Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison - Ten Years Later

January 30, 2012 is an anniversary of sorts.  It marks a turning point in my career... one that did not seem so good on that day ten years ago....., but now is simply a bump in the road of my journey.

It was January 2003.  I worked as the Texas marketing and business development manager for the California based law firm Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison LLP.  I had been there nearly two years and enjoyed working with this group of lawyers and the rest of the professional staff.  It was an interesting place to work, and these high achievers pushed me to be the best I could be (there was also some dysfunction, but for me.... the good outweighed the bad).

The economy, especially the tech sector, had been rocked by the boom and bust of the "dot com" companies, and the firm had clearly felt the pain of the collapse of the tech and venture bubble that came around 2001.  The firm had financial issues and there had been talk about a merger with a larger east coast firm.  But alas, no white horse arrived to save the day.

While we all knew, on some level, that the firm was vulnerable, few had predicted the total demise.  As the announcement was made that the whole firm would close, it seemed surreal.  Senior partners in San Francisco had voted to close the decades old San Francisco marquee legal firm.

Poof.  It was gone.  The whole place would be shuttered two weeks later (February 14, 2003).  Non-essential personal (think MARKETING) was terminated immediately.  No severance.  Not COBRA.  Nothing.

That was ten years ago this week.

I was fortunate.  A group of attorneys brought me with them to another firm where I served in the same role for another two years.  I then moved onto other industries and eventually starting my own companies.  These days I am still consulting with lawyers on how to grow their brand and increase their visibility within their business communities.  I also speak at legal conferences and at law firm retreats.  I enjoy this part of my job, as the lawyers still challenge me, and I think I do the same for them.

Today I am writing about Brobeck because anniversaries can make us nostalgic.  While the firm had it's issues, I have come to realize it also was a special place to work.  The attorneys respected the professional staff (well, most of them did....  The notable exceptions still are remembered!).  And this firm was always open to unique marketing and business development ideas.

The people I worked with were among the smartest and most aggressive professionals I have ever known.  They allowed me, as a "non-lawyer", to perform my duties as an executive member of their team.  I am appalled when I see lawyers who do not respect their staff or others, as it undermines their own long-term potential business (Those who act like jerks are often leaving money behind, and don't even know it!).

I toast the ghost of Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison here on my blog, as even with the bad parts, it was a highlight of my career.  I think about the attorneys who believed in me and allowed me to re-create the marketing position in my own image.  Their faith in my ability has shaped the rest of my career.  Plus many of them continue to hire me to train and consult at their current firms.  Most of them are my friends.

The shock of the closing of the firm leads me to the lesson that time puts everything in perspective.  The day the firm closed I was nervous, confused, unsure and angry.  Today I have my own business and enjoy serving all my clients in a variety of industries.  Time does seem to heal most of our problems.

I realize that not everyone who I worked with will look at this anniversary with the positive slant that I share here.  After ten years some are still bitter about the whole situation.  But I am proud of the work I did at Brobeck and wish the experience had lasted a little longer.

Have A Great Day.

thom singer

PS - It still makes me laugh a little that the firm's slogan / tagline was: "Brobeck: When Your Future Is At Stake".  The idea being they were who you turned to when there were serious issues.... of course the firm itself ended up having issues that gave it no future.  ;-)

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

"The ABC's of Networking" Is Now Available in Romanian

My book, "The ABC's of Networking" is now available in Romanian.

The book was released in India in 2012 in both English and Hindi.

This is one of the coolest parts of being an author.

Have A Great Day

thom singer

Monday, January 28, 2013

LinkedIn: Everyday... Sometimes Twice

I am often asked if "LinkedIn really matters?"  In our social media crazy world many people pile into what ever communities they hear are the place to be seen, but often are lost in finding real value.

My opinion is that LinkedIn does matter.  When I talk to recruiters they assure me they use it when seeking candidates, and if you ever hope to have future job opportunities, I recommend having a robust LinkedIn profile so that you can be found.  Waiting until you are laid-off to jump into LinkedIn is like waiting until you are thirsty to dig a well (hat tip to Harvey Mackay who wrote a book called "Dig Your Well Before You're Thirsty" - although the book was written long before LinkedIn was founded).

More importantly it is being used by people every day before they show up to have a meeting.  This is true for sales people, those being sold to, and anyone having a chat.  LinkedIn, when used properly, can be an outstanding way to discover basic information about others.  In our time sensitive society there is rarely enough time to build rapport and discover connections.  But jumping to the purpose of a meeting can bypass the human-to-human connections that are necessary for a mutual understanding.

Without getting to the personal side, many meetings are quickly forgotten, and thus useless.

A brief visit to LinkedIn can tell you where a person went to college, previous employers, and whom you know in common.  There is no guarantee that this information will lead to a deeper conversation, but sometimes it is a goldmine.  One little thing in common is enough to explode a discussion and set the foundation for a more powerful connection.

You should never attend an appointment with someone you are meeting for the first time without visiting LinkedIn. If they have completed a rich profile, then you may see something that will lead you to a more meaningful conversation.

