Diving in to TEDxSummit

Doha at twilight

Last week was a profound experience for me; I attended my third official TED event – the TEDxSummit for TEDx organisers, held in Doha, Qatar.

Me and Hans RoslingBringing over 650 TEDx organisers from in excess of 90 countries together in one place (and maybe one of the few places in the world where this was possible), the TEDxSummit gave us talks from TED speakers including Hans Rosling, Maz Jobrani and Juan Enriquez as well as the opportunity to collaborate and work with each other in powerful ways; we had the opportunity to spend two very immersive days speaking with and learning from each other.

The organisers did me the honor of asking me to conduct two separate workshops; one for new TEDx organisers and another for intermediate-advanced organisers. The feedback I received directly from other participants was extremely positive. I’m keen to hear and read the official feedback when it comes in.

Travelling nearly a day each way to spend a week in a country where everything is unlike your home is a strange experience (not because you’re in the Middle East, which is incredibly interesting, but because Qatar is a nation in flux where a society is still passing through Tuckman’s stages of group development and will emerge at some point in the near future into what I imagine will be a profoundly interesting norming and performing phase).

It’s not hard to spend time with people you like a lot and share head space with. Though it does mess with you emotionally (in good, bad and sometimes confusing ways).

Jarryd, Kristin and AnnekaWhat is hard is the very real emotional amplification that goes on at an intensive, immersive event like TEDActive or TEDxSummit. I think it’s possibly a form of Stockholm Syndrome; though one with a bigger up side (does such a phenomenon have it’s own name?).

There needs to be some post-event introspection to come down off the high and to ensure that the whole “drinking the Kool-Aid” problem doesn’t pervade our post-event thoughts. I’ve done these events three times now and it doesn’t change, but conscious awareness to the affect these events have on you is critical.

Some concerted, objective self-analysis helps you make a better set of post-event decisions on the actions you need to take. I still have really good friends from my trips to TEDActive. I imagine I’ve made another set of friends (and reinforced old friendships) this time.

Thank you to all the fantastic people I met in Doha.

TEDxCanberra – A dream fulfilled

What takes 250 of my hours over eight months and countless other volunteer hours, about $20,000, a team of 12, a 3-camera film crew, a national monument, a fair bit of missed sleep, a heap of running around, 18 presenters and nearly 300 attendees from all over the Eastern states?

The answer is TEDxCanberra.

And for this year, it’s done.

When I first proposed the idea via email and Twitter to a few friends and acquaintances from the Canberra web, tech, social innovation and public sector communities, I figured we’d manage. I really didn’t have any clue what it would take, nor how absolutely fulfilling bringing TEDxCanberra to life would be.

More than enough people have spoken about the talks, and how good they were, so I’m not going to discuss them. Suffice it to say, I think TEDxCanberra punched above its weight (thanks, Pete Williams) in attracting a dazzling array of Australia’s most inspiring and interesting people to present. I’m not sure quite how we managed it, but we did and I’m glad for it. I just wonder what we’re going to have to do in 2011 to top the lineup we had this year.

So, let me talk about the people. Because without people, dedicated people, events like TEDxCanberra don’t happen.

The core team for TEDxCanberra have become some of my best friends and most valued colleagues. These are people I would trust with anything, because I know they’ll deliver. They’re incredible, beautiful people whose commitment to my crazy idea brought about a day that I think was one of the best big ideas events Canberra has seen. Yes, I’m biased, but I’m convinced I’m right (Ash Donaldson’s talk notwithstanding).

So, to my crew – Alli, Hannah, Clare, Lozz, Michael, Gavin, Nat and Ruth – I say thank you. You guys have helped me fulfil a dream.

To the on the day volunteers and to our supporters, particularly the NLA, thank you.

And to those that spoke and attended, thank you too. Without you, there is no TEDxCanberra.

I can’t wait to do it all again in 2011!

Is there value in live conference blogging?

Like Stilgherrian, I’ve been invited by the organisers of X|Media|Lab Sydney to attend their event tomorrow and talk about their event online.

I appreciate the gesture. And attend I will. And write I will.

But like Stil, I attend very many of these sorts of events, and am of the mind that liveblogging them, or live tweeting them, unless one has an especially cogent observation to make, actually detracts from the value of attending the event.

So, I’ve made a decision. I will attend the event. I will occasionally tweet if I or a speaker or another attendee has something especially noteworthy to say.

But I’m not going to live blog. Rather, I’m going to make notes, compile them, and post a summary tomorrow evening or Saturday.

Once I’ve had the opportunity to digest the material from the event.

Here’s why. After attending a great number of these “big thinking” events – TED, TEDx, Interesting South and others (that don’t annoy me nearly as much as they do Stil) – I find that trying to digest the content and report on it in real time dramatically reduces my experience of the event. I don’t focus on the speakers and other attendees. Rather, I focus on rapidly getting out what I think at the time is the message those watching might want. I don’t absorb.

In a breathless, media right now, attempt to broadcast my own and the presenter’s message, I actually dilute the experience for myself and others. It’s a mile wide and way less than an inch deep.

And that’s not what I want.

I want a rich, deep, relevant, cognitively expansive experience where my own interaction with the event is rewarding. I want to be, as Jay Rosen notes, “the people formerly known as the audience”. And I want my fellow attendees to do the same.

To do that, I need to focus on being at and in an event. Not scattershot partial attention.

The next step

An emergent theme of my posts of late has been change. Whether that’s technology, user experience, reform of education, public sector and government, conferences or business (including my own), it’s a constant.

Deliberative democracy chat
Image by trib via Flickr

Equally, I’ve had many conversations in physical and virtual environments about change. Those conversations, to my very great benefit, have been with smart, motivated, interesting people – friends, peers and those I look up to.

Just yesterday, I was able to get deeply buried in several conversations about change at BarCamp Canberra 2010. This third Canberra BarCamp was far and away the best yet. Very balanced in its participant-generated program, issues of technology, the web, education, public sector reform and social innovation were openly and actively discussed. There’s no right or wrong, just great ideas (many available now on SlideShare).

One thing that emerged strongly from the sessions I was involved in – largely those on reform and social innovation – was raised in the first session of the day, Matt Moore’s deliberative democracy discussion on wicked problems. That problem is what I’m choosing to call next steps.

We all know it’s incredibly easy to discuss wicked problems. Equally, it’s near trivial (on a grand scale) to come up with solutions to them. We can define people, ideas, resources, finance and economics, social reforms and any number of other matters that will require resolution to solve these problems. It’s the next thing that’s the hard one, as I said in this tweet to Havas Media Lab director (and HBR blogger), Umair Haque.

It’s the next step, the tangible action, that’s wicked about all of these problems. And it’s next steps that we lack in solving all of the big problems we face. And it’s incumbent on all of us, in the sense of the Builder described in Haque’s The Builders’ Manifesto, to take next steps rather than simply engaging in conversation.

BarCamps, expos, conferences, summits. They’re all excellent places to begin solving the wicked problems. But we must take next steps.

For me, the biggest take away from BarCamp Canberra 2010 was DO. We must not just talk, we must be prepared to DO.

Conferences, inspiration, value

Chris Anderson is the curator of the TED (Tech...
Image via Wikipedia

This post started as a comment on my pal, Linda Johannessen’s blog post about TED and conference organisers. Then it got long, so I figured I’d bring it over here. Not least because I want to discuss conference models this weekend at BarCamp Canberra 2010.

I’ll start with a story.

Attending something like TED is about as far from watching the videos (which are inspiring enough) as you can get. Spending a week in the company of a group of people for whom “impossible” is not an option and there is always a viable answer to any problem if the right people and resources can be applied to it is the most inspiring thing.

For a person like me (I’d almost call myself a card-carrying atheist, only I don’t think there’s an actual card), TED is the closest thing I’ve had to a religious experience. That week, of long, long days, inspiring talks and even more inspiring face-to-face interaction with other attendees is singularly amazing. So much so that attending has changed the way I think and act about many things in life and work.

As a living example, we all attend conferences, meet interesting people and say we’ll stay in touch. It never happens (or rarely at best). Of the many, many people I met at TED in 2009, I think I’ve had at least one conversation with almost every one of them in the year since. For some, it’s been many conversations and for those in Australia and NZ, more than one coffee meeting or meal. The community of TEDizens, is incredibly close-knit.

That’s the experience I want from the conferences I speak at and attend. Amazing inspiring events with great speakers. Outstanding organisation and production. Organisers who care passionately about the event. Meeting other attendees who I can relate to, share a meal and a story with and want to maintain a connection to after the even (and then actually do so).

One thing many folk aren’t aware of is that the big price tag to attend TED is actually used to fund the good work done by the Sapling Foundation that runs it. It’s not a profit-making business. Depending on which event you attend from 30-50 per cent of the price tag is a donation to the foundation. That’s pretty amazing considering the production values present at TED itself, which is far and away the highest quality conference production you’ll see anywhere. No other conference I’ve been to comes close (and I’ve been to many).

