Conference Best Practices: The Tech Policy Summit

The recent Tech Policy Summit at the Silverado Country Club in the Napa Valley was a well organized and engaging event. Too many conferences are painful to attend; lengthy keynote speeches in windowless hotel rooms, rubber chicken and endless PowerPoint conspire to dull the senses. This event was an exception. Here’s a list of the best practices that made a difference:

Location, Location, Location

Tech Policy Summit 2012The Silverado is an hour’s drive north of San Francisco, just far enough away to encourage those who could afford to stay over to do so, but an easy drive for anyone who wanted to commute. This eliminated the temptation for people to leave early and swing by the office. The conference “room” was a deck overlooking the golf course and the Napa Valley hills. It might have been distracting, but the a/v system overcame ambient sound from the fairways and the temperature in the shade was just right. People stay awake out of doors; in darkened conference rooms they fall asleep.

An Active Backchannel

Over 900 tweets were generated on the first day of the event alone. The Agenda listed the #TPS2012 hashtag together with Twitter handles for all panel members. There was excellent WiFi and a majority of the audience engaged with the backchannel on their laptops and smartphones.

While some attendees provided a valuable “live tweeting” service listing the main points being discussed, others offered reaction, opinion and responses. For those of us who were following (and this was not confined to those who were there in person) the tweet-stream augmented the event.

There was even the phenomena of greeting people in person who you’d previously exchanged tweets with:

@KatieS: New phrase coined at Tech Policy Summit for meeting people in person after twitter chats – TWIRL: #Twitter In Real Life.

Panels Not PowerPoint

Tech Policy Summit 2012 PanelThe agenda was exclusively comprised of panels. No keynotes, no PowerPoint, hence no need for a darkened room. The panelists often presented ‘point/counterpoint’ viewpoints that generated lively, sometimes heated, debates:

@kitode: Spirited debate on copyright between @mmasnick and @jttaplin of @USC @annenberg

@emilycastor: It’s getting heated! “You [@mmasnick] are not a neutral blogger, you are a shill for the technology industry.” – @JTTaplin

They checked most of the boxes in the Tips for panelists that I’ve listed in the past. Any exceptions were called out by the audience:

@pine_apple123: can we have a “Do Not Pitch” setting for @joshgalper?

Diversity

The event attracted a diverse audience: from Hollywood to Silicon Valley; the East and the West Coasts; Geeks and Legal Eagles. Tech Policy touches many areas: privacy; innovation; entrepreneurship; censorship; competitiveness; cybersecurity; a path for responsible online access; kids on Facebook; charges of incompetence and corruption in governments; complaints about the hubris of start-ups; and more, much more.

Diversity of viewpoints made for a vibrant event.

@redgraveK: love that there are 3 women (1 man) and a woman moderator on #tps2012 panel! @changetheratio #xxintech

Competent Moderators

As lively as the panels sometimes got, the humor and intelligence of the moderators was appreciated.

@whafro: You all know I appreciate a good panel moderator (99% of them suck), and @declanm is doing a mighty fine job with this one at #tps2012

Lesson Learned

Kudos to Natalie Fonseca, Co-founder and Executive Director for planning this event.

The lesson I took away was that, as the closing words from the first day stated: participants must learn to tell their stories to effect change in Tech Policy. People need to seize every opportunity to bring these issues to audiences in ways that everyday people can understand. And, as powerful as the panels at this event were, that might mean crafting an elevator speech or position statement that calls on the skills of a competent technology speechwriter.

I’m standing by … 🙂

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Great article, Ian! Sounds like they nailed it. I wish more conference organizers were so conscientious! I once did a training at a company retreat where there was an ocean view from our room. That wasn’t so bad, but the attendees’ kids kept running by on the deck outside! Just a little distracting. And a lot of my Play-Doh disappeared that day…



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