Picture this: US college kids – then and now

Thanks to the fascinating website Sociological Images for a pointer to this interactive map at The Chronicle of Higher Education website that presents data on the proportion of U.S. adults with a bachelor’s degree over time. In 1940, in the vast majority of counties no more than 10% of the population had graduated from college (the national average was 4.6%):

1940 College Degrees

Now the national average is 27.5%:

2009 College Degrees

By comparing the maps over time, you can easily track a number of changes: the increase in college degrees overall, of course, but also changes in education such as the dramatic gains women have made in earning college degrees in the past few decades — the gender gap in college degrees was over 7 percentage points in 1980 but only about 1.5 points today.

This is a wonderful example of the visual display of quantitative information that would be very effective in a presentation, similar to that used by statistician Hans Rosling.

108 top tweets from #ragangm

The Ragan Corporate Communicators Conference in Detroit (May 4-7) was festival of presentations on Social Media, Speechwriting, Corporate and Internal Communications. Over 250 attended the event held at the General Motors Headquarters in the downtown Renaissance Center and hosted by GM.

Attendees generated over 900 tweets under the hashtag #ragangm. Since Twitter only maintains 10-14 days of content live they will soon disappear. Here’s the archive all of them.

I curated a list of the most interesting 108 tweets,adding links where appropriate for easy reference.