Now, that all sounds like a bit of a TED fanboy blast. Not so. Yes, TED is inspiring. Yes it’s amazingly well-organised. But it’s not perfect. And yes, it’s very expensive. But TED does in many ways demonstrate the counterpoint to what’s wrong with many conferences and their organisers.

The current conference model everywhere I’ve seen is fundamentally broken – (supposedly) professional event companies organising events for which they have little or no passion, charging attendees high fees to attend what turn out to be average events, boring, bland catering, not paying speakers who spend many, many hours to prepare the best work they can (on average, a conference talk takes me an hour of preparation for every minute of presentation time).

It all strikes me as driven by profit (which is fine by me, businesses have to make money) but at the expense of producing amazing events that really strive to give attendees value. How many truly amazing events are there?

Ruth Ellison
Image by trib via Flickr

Of course, there are some exceptions to this. From my own experience or that of friends, Web Directions in Sydney, Webstock in Wellington (which I’ve not been to, but plan to for 2011), UX Australia, many of the BarCamp-based (there are lots of variants now, for almost any sector) events, TED itself. And anecdotally, a number of the “big thinking” events like The EG and Defrag. I’m sure examples exist for industries and interests I have no idea about.

But the fact remains, many conferences are underwhelming, low in attendee cost-benefit and not well organised. It could be so much better. Here are a few ideas:

  • conferences should be organised (or at least advised) by people passionate about the subject matter (like the UX Australia team)
  • conferences should seek to add value to the attendee experience beyond simply showing up and listening in
  • conferences should be costed in such a way as to make adequate profit for the organisers (if profit is a motive) without knifing attendees, rather than being crazily overpriced
  • conferences should pay speakers where appropriate, especially if they are taking time out from their businesses to attend and speak

BarCamp Sydney #4 – Saturday, 15 November 2008

The (un)organisers of BarCamp Sydney have let me know that they are preparing for yet another festival of creativity to engage and excite the Australian tech and innovation community. Details below.

Date: 15 November 2008

Venue: UNSW Roundhouse

Time: 9:00AM-5:00PMpm (registration starts at 8:30AM)

Register: Do it yourself on the wiki

If you’ve never been to a BarCamp before, I highly recommend it. Make some time in your schedule. For those that have been before, I needn’t remind you how great BarCamp is. Take a look at my tag list below to see just how much of your life this might touch.

Hopefully, I’ll see you there. I’m not sure how my timetable is yet.

What inspires me to blog (and a short rant)

Laurel’s pressured me and now Lee has too! What is it with you people?

There are a number of triggers, I guess, that will get me to make those particular mouse clicks and keyboard strokes. I’ve never really thought about them clearly before now. Like Laurel and Lee, I’m pretty much on a theme here. There are occasions I drift off topic, or am tempted to put something more personal in a post, but they are very much that – occasional.

So what are my motivators? Let’s see:

  • business value for problem solving using social tools as a supporting technology – it’s about the problems, culture and practices, the tools simply make it easier
  • how business can get social tool use right, both inside the wall and across it – openness, honesty, humanity, fairness, values, equality
  • the flip side of the last point, how not to use social tools in your business – sock-puppeting, dishonesty and the like
  • social web strategy for business – folding the culture, practice and tools into your corporate DNA
  • products I use and enjoy using for some reason (not necessarily online) – if I like it, maybe you will too, and I want you to know
  • things I’ve read that I think others should – interesting, exciting, groundbreaking, stimulating

Scarily enough, like my friends (and competitors, so back off you pair!) Laurel and Lee, I’ve got to do this in such a way that it generates leads for business for me where it can. I can’t be giving away all my IP.

And now, the tangential bit… public speaking – which is akin to being with me as I blog. With pictures. And sometimes video.

Again, like Lee and Laurel, this blog generates a lot of speaking opportunities – and like Lee, I’ve about reached the end of where I’m prepared to speak gratis.

I am flattered that you think I’d add value to your event, but I have an established brand and reputation to which I attach some value. Yes, I’ll meet some new people at your thing, but I rarely generate work (have I ever?) from conferences. So, “it’s good for your business, think of the networking opportunities”. Not so much.

There are a few events I will always consider doing just for expense coverage, the organisers know who they are.

However, if you’re charging your attendees more than $1500 to attend, I think you should probably send some of that my way for the time it takes me to prepare and the work I couldn’t do in the meantime. I have even engaged a very highly regarded speakers’ bureau (thank you Mr Pesce) to help me out. If you ask me to speak and you’re running a commercial event, I’ll probably send you their way.

