Monday, March 23, 2009

OnlineSpin: It's Alive: What Makes A Conference Thrive?

Last week Kendall wrote "Social Nervous System -- Or Nervous Social System?"

Simon Cohen wrote in response, "There was an episode of the 'Outer Limits' called 'The Stream,' in which a society that has become completely interconnected to what is essentially Google on steroids falls victim to a rampant virus which threatens to kill them all.

What I liked most about the story was the way it presents the central character (who through a childhood accident is unable to connect with the others) as deeply disadvantaged, being regarded by all others as almost sub-human. Of course, his immunity to the rapidly spreading virus is the key that saves the world.

It makes me wonder what exactly will be the tradeoffs over the coming years between being an active participant in the nervous system and being someone who either sits on the sidelines, or opts out completely.

I'm not convinced that those who opt out will be the pariahs of our society.

But then that might be wishful thinking biased in part by my ongoing absence from Facebook and Twitter ;)"

Catherine Ventura wrote, "Great post. I've long felt we have been moving in the direction of a kind of cultural telepathy.

We're clearer getting closer by the second. The footprints won't be erased.

But, like cuneiform and scrolls, they may be superseded by something even more relevant and powerful."

Monday, March 23, 2009
It's Alive: What Makes A Conference Thrive?
By Kendall Allen

It's one of those weeks I love. SES unfurls in our backyard here in New York; the iMedia Breakthrough Summit is on again down south; OMMA Global takes place in L.A. And while you cannot be everywhere at once, circles converge, friends descend, and it's all just a bit more electric. Professionally, intellectually and socially -- it's connective for the community. As we all reconnect, I'm reminded of roots and the future all at once. As it should be. And, given the turbulent times in progress, I find myself focusing again on what it takes to make a conference as valuable as can be.

I have discussed programming before. It's a passion and pursuit of mine. But, when I really think about assuring the value exchange, I realize it comes down to a few key factors. This is true as consumer, participant and periodic cast member. Here are three general movements I have seen in conferences I frequent, that I immensely respect:

  • Mixing it up. As with most professional realms, digital has its old guard: those who have pioneered, capitalized, advanced the industry and certainly their own credentials. This legacy is a core and good thing. But it's always refreshing to see an advisory board that embodies new talent as well as the old. The best content directors know how to use a well-mixed advisory board to evolve programming -- and they know that too much repeat casting on panels and forums can breed complacent talent. The collective brain trust requires the interplay of a spectrum of experience and a fresh mix of talent.

  • Creating scope of content. With an appetite for integrated marketing -- but a realism that knows convergence is a work in progress -- I am always reassured by an expansive scope of content: a broad, flexible view of the material itself. Even conferences that in the past have had a more singular media focus, have begun to take a more sophisticated stance on content. Agendas delving into integrated search, social media, and content make for a more complete marketing picture than do siloed media agendas.

  • Using platforms and tools. The better industry conferences today enjoy an active relationship with the blogosphere and across media. Robust community and conference sites, continual blog commentary, Web radio and social media power the promotional and content engine that hums before, during and after the conference. Some have more aggressively harnessed social media and mobile applications to engage attendees and onlookers, providing them with additional utility. At minimum, it's been a fun development. And when well-executed, with valuable content exchanged, it's a real perk to participation in an increasingly integrated content and communications environment.

    Beyond programming content, there are the the panelists. I often share these thoughts on what I appreciate from cast members themselves. There are several principles that really allow talent and value to come through. The core imperative, of course, is to keep your game fresh. So how can you do that?

  • Listen to new people. I have mentioned this before, but it's since become my lead principle. We all have our circles, go-to mentors, intellectual confidantes and conspirators. But, just as the best casting and content reflect a fresh mix -- so does one's output benefit from fresh blood. Allowing the fresh perspective you uncover to positively color your conference/panel contribution results in a more lively connection with your audience, along with your base.

  • Keep client contact. There are theorists and practitioners -- and there are those who are a blend. It's always powerful to have current feedback from live client or business situations. Even the exalted guru serves his or her base well by bringing living, breathing examples of theory in practice.

  • Prepare. Period. This may sound obvious. But, to those paying attention out there on the conference circuit, it's obvious that not everyone prepares. Many not only recycle their content but also shrug off contact or prep with their co-panelists before an engagement. Whether you are flying solo or part of an ensemble, the on-stage dialogue will benefit from preparation. Never assume that your canned goods are immortal.

  • Communicate. This goes hand in hand with not just showing up and phoning it in. Embracing the cross-platform environment and tools at hand can enhance your own contribution to any given conference. Pre-cast, commentate, communicate and you will do your part to boost the heat around the conference, and garner more usable feedback yourself. Those who play this way will get more adept at applying the feedback. Oh yes, my social media experiment #2 is still on: @alter_ego_kma.

    We know inherently that complacency is pretty treacherous. But, year after year, in light of any number of distractions, it can happen. In fact, when it comes to content and programming, it certainly is a risk if you confuse best practices with same-old, same-old and tired no-brainers.

    During especially heavy conference periods, I find myself focused on what it takes to stimulate a real value exchange. Sometimes, I am disappointed; often I am rewarded. But, as consumers, participants and cast -- we own our roles in the mix. It's chiefly about keeping it real, keeping it current, and keeping channels open. Our best conferences today look and feel like living media: consumer networks with a very audible and timely voice.

    Kendall Allen is headquartered in New York City. She consults for publishers and agencies on integrating digital -- most recently at MKTG, where she just completed a long-term assignment. Previously she was managing director of Incognito Digital, LLC, an independent digital media agency and creative studio. She also held top posts at iCrossing and Fathom Online.

    Online Spin for Monday, March 23, 2009:

  • You are receiving this newsletter at as part of your free membership with MediaPost. If this issue was forwarded to you and you would like to begin receiving a copy of your own, please visit our site - - and click on [subscribe] in the e-newsletter box.
    For advertising opportunities see our online media kit.

    If you'd rather not receive this newsletter in the future click here.
    email powered by eROIWe welcome and appreciate forwarding of our newsletters in their entirety or in part with proper attribution.
    (c) 2009 MediaPost Communications, 1140 Broadway, 4th Floor, New York, NY 10001

    No comments:

    Blog Archive