  1. Use Camtasia Studio to create audio “screen-casts” of apps – embed in departmental websites as training aids. Create animated preso library.
  2. Internal comms compete w/lots of entertaining options for employee mindshare. Videos & Photos need to be quality & entertain to compete w/Rolling Stone & People Magazine.
  3. Every internal web page should have star rating system and allow comments.
  4. When developing messages for employees, ask the question “What does this have to do with the key audience how does it speak to their concerns?” WIIFM at two levels for employees: 1) What does it have to do w/ me? 2) How does changing my behavior make my life better?
  5. Three steps to changing employee behavior: 1) Handle comms logistics – content, design, 2) capture employee attention and 3) do be relevant. Result = change behavior.
  6. Comms is responsible for simplifying complexity of business – diagram things.
  7. We can no longer have internal comms messages targeted to everyone – the branch office does not see things same way HQ staff do. Gen Y workers diff. from Baby Boomers.
  8. Every communicator (esp. long-timers) eventually stops communicating 4 their audience and starts communicating 4 their boss. Do whatever it takes to avoid this. Bonus be damned!
  9. 3rd party media training is often more effective. Execs seem more receptive and less defensive/dismissive about their advice. Hire an outside coach for faster results.
  10. People now have now gone from having ADD to ADOS – Attention Deficit … Ooh Shiney!
  11. Executives need to understand Gen Y. “Connect with the coming tidal wave.” Try reverse mentoring, people!
  12. Irrelevant information is not benign. Limited reader attn means messages must be focused on benefits or risk losing readers.
  13. Write for the range of target audience that has least understanding of your topic. Duh!
  14. 89% of journalists say they turn to blogs for story research. Lazy or smart?
  15. 78% of people trust recs of other consumers; 14% trust ads. This is why social media is so important. Who do you trust?
  16. 62% of employees who tweet, tweet from work.
  17. 66% of employers have monitored employees’ internet use; 1/3 of companies have fired someone (mostly for visiting wrong websites).
  18. Make sure to integrate comms channels with each other. Example given: The Petco Scoop blog.
  19. Wildfire has a fun ways – sweepstakes, contests and give-aways – to engage SM audiences.
  20. Ideal number of words in a graf before losing reader attention: 42.
  21. Listening is the most important thing you can do on Twitter – check out http://search.twitter.com/ and http://www.socialoomph.com/
  22. Speechwriter Rob Friedman: Eli Lilly’s main purpose is to show “the value of pharmaceuticals” – ask: what is it for your company?
  23. “A speechwriter is a playwright for the client – script them well”
  24. Era of destination website is over – archival ‘.com’ sites being replaced by social media.
  25. 68% of online content read by Millennial’s is created by someone they know personally.
  26. Check out cool tool PubSubHubBub.
  27. Real-time search engines can tell u the sentiment & reactions to ur org’s news. Look at https://brandmentions.com.
  28. Twitter is not a personal communication tool. It’s a news distribution service.
  29. AT&T uses Twitter Ambassadors found those already on Twitter and take that passion to help your brand in a real way.
  30. Write tweets in ways that add value to the reader to aid optimization.
  31. Augmented reality is the next big thing. @shelholtz: “It’s going to be huge.”
  32. Are u using http://www.evernote.com/ – It will change ur life.
  33. Polleverywhere – Cool live polling technology. Used my phone to txt a vote and watched live results on the screen!
  34. General Motors: Changing the public’s perception 1 customer at a time. Personal correspondence with GM execs. Actively seek unhappy customers.
  35. Re finding/responding to online complaints, “It costs less…than finding a new customer,” Says GM’s Susan Docherty.
  36. SM lessons learned by GM: Don’t be boring, don’t over-promote, cut the hyperbole, respond to people w/real people.
  37. Social media “policy” for employees: if you can’t say it at your daughter’s bday party, shouldn’t say it online.
  38. “Stop treating customers like a one-night stand,” GM CMO Susan Docherty. Great advice for all companies!
  39. “Emerging” media is now traditional media. GM had 8-fold increase in digital media spending since 2001.
  40. In communications, if you start with the consumer, you will do the right thing.
  41. Qumu – great option for internal communications webcasting: Ragan Conference using them.
  42. GM has “social club,” informal, regular meetings of those from all depts w social media responsibilities.
  43. Remember you (your comp. or org) are a publisher and you compete with media outlets.
  44. PR & Marketing need to have a ‘”happy marriage.” Audiences can’t tell the diff between the two. They just see you.
  45. GM lets employees spend worktime in Twitter & Facebook so they can interact w/customers, which is now part of everybody’s job.
  46. Viral is a phenomenon, not a strategy…absolutely true.
  47. Any GM employee can tweet about the company, says @maryhenige. Co keeps them advised of rules, links them to info & asks them to be smart.
  48. In the end – just provide value. Don’t lead w/your messages; community’s needs come first.
  49. On Social Media…don’t be a brand, be human.
  50. 70% of successful outcome depends on how well you communicate. The last thing u want is 4 execs to be hiding behind their desks.
  51. “SM is like having a kid – you can’t just leave them when they’re done being cute.”
  52. Writers are ditch diggers. Can’t wait for a muse. Get your ass back in there and DIG!
  53. Any speech longer than 20 minutes is too long. If they want longer. Tell them you’ll speak for 20, QA for the rest.
  54. How to determine speech length? 100 words = 1 minute is good benchmark. Anyone speaking faster than that needs to SLOW DOWN, pause for audience to absorb message.
  55. Speechwriters: Make 3-4 big points. No more. Get them from the principal in ur 1st mtg, or they’ll throw ur 1st draft out.
  56. Get a 2nd monitor for your computer (to monitor Twitter).
  57. Use flickr to spark yr creativity.
  58. Use flip cams for fast ‘scrappy’ videos (caveat: content must be good).
  59. Greatest gift of YouTube culture: low expectation for video quality. BUT compelling content + authenticity is extremely high.
  60. Using humor in Corp comm is not always a fireable offense.
  61. Keeping it real: Bullfighter: – eliminate jargon & b.s. in your documents.
  62. Hire a presentation/speech coach to help ur executives improve. Not overnight, but 3-4 months.
  63. Use http://bit.ly to shorten URLs and track clicks.
  64. Stay current: Read http://mashable.com/
  65. Do a short 2 sentence interview with multiple ppl and mash together for a good video on a single topic. Example: http://bit.ly/aqzoCd
  66. Create a presentation homepage for upcoming events, preview videos, outline, slideshare, ask for comments. Example: http://bit.ly/aWBAow
  67. Flip camera tips: Clean the office behind you; use a desk light to highlight face; watch for b/g noise; bump sound with Windows Movie maker post-production.
  68. Keep your language conversational. Test your writing by reading out loud as if you were talking to someone in an elevator.
  69. Writers: Get rid of passive sentences; capture the essence of your press release in a Tweet.
  70. Stop blocking social media from ur employees. Train them and empower them.
  71. Spice up internal comms: Roving reporters and employee film fests: uncovering talent in ur organization.
  72. “Who died & put IT in charge of employee productivity?” @shelholtz
  73. Amplify employee voices thru low-cost podcasting. Can listen at user convenience, develops trust and community. And cheap to produce.
  74. Journalism graduates today are trained to shoot, edit, and publicize. Get a dedicated staff member to focus on video.
  75. @MarkRaganCEO on why authenticity matters: “We live in the age of bullshit.”
  76. Useful podcasting tools: Wavepad, Camtasia Studio, Audacity, Levelator.
  77. On podcasting…the tool is not the message.
  78. Podcast Production Lessons: Cozy up to your radio. Get comfortable with being seen & heard. Prepare, prepare, prepare.
  79. Podcasters: Think like a marketer. Create full campaign. Don’t 4get your global audience. Measure every podcast.
  80. Podcasters: Your leaders make for great content. Look for your influencers. Let employees be the interviewers sometimes.
  81. Internal Podcasts: You’ve got experts in your community. Help them tell their stories. Find the moment when the mike goes away.
  82. Podcasts complement crisis communications. Can quickly be on the scene or respond to rumors. Easily done over the phone.
  83. Time length for videos is controversial. Brevity important in most cases. 90 secs or less. BUT if it’s good, ppl will watch longer.
  84. Executive communications is like a high wire act…eventually something will go wrong.
  85. Public Speakers: Common mistake – spending more time on slides than on delivery. Dry runs are important.
  86. Public Speakers: Conversational tone in a large audience doesn’t always work. Stage presence is important.
  87. Speechwriters: Beware of tongue twisters. “Red Buick, Blue Buick”.
  88. Speechwriters: Prep your exec in case their time gets cut. Provide a 60-30-15 minute version of the speech as a contingency.
  89. Understand Cultural Sensitivity/Diversity issues: Resource: Culture Crossing – Beware of culturally-specific analogies (e.g. Sports US= “4th down”; UK= “batting on a sticky wicket”).
  90. Think about mic’ing your exec when they present so u can re-purpose their speech/audio for other things (website, podcast, transcript, etc.)
  91. “Opportunities multiply as they are seized”- Sun Tzu. Especially true for the internet.
  92. @aribadler suggested we’ve moved from work-life balance to work-life blend.
  93. Avoid extended online debates with ppl who disagree with a message.
  94. 28 Best Praactices for virtual presentations, WebEx sessions: www.whatworks.biz
  95. Best way to brief ur exec? Know them, their style. Personalize ur approach and style.
  96. If your employees love what they do, make them ambassadors.
  97. Pre-flight checklist for exec-comms events available as .doc source: http://bit.ly/bzzoTh
  98. Blogs must be authentic. Don’t ghost write your CEO’s. Ppl expect authenticity. If they can’t write it, look for something else.
  99. If ur CEO is a bad writer but a good speaker: have him dictate it + ur comm staff can transcribe to the blog.
  100. Comm cascade often fails. Focus on interpretation + location! Help staff take the message, interpret, + pass it on accurately.
  101. Branding: Detroit is considered “gritty”. Baby Boomers equate that to dirty. Gen X define it as “authentic”. Detroit’s brand position: Detroit is where cool comes from.
  102. Ask your agency to pitch ideas they don’t think you’ll approve. Creativity will flow.
  103. Whether it’s online or in print. If you don’t know if people are reading it, why are you doing it?
  104. Interviewing tip: Don’t be afraid to go where your answer leads you and not where your question sent you.
  105. Complaints are inevitable in any biz. Look at them as opportunities to showcase problem solving and communication skills.
  106. Comms must compete for your employees’ attention – Paying employees gets them in the door, but that doesn’t engage and motivate them.
  107. Measure communications by business goals/objectives.
  108. Consider Prezzi.com instead of PPT: Animated visuals are dynamic and impressive. As shown in @shelhotz closing keynote.

2010 Ragan Corporate Communicators Conference

Ragan Corporate Communicators Conference
Next month I’m giving two presentations at the 2010 Ragan Corporate Communicators Conference in Detroit, MI. It’ll be my first ever visit to Motown and my first time at this conference. The event is hosted by General Motors.

I’ll be podcasting interviews with attendees and presenters and grabbing some video with my Flip video camera to post to YouTube. It all fits with the theme of my own workshop, scheduled for 3:30 – 5:00 p.m. on Wednesday May 5:

Speechwriting in the age of social media: Magnifying the impact of a speech to increase your reach

Social media add exciting new options to the traditional speechwriting toolkit. From researching audience interests to developing speech content, tools such as Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, Twitter and blogs can save you time and make your speeches more compelling—if you know how to use them.

Speechwriters can now leverage social media to greatly improve the value of their services in the planning, preparation and scripting of a speech. Then, once the speech is written, social media can magnify its impact beyond the confines of the auditorium.

After attending this session, you will know:

  • How to identify trending topics that will grab an audience’s interest
  • Where to find facts, opinions and stories to include in the speech
  • How to create buzz in advance of a speaking event using blogs, Facebook and Twitter
  • The risks and rewards of engaging an audience in an online conversation—while the presenter is on-stage
  • How to leverage the viral power of podcasts and video to reach a global audience

A full preview is available at this Presentation Home Page.

On the second day of the event I’m giving a presentation from 3:00 – 4:00 p.m.

What can go wrong in executive communications: Common mistakes and how to avoid them

It’s sometimes the logistical minutiae that cause irreparable damage to executive speeches. From scheduling conflicts to malfunctioning equipment, a presentation can bomb for any number of reasons. You’ll hear about a number of improbable and unexpected (even hilarious) ways in which things have gone wrong for hapless executives and threatened the careers of their communications staff. You’ll then learn ways to avoid these embarrassments, including:

  • Why it’s your responsibility to sweat the details
  • A range of best practices to avoid an onstage melt-down
  • Safeguards that help prevent product demos from crashing
  • The value of checklists and standard operating procedures
  • Ways to recover from the inevitable mistakes

Again, a full preview is available at this Presentation Home Page.

Feedback and Ideas Needed

I’m eager to hear from anyone with comments on how to focus these two presentations. Go to the presentation home pages and leave me your suggestions; things you’d like to hear me cover (especially if you happen to be going to the event); war stories I can include and even witty items for my Top 10 List on “Things a client does not want to hear from a Speechwriter the night before a presentation”. (Things like “Boy, you should have been here for Obama’s talk last night, now HE was good.” – you get the idea…)

Follow the conference on Twitter at #ragangm

Interview: Dr. Sheila Dobee, DDS

Dentists and Social Media

Sheila Dobee, DDSI recently attended a full day seminar on social media presented by Patrick Schwerdtfeger, the author of Webify Your Business who I profiled on this blog back in July.

After the event, I caught up with Sheila Dobee, DDS who is based in Fremont, CA and asked her how dentists might use Social Media like Facebook and blogs.

To hear what Dr. Dobee told me, click on the podcast icon below.

Awesome Storytelling Secrets – Patricia Fripp

At the recent National Speakers Association (NSA) Convention in Phoenix, AZ I had the opportunity to see Patricia Fripp, CSP, CPAE, give a talk on storytelling.

Fripp discussed the inside secrets of how you can tell totally awesome stories to emotionally connect with the audience. She revealed three story formulas; the importance of great opening lines; and how speakers can go from good to great.

An audio recording of the complete presentation is available for order from the Softconference website.

A small sample of Fripp’s advice is shown in the edited highlight video I posted on YouTube (with Fripp’s express permission).

The author as performer

For many authors the book tour is a necessary evil. The reclusive scribe is forced into the public eye to read extracts from the podium to an indifferent audience. Authors, researchers, accountants – subject matter experts of all kinds find it difficult to speak about their passion in a compelling and engaging manner. These are introverts forced to perform unnatural extroverted acts in public. All but die-hard fans are likely to find such presentations boring.

The challenge is to take the minutia of a non-fiction book, research report, PhD thesis or chart of accounts and turn it into something audiences will find entertaining. Sounds impossible? Not so.

A modern Mark Twain

The Weekend Financial Times has a fascinating article on The Author as Performer by London ICA talks director James Harkin.

Malcolm GladwellHe reviews author Malcolm Gladwell’s presenting material from his latest book, Outliers: The Story of Success:

…this wasn’t a book reading or a Q&A session of the kind authors traditionally submit to. Neither was it a slide show, as you might expect to find at a lecture. Instead, the author recounted a single vignette from the book – the tale of why a plane ended up crashing, from the perspective of the pilots and those in the control tower – and burnished it into a narrative with all the chill and pace of a traditional ghost story. Even the lighting was kept deliberately low to create the right atmosphere. The performance lasted precisely an hour and five minutes, and no questions were invited after Gladwell had finished speaking. Rather than a talk about a book, it looked more like a carefully choreographed stage show.

Harkin recalls that Dickens and Mark Twain packed lecture halls in the US and Britain back in the 19th century.

Ted ConferenceContemporary events such as the TED conference showcase “Riveting talks by remarkable people, free to the world”. Speakers at TED are limited to 18 minutes in which to present their case – just long enough, according to the organizers, to develop an argument but short enough to hold people’s attention and encourage an economy of language. No questions are invited.

Speakers must adhere to the “TED Commandments” of speaking. These include: “Thou Shalt Not Simply Trot Out Thy Usual Shtick”; “Thou Shalt Tell a Story”; and “Thou Shalt Remember all the while: Laughter is Good.”

The speaker as showman

The TED injunctions seem to work. In 2007, following his complex graphical presentation of economic trends, Hans Rosling, a Swedish professor of public health, tore off his shirt and proceeded to swallow a sword. The following year American brain scientist Jill Bolte Taylor, talking about the memory of her stroke, pulled on a pair of rubber gloves and picked a real and soggy-looking human brain from an assistant’s tray.

Al Gore delivered a masterful presentation in his award-winning film, An Inconvenient Truth, by adding a touches of drama to what could have been no more than a glorified slide show.

It’s only rock and roll

Harkin notes that the trend toward speaker-as-rock-star signifies a shift in the economics of book publishing which mirrors the economics of the music industry.

Just as rock bands, in the age of digital MP3’s, give away the music and make the money off live performances, so authors might learn from the same kind of business model: supplementing meager returns from a book contract with an income stream from public speaking.

This is not news to the many author-members of the National Speakers Association. They are speakers who write, rather than writers who speak. As I’ve reported in this blog, they hold day-long seminars on topics such as publishing tips for speakers. Being natural performers, they are in the pole position to make money from the podium as well as the page.

Harkin reports that a select group of non-fiction authors with a business or technology focus have been able to command high fees for speaking privately at corporate events.

The new economics of publishing are bringing these exclusive presentations to a wider public.

Performance Piece

As in the time of Dickens and Twain, audiences seem willing to pay good money for a speech which informs and entertains.

Harkin notes:

When almost everything is available in a digital world of zeroes and ones, the thing that is impossible to duplicate is the intensely involving experience of live performance.
That’s why people are still prepared to pay big money for live music, and why people choose to pay £20 for a one-off performance by Malcolm Gladwell. It’s why, in the past two years at the ICA our talks have been accompanied by everything from live butchery to live beard-trimming to the sudden appearance of dancing girls.

The challenge for many authors – especially of the dryer kind of non-fiction book – is how to make their words come alive on stage. It’s one thing for the author of a racy novel to hold an audience’s attention. After all, as someone once said, if you’ve got them by the balls, their hearts and minds will follow.

But if your subject is cost accounting or nanotechnology, you’ll need a solid grounding in the ways subject matter experts can make an audience sit up and take notice when you’re presenting complex information.

The good news is that authors like Gladwell and the organizers of the TED Conference have cracked the code on this and are packing ’em in.

Now the bar has been raised, what will you do differently to turn your next talk into a performance piece?

Top motivational speaker reveals her fees

One of the rules National Speakers Association (NSA) members must abide by is an agreement not to discuss fees or fee ranges – as with many professional associations this prevents members forming a price fixing cartel. So it is sometimes difficult for people to realize how lucrative the professional speaking business actually is.

Not so with speakers who have not joined NSA.

Alison LevineThis Sunday’s San Francisco Chronicle features an article describing the career, and fees charged, by Alison Levine. She is a San Francisco-based motivational speaker who overcame a childhood heart condition that prevented her climbing flight of stairs to a become a world-class mountaineer. She uses business principles she picked up in a career at Goldman Sachs and put them into the context of mountain climbing. Combined this with personal stories (such as how a woman takes a pee on Everest) makes her a compelling keynote speaker. Audiences love her.

Levine reveals that she charges $15,000 for a keynote speech and the speaker bureau that handles her bookings takes around 20%. But with a grueling schedule that has her delivering 100 speeches in a year, she is on track to make $1 million in fees.

One can only speculate what Alison’s earnings could be were she to come in from the cold and join our local NSA Chapter. Here, she’d learn how to parlay her keynotes into a range of products that, for many speakers, represent 50% or more of their income. We’d also be able to connect her with top speakers in the industry who could share their combined experience of decades on the road delivering speeches. A diet of cashews and gummy bears will get you in the end, Alison!

The Four Truths of Corporate Storytelling

Hard-nosed executives think ‘storytelling’ dilutes their message. They see it as ‘acting’, as being somehow less than authentic with an audience.

Nothing is further from the truth.

The Storyteller So gather round people wherever you roam; draw closer; are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin. This is a tale of a filmmaker, Peter Gruber, whose really good article in the December Harvard Business Review reveals the Four Truths of the Storyteller.

Obviously, the corporate storyteller has nothing to do with the Gandalf figure above, or the ‘nighty-night’ bedtime stories we tell our children when they go Up The Wooden Hills to Bedfordshire. No. But there’s a lot of this cultural baggage around ‘telling stories’ that the executive communicator needs to overcome.

Gruber is an experienced executive and filmmaker (he produced The Color Purple and Midnight Express) ideally situated to distill the essence of good storytelling into a business setting. His HBR article does this by discussing Four Truths.

One: Truth to the Teller

Authenticity is crucial for the storyteller. His story must be congruent with his tongue, feet and wallet. He must show and share emotion. This requires vulnerability, or what my friend Lee Glickstein calls relational presence. The good news is you can practice being in relationship just like you practice your golf swing. And people on a podium who don’t practice this as often as they should are as embarrassing as any duffer on the green.

Gruber tells us that the main challenge for the corporate storyteller is to appeal to the listener’s emotions as well as their logical minds:

He must enter the hearts of his listeners, where their emotions live, even as the information he seeks to convey rents space in their brains.

One way to connect is to use what ad-meister Roy H. Williams calls Magic Words:

Learn to choose words whose unconscious associations will accelerate your message: “I stepped into lemon sunshine that was vivid, startling and bright.” In that short sentence, one tart word, “lemon,” added the sparkle. Had I written, “I stepped into the bright yellow sunshine of a summer’s day,” the oatmeal droning of an unthinking writer would have only just begun.

Two: Truth to the Audience

Gruber counsels executives to research the audience and understand what his listeners know about, care about, and want to hear. Beyond presenting facts that will satisfy the intellectual needs of a particular crowd, the speaker must, again, get the emotional arc right. One way to do this is tell the story in an interactive fashion helping people see themselves as the hero of the story. Make the ‘I’ in your story become the ‘we’.

Three: Truth to the Moment

This moment is different from any before and this
moment is different it’s now.
The Incredible String Band – This Moment

Never tell a story the same way twice. The context is always part of the story. The challenge, especially for a CEO, is to tell the same story over and over again and make it sound fresh each time.

Jack Welch does not mince words when recalling what a challenge this is:

Like every goal and initiative we’ve ever launched, I repeated the No. 1 or No. 2 message over and over again until I nearly gagged on the words. I tried to sell both the intellectual and emotional cases for doing it. (Jack: Straight from the Gut, p. 109)

Four: Truth to the Mission

The job of the corporate storyteller is to capture the mission in a story that evokes powerful emotions and wins the assent and support of his listeners.

In Summary

What makes a good presentation? It’s something beyond the PowerPoint your graphics wizards can cook up. It’s beyond the facts your investor relations and corporate communications department can load you up with. It’s beyond the supporting videos and carefully orchestrated cameo appearances your marketing and PR guys fund.

At the end of the day it’s as simple as your ability to tell a story.

Are you sitting comfortably?

Tips on attending conferences

Thoughtful article in today’s Financial Times (subscribers only) quotes 49-year-old Yolanda Barnes, a research director at an estate agency who attends 20 conferences annually. This veteran of the conference circuit prefers attending smaller conferences. She finds it easier to gather specialized information.

Larger events are better for networking.

Example: many experienced speakers attend the big National Speakers Association Convention purely for networking.

Yolanda prefers halls with natural light (note: avoid underground venues such as the San Francisco Moscone Center) and dislikes stage-managed ‘live’ discussions which “lack intellectual repartee and the spark of real debate”.

She concludes by sharing her tips on attending conferences:

“Listen imaginatively. Even if the speaker’s area is not relevant to you you will find a way of translating it to your particular speciality. And it’s always better to attend a few good sessions than to try to cram everything in,” she says.

“As a researcher I might want quite different things from a meeting or conference to other delegates. But you should always stock up with business cards and leave enough time for chatting with other professionals and asking questions.”

Other resources for you to check if you are conference-bound include:

  • Bill Lampton’s Ten Tips on Attending a Conference
  • My favorite – Tip #8:

    Buy the tapes and audio CDs recorded during the sessions.

  • Stephen Abram’s Conference Tips
  • I love his measure of value for attending:

    I met at least one new person every day.
    I learned at least one useful thing I didn’t know in a session every day.
    I had at least one substantive discussion with a vendor about a new product that I might need.
    I had fun, every day.

  • This summary of a discussion among graduate-students on tips and tricks for conferences.
  • My favorite bit of advice:

    If you are giving a talk, do not read your paper. Do not fight with the organizer over time. Do not be convinced that the audience will be enthralled if only you can get this one last point in. Do not edit out whole sections on the fly as you notice time running out. If you find yourself falling in love with your own prose, exercise caution.

  • Finally, this insightful article from lifehack.org gives some ideas on how to attend a conference without being there!
  • The trick, of course, is to use the web to capture content, example:

    For tech conferences, I’ve found that IT Conversations, part of the Gigavox Media network, have some GREAT coverage. I should also mention PodTech, another really great source for interesting conference coverage.

What are your tips for attending conferences?

Ragan Speechwriters Conference: Summing Up

Father McKenzie writing the words of a sermon that no one will hear
No one comes near.
Look at him working. Darning his socks in the night when there’s
nobody there
What does he care?

All the lonely people
Where do they all come from?
All the lonely people
Where do they all belong?

The Beatles ‘Eleanor Rigby’

Quick! What do HP, the AARP and the FBI have in common? No, it’s not geeky guys over 50 with a penchant for spying! Each of these organizations sent six or more speechwriters to the Ragan Speechwriters Conference.

The speakers at the event exhibited a love of French Generals and English Queens; I Claudius and Animal House. There were exhortations for writers to blog; speakers to stand sideways; calls for better rhetoric and simpler slides.

There was a fascination with great orators with three initials: MLK; JFK; FDR and WRC.

There were spooky representatives from the military-industrial complex: men and women from three-letter Agencies mixed with Canadian Space Agency people and guys and gals who were Proud to Be Americans.

At the other extreme there were free-associating consultants who Photoshopped salespeople with Beatles haircuts and billed their clients with a smile.

There were Fishbone Diagrams and Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level scales; baseline surveys and blogging platforms.

There was ethos, logos and pathos; decaf, regular and Earl Grey.

There was bone-chilling cold.

There were 250 people looking for the secret sauce so they can write the words of a sermon they hope someone will hear.

Gentlemen, he said,
I don’t need your organization, I’ve shined your shoes,
I’ve moved your mountains and marked your cards
But Eden is burning, either brace yourself for elimination
Or else your hearts must have the courage for the changing of the guards.

Bob Dylan ‘Changing of the Guards’