Here’s the math. Not including the days of distracting brainstorming I go through, a half-hour talk takes me two days to prepare. Minimum. And it scales somewhat more than linearly from there. Plus there’s rehearsal time. I need to do my talks half a dozen times at least in rehearsal before I can give you a good performance.

That’s got to be worth something, no?

Speaking at actKM 2008

Just a small announcement.

Today I confirmed that I’ll be speaking at one of Australia’s (if not the world’s) best knowledge management conferences – actKM.

It’s a highly-regarded event and some of the best KM people in the world will be attending – Dave Snowden, David Gurteen and my friends Matt Moore and Matthew Hodgson. These people are folks I look up to greatly so I’ll need to be on my game!

The official program is announced soon, so watch for it if you’re even a little interested in knowledge management.

My favorite TED talks

A couple of weeks ago my friend, Tara Hunt, posted a list of her 10 favorite TED Talks. She’s inspired me to do the same, except I’m limiting myself to just five. Why five? Well, if I go over five, I’m just as likely to go over 10. And so on. I pretty much like everything I view from TED, and it’s definitely an event that I want to attend one day.

ted_logo.gifTED strikes me as an odd event – full to the brim of inspiring and inspired people, many of them very powerful and totally capable through the money or social capital they have access to of making a real difference. For a regular person like me, I imagine TED is incredibly exciting to attend, yet almost disheartening as you return to real life afterwards and realise that your individual capacity to drive the sort of innovation and change TED aspires to is rather limited.

That’s perhaps a little bit of a dark view, so I’ll let it just slip on past. Without further ado, my five TED favorites are:

  1. Ken Robinson says schools kill creativity
  2. Ben Dunlap talks about a passionate life
  3. Larry Lessig says the law is strangling creativity
  4. Al Gore’s new thinking on the climate crisis
  5. Johnny Lee demos Wii Remote hacks

What about you? What about TED inspires you and gets you to think differently?

No consultants… Go figure

I was approached this week by a large conference organiser in Australia to speak at one of their upcoming conferences in Sydney (300km from my home town). They found me through my LinkedIn profile and sent the email to an address I have at a client site by guessing at my address there – despite the fact that my acidlabs contact details are fairly prominent in my profile.

The topic they wanted me to speak on is right up my alley – Web 2.0/Enterprise 2.0 tools, KM and organisational information management. However, in speaking, the following conditions come along with the gig:

  • no travel and accommodation paid (Which is usually covered for many conferences)
  • no speaker fee (Which would be nice, but not critical)
  • I cannot speak as a representative of myself or acidlabs as a consultant and only as a representative of a client and as a practitioner (What!? I can’t present using my professional persona? You’re kidding, right?)

All this for a conference that charges AU$2650 per attendee!

I’ve been backwards and forwards via email with the organisers in an attempt to understand the motivation. Here’s the answer I got:

Over recent years, it has been noted through delegate feedback that is received and collated post-event, that delegates were more and more expressing their disinterest to hear from consultants. Rather, they expressed interest in hearing case studies from practitioners and often highlighted that the sessions presented by consultants were of little benefit to them.

I expressed the view that this was perhaps the result of less than ideal choices of speaker rather than merely a practitioner-consultant thing. I also stated, that for me, there was no differentiation between me as the consultant and me as the practitioner – they are one and the same.

I informed the organiser that to not cover my expenses and not allow me to represent myself professionally would be to give the conference a free ride on my good name and expertise. I don’t expect (but would always be delighted with) a speaker fee. Matter of fact, I’m mostly delighted with just a comp, and consider travel expenses a bonus. This particular organiser tried to make me feel like I was being done a favour even getting a comp.

For example, I’m speaking at Oz-IA next week. It’s a pretty small conference and has a low attendee cost at just AU$500, yet they are more than happy to comp my place and cover my travel and hotel. It was more than I expected, as I wanted to speak at this event, so I consider the expenses coverage to be a bonus. Equally, I’ve just been to San Francisco for Office 2.0 where I spoke about knowledge workers and changing work environments. Speakers were comped, but the conference doesn’t pay speaker fees or travel (I got that handled another way) although I think they might have to given how successful the event is becoming. However, every speaker and paying participant did get an iPhone. That’s pretty amazing schwag.

Perhaps not surprisingly, I’ve chosen not to speak at the conference that approached me this week.

For those of you that speak at conferences, what’s the usual situation? Do you get expense coverage? A speaker fee of some sort? The right to represent your professional persona? I’m keen to know.