilliant Content Strategy Everyone Gets Wrong (problogger.net)
- New Seth Godin Education EBook: "Stop Stealing Dreams" (mrpullen.wordpress.com)