Additionally, you should complete your profile so that others can do the same thing.  It is not stalking, it is good business.  When someone takes the time to browse your profile it shows they valued meeting with you.  To sit down and say "tell me about yourself" is a clear sign that little forethought was invested.  Better is to say "I see on your LinkedIn profile you worked at Brobeck, Phleger and Harrison LLP, tell me about your experience working there".

For a small fee per month you can also get access to see who is accessing your profile.  I am not sure this is necessary for everyone, but it does show you what type of people view your information.  I have seen an increase in meeting professionals and association executives coming to view my profile, which confirms that some of my marketing efforts as a speaker are working.  It also gives me a head-up when one of them calls me, as I can familiarize myself with their organization in advance.

Are you ignoring LinkedIn?  Have you thought about ways to use it to expand your understanding of the people with whom you do business?  Is it something you imagined could have value, but have simply not invested the time?  What are you waiting for?  Most people would benefit from visiting LinkedIn each day to do a little research.  Heck, maybe twice a day!

I invite you to visit my LinkedIn profile. Maybe it will spur a thought that will lead to a conversation, and extend our relationship.

Have A Great Day

thom singer

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Presentation Skills and Media Training For High School Athletes

It is not uncommon that business people ask me about presentation skills training.  I often coach executives on how to craft a better speech, and I am passionate about the importance of being able to communicate thoughts on stage, or when being interviewed by the media.  As our society moves more online and mobile the abilities to interact in person seem to be getting worse, not better.

Recently I was contacted by a gentleman who wanted me to coach his son on these skills.  I was not sure that working with a high school athlete was going to be beneficial for me or the kid, but as we talked about their motivation, it was clear that I could provide value.  This young football player is clearly headed toward playing college ball (maybe more?), and with that comes the need for him to be able to articulately communicate in many arenas.

He had taken a speech class his freshman year, but that only educated him on how to research and write a speech.  He did not seem to feel he learned much.  It did not prepare him for what lies ahead in the real world.  Athletes are under a ton of pressure, and learning to think fast, stay positive, and deliver meaningful information is paramount to their long-term success.  

As I researched for this training session I discovered that it is not just college and professional athletes who face the press after games. These days it is not uncommon for reporters to talk with high school students following their games, especially in the highly competitive world of Texas High School Football.  Plus the team leaders will have to speak in the locker room, at school assemblies, and during parent / booster banquets.  The earlier they grasp what it means to be in the spotlight, the more confident they can become in these situations. 

Thirty years ago when I was in school if a student said something wrong to a reporter, or was overly nervous in his speaking to a crowd, it was a one time hiccup.  However, today all they do an say will live on forever via the internet.  Recruiters are always seeking the best and the brightest, and these athletes need to be aware of their "Personal Brand" much earlier.  Plus the world of Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and other online sites can make anything they say or do at anytime part of their online search results.

The more prepared the athlete is for all that goes with media, speaking, branding, reputation management  and social media - the better off they will be if truly one of the fortunate ones who go all the way to a top college or even turning pro.

The closer I got to this meeting the more impressed I was with the young man and his family for their commitment to going above and beyond in preparing for life.  The first thing this student-athlete told me was that regardless if he ever gets to play college football, he knows that learning to communicate in all situations will set him up for a more successful career in any field.  WOW.

We spent nearly two hours together.  We discussed all that could cross his path in the short and long term, and I gave him some ideas on how to continuously improve his self-understanding of how he presents himself.  We also staged a mock interview on video and reviewed his answers together.  Thinking on your feet is often a learned skill.  This was a first step in a long journey.

I predict big things from this guy.... on the gridiron and beyond.

Have A Great Day

thom singer

Friday, January 25, 2013

Cool Things My Friends Do: Holly Duckworth Conducts A Conference Presentation Via Skype

Each Friday on this blog I enjoy highlighting some of the cool things my friends do in their work and personal lives. 

This week I got to be part of something cool.  An experiment of sorts in the meetings industry.

My friend (and fellow National Speakers Association member) Holly Duckworth presented a large training session / workshop to a convention audience from 1300 miles away via Skype... while I live-facilitated the room in Austin, Texas.

Holly was asked to speak on "Getting Association Volunteers More Engaged" at the 13th annual Southwest Showcase (hosted by TSAE, MPI-Texas Hill Country Chapter, and IAEE-Central Texas Chapter), but was already committed to be speaking in Detroit on the same day.

Being a risk taker and one who likes to push herself beyond her comfort zone, Holly suggested that she lead her breakout session at the conference via Skype.  Those planning the conference were very open to unique presentation ideas, and were willing to experiment with the still new concept of a virtual presentation.

Since I was going to be the opening keynote speaker for the event, Holly asked if I would be on hand "in-person" to help facilitate the session.  I would also be "on-deck" to become the Plan-B Presenter should the technology connections fail (fortunately I have knowledge on this topic!!!).  I am all about pushing the envelope of "traditional conference experiences" when working with clients, and I was excited to be included in this trial effort.

Everything went well, and Holly did a great job of leading the session via Skype.  One attendee shared with me that she took three pages of notes, and enