Sweettt.com – Episode 7 – Conversations as The Future of Conferences

Wordle on Conversations as The Future of Conferences
In this episode, we really point out all the things that are wrong about the modern conference and presentation format.  In our conclusion of our August 15th discussion, we contrast this old guard presentation style with a more refreshing approach in which the audience is a key contributor to the event.  When people gather together within conferences, this is a knowledge sharing event, designed to maximize the sharing of insights and perspectives.

99% of presentations result in a tremendous waste waste of human potential, forcing 99% of the people at an event to sit in their chair and say nothing, to be passive receptacles of verbal spewing of the microphone coddler.  We’re not saying that a 55 min presentation is a bad thing.  But we are saying that failing to facilitate 55 minutes of further dialog is a modern knowledge management / enterprise 2.0 tragedy.  How arrogant can someone be to think that the audience is solely there to simply listen to the wonderful wisdom between their ears.  Instead, we propose that the audience be engaged in an open discussion in the event and invited to participate by sharing their opinion and perspective.

00:00 START

00:30 Introduction – Continuing the August 15th recording… The Age of Conversation
01:15 Previously heard on Sweettt.com… Luis and Matt recap the KM 2.0 session by Carl Frappaolo… A real eye-opener… Tune in, Turn on, and Wake UP!
02:45 Carl was really willing and able to engage with the audience.  He was willing
03:15 He was a good synthesist, was able to include, summarize, compare, contrast, and synthesize without being defensive.
04:00 The audience is just as good as the speaker, not just taking a turn being the speaker, but really part of the process, with an opinion, and a voice
04:30 the speaker’s opinion is not better than everyone else’s
05:15 Main tent / Keynote sessions are a waste of time from a knowledge sharing point of view.
05:45 Conversations in the lobby and on the floor are much more engaging.
06:15 Keynote sessions are one way interactions, and not very engaging.
06:45 Harriet Pierson, Chief Executive Privacy Officer started her session with a conversation.  “Does anyone have any questions”
08:00 She answered all the questions before she got into her pitch.  Then she integrated all the questions into her pitch.
08:15 This kind of presentation is rated #1 in a conference.
08:45 The future of conference recognizes that the reason for being there is the audience, not the speaker.
09:00 People must be connected to online services.
09:15 Convensions need to facilitate conversations between participants, instead of preach to them.
10:15 Why are people so obsessed with PowerPoint slides?  Without your slides are you naked?
10:45 Someone who really knows there stuff really won’t need their slides.
11:00 A very embarrassing story about an executive who didn’t know his presentation and could only read his presentation.
12:00 A huge percentage of speakers are not really able to present without their slides.
12:15 Slides act as notes for the presentation.
12:45 It’s a sad statement about the knowledge and insecurity of the speaker when they have to go on stage and dominate the discussion 95% of the time.
13:15 Speakers do not realize that they are missing out on an opportunity to learn.  Instead, they are looking for opportunities to show off.
13:45 It is confusing why people aren’t more open and willing to learn when presented with an audience.
14:30 The audience is put in a position of the mythical role of student, sitting at the feet of the master.  And if no one sits at your feet, then you must not be a master.
15:15 However, it’s a myth that students were just listening to the master.
15:45 Socrates was famous for asking questions.  He didn’t lecture.
16:15 Socrates never wrote anything.  His entire means of sharing knowledge was to have conversations with students. (note – Yeah, but if Plato never wrote down what Socrates did, we would never have known)
17:00 We have not really advanced much beyond the ancient Greek scholars (in fact, we can only hope to be so good as them) when it comes to using conversations as a means of sharing knowledge (and so many other things).
17:15 PowerPoint-based presentations are really aweful.
17:30 Luis is going to be at a conference and presenting without slides.  Actually the request was to avoid using slides.
18:15 The conference committee obviously was afraid to ask speaker NOT to present with slides.  But it’s a great thing that they wanted to do it that way.
19:00 David Snowden doesn’t use slides.  People are surprised by that.
19:30 We will have to make an episode based on the terribleness of slides.
20:00 Slides are all about being BIG, with a big persona, and taking control of the room.
21:00 Sometimes slides are helpful to coordinate attention and get everyone on the same page.
22:00 Tertulia is the opportunity to have that good discussion… share the knowledge… get what you have been missing.
22:30 And Sweettt.com is another space to have this space… this Tertulia… these conversations.
23:00 We really need to figure out how to engage people and invite them into the conversation.
23:45 Please post comments to propose topics.
24:00 We really need to work on the process and the technology to engage and interract with our audience.  Is a puzzlement.
24:45 There are many ways… a forum… email… comments on the blog… video comments… we could find & use other tools…
25:30 Maybe we could do a TV show (oh god I hope not)
25:45 Keep a live chat channel going.
26:15 We need a way for people to be able to chime in at any given time.
26:30 Maybe this is a good time slot.
27:15 How in the world can we reach out to Asia Pacific?
28:15 Recording of the Introduction
28:45 Matt doesn’t know when to stop.
29:15 Logistics
29:45 Wrap Up
30:00 END


  1. Hey Matt & Luis – Are you guys familiar with the ‘barcamp’ concept? http://barcamp.org/ Seems as though it might be right up your alley. I haven’t attended any yet but have made arrangements to attend http://barcampafrica.eventbrite.com/ in a few weeks. I’m interested to learn more about the dynamics of this kind of spontaneous conference.

    While I agree with some of the statements in episode 7, I don’t think slides are a complete waste of time. In fact I find having good visual metaphors to be quite compelling. I also think the type of audience you are talking with matters. Some audiences want/need to be passive since their motivation is to research/learn from speakers. Others prefer to jump right in and be provocative and challenging. Some are quick on their feet… others are more methodical. The old fable…. the hare and the tortise.

    Truth is I like a little of both…. thought provoking slides AND thought provoking speakers. Does that make me a hairy turtle?

  2. Hi Wolf. Thanks for the reference on Barcamp. I really like what I’m seeing there. It looks like this is almost what I have in mind. I don’t mind a set of pre-arranged topics, with preparation. The sessions themselves don’t have to be ad hoc. What I’m opposed to is what typically happens in sessions, where the person who takes the podium keeps the microphone for 90% of the time.

    It looks like this could also happen within the sessions @ a barcamp. It would depend on what a session leader decides to do. When I read the description of what to expect, I don’t see any instructions to make sure that there is a lot of dialog within the session. I would want to advocate that this really be made clear. The session leader has so much control of the room, that they really can determine the outcome there.

    I’m not completely opposed to slides (see 21:00 above.) But I do have a major problem when 1) the slides set the agenda AND 2) to complete the agenda the audience is gagged for more than 50% of the session.

    You wrote…

    “I also think the type of audience you are talking with matters. Some audiences want/need to be passive since their motivation is to research/learn from speakers. Others prefer to jump right in and be provocative and challenging. Some are quick on their feet… others are more methodical.”

    Luis and I are definitely the jump-right-in types, provocative and challenging. I think we need to admit that not everyone is like us. But we’re not saying that everyone should be required to engage. If there were only tortoise & hares, what would the split be, 50:50? I’m not saying that everyone in the audience should have a turn speaking, right? But I am saying that the presentation should be open and engaging. A session that does not allow for those in the audience who are willing, ready, and able to engage in discussion is one that is less efficient and less potent when the goal is to learn.

    When we are engaged in dialog, we learn more than when we are passively listening. When we have an opportunity to hear our own words, we learn more than when we are just sitting there thinking about the topic. When we can generate language on a topic, we know more about it than when you simply can recognize it. When we listen, we might simply be recognizing the subject and the points in it. But when we write or talk about the subject, this is a much deeper reflection of our knowledge. When we get to hear what we have to say, then we get feedback on this deeper level of knowledge.

    Moreover, when you hear how other people react to what you have said, you learn more about what you are able to say and verbalize than if you were talking in an empty room. Moreover, if the people who are reacting to your comments are interested in the topic, maybe know something themselves about the topic, you learn more. Language is a direct reflection of knowledge.

    Put this all together and I recognize that speakers would learn more if they would give other people time to interact with them; And audience members would learn more if they would spend less time being passive and more time speaking.

    And yes, it’s okay to not engage and to be a silent member of the audience… to be a lurker. This is the first step to learning the culture… the lingo… the topic.

    Wow, looks like I had more to say about all this. What do you think?

  3. I was checking out your blog. I am a consultant working for Capgemini so I found your topics pretty relevant. I see you also are into music. In addition to being a consultant I run my own web 2.0 site, cherrypeel.com. We describe ourselves as ‘The Democratic Music Revolution’ as we are trying to take the power from the mainstream media and give it to the fans. It works by bands submitting their music and our community of listeners voting it up or down.

    You can read more about how it works at http://cherrypeel.com/link/votesharediscover.jsp or why we are doing it at http://cherrypeel.com/link/b/blog/default/2008/06/11/Welcome-to-cherrypeel.

    Let me know what you think,

  4. Hi andrew! I’m glad you like the content & find it relevant. Actually, you used the words “pretty relevant.” And so that leaves me wondering about the gap between ‘pretty relevant’ and ‘extremely relevant.’ 😉 Where does this even slightly miss the mark? Or, am I reading in too much? I know you know that we all know that’s there’s no true measuring stick. I’m just wondering about the nuances. In this world where signal to noise ratio is so low, I just feel all the more need to delve deeper into subtleties.

    I’ll check out the music site. Thanks for the link :-)

  5. […] That is right, folks! We are back again at it! Here we go with another podcasting episode from The Sweettt Show, Living on the Bountiful Net that my good friend, and fellow co-host, just shared over at The Sweettt Podcast – Episode 7 – […]

  6. Hi Wolf, thanks much for the feedback comments! I must say that it may be very close to the concept of barcamps, but we actually pondered about going one step further than just barcamps. Basically, on changing the model of how traditional conferences would be hosted outside of the more innovative approach of the “unconference” flavour from barcamps. I think it would be rather interesting to see how contagious that flavour would be for more traditional conferences where both Matt and myself felt there needs to be a evolution with the times on what we have been experiencing. Because when you look into it, very few things have changed compared to the last two decades on this topic …

    Either way, the trend of thought is very similar. Just as much as the usage of slides, which I think I have summarised them nicely in my blog post announcing the episode over at http://elsua.net. They are just the means, not *the* message. Adapt & adopt accordingly! :-)

    Thanks again for the comments! And keep them coming!

    And the same goes to Andrew! That site and concept are rather interesting! Will be doing some more reading over the next few days when I can spend some more time heh

    Have fun!

  7. Hey Matt – great points. I just find myself wondering if i went to a conference session to hear Berkun talk about the ‘Myths of Innovation’ or Shirky discussing ‘Here Comes Everybody’ if I would appreciate members of the audience “overcollaborating” to such a degree I lose value and don’t get to hear what I showed up to hear?

    We all know there are some folks that don’t have the good sense to know the difference between furthering a dialog and taking over the dialog. Also, clever people sometimes let their ego get the better of them and want to show everyone else how clever they are… at everyone else’s expense.

    Anyway – I’m now registered for the BarCamp Africa session and will let you guys know how it went afterwards.

  8. Hi Wolf, I know what you mean. Consider this… you take a 2 hour flight (or longer)… You stay overnight… You wake up early… Get your self to the conference center… Get a seat up front… and out walks Scott Berkun… (Oh boy, isn’t this going to be great)… And shortly after he starts his presentation, you realize that he’s delivering the same presentation you just researched & discovered online. Hang on a minute… You’ve come all this way to hear the same thing you just heard on YouTube?

    Now what? You’re in that chair for another 50 minutes until he’s ready to take questions. The slot on the schedule will be finished after the end of the hour. So, what do you do? Every minute is valuable. Do you just listen to the whole thing all over again? Do you tune out & think about all kinds of other things? Do you start sending tweets on twitter? Do you search for the back channel chat & hand out there to see what other people think? Do you start writing your next blog post?

    Well, whatever you to, let’s say you make it through the hour and somehow find something productive to do during that time.

    Next on the docket is Clay Shirky, on his new book “Here Comes Everybody.” Hmmmmm……

    The point is, for presentations that are mostly one way, we don’t need to be in the room. So, what’s the value of being in the room? Larry Prusak chides us, suggesting we do the same thing dogs do when they meet each other. Personally, I think the value is in the potential interaction. And this is one thing that really gets me going… underachieved potential.

    As for the microphone hog… Nothing replaces facilitation. The wireless microphone is a modern-day talking stick.

  9. As it was pointed in the podcast and Luis re-stated in a comment above, slides are just a mean to communicate something.

    My view on this is that depending on the topic the mean to present it could be a different one rather than a presentation. Sometimes, slides are viewed as documents when they are not documents: go ahead an write a white paper or a book!

    In a presentation you have to interact with your audience, otherwise they will start to do something else (even if a internet connection is not available, day dreaming, anyone? :) ).

    Good show!

  10. Julio, I could not agree with you more! :-)

  11. ok – we hit the 100th download… I’m thinking it’s time to post the next episode… that should be soon

  12. Test before I write a longer post as the last time the system told me it was spam and said it wouldn’t post it! :)

  13. I think the whole conference thing is over-rated in general. I like going to conferences. I work from home and frankly if I’m honest it’s nice to get out of the home office and meet people and it makes me feel good. However, it terms of the “value” gained, it’s probably quite poor in terms of ROI. I think once 2009 happens and lots of conferences and travel are cut because firms are going to the wall and trying to save money we’ll see Virtual conferences of various descriptions come into their own. See my post on .

  14. Hi Kevin. Sorry about the earlier spam block. It was a defect. I uninstalled and reinstalled a couple of things, scolded Sweettt severely, and made her go an run laps for what she did. I hope everything is back in fine order now.

    I’m with you on the virtual conferences. Head tracking… spacialized voice… 3d driving off the headtracking (reverse wii)… triple monitor club… and we’re virtually there, kicking back and sipping coffee, fully immersed at the everyman’s desktop.

  15. […] Suarez and Matt Simpson recently discussed this problem on their Sweettt podcast.  Sean Bohan also discussed the topic on his blog earlier this month.  I have heard the same […]

  16. Sitting here, right now, on a knowledge management and collaboration community call, I just heard about a presentation style for conferences, called , which “… is a presentation format in which content can be easily, efficiently and informally shown, usually at a public event designed for that purpose. Under the format, a presenter shows 20 images for 20 seconds apiece, for a total time of 6 minutes, 40 seconds…”

  17. […] am sure that by now most of you folks out there would be up to date with a good number of the discussions that have been going on around the subject of how to improve the overall experience of attendees to […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge

Sweettt.com (with triple T’s) is Stephen Fry proof thanks to caching by WP Super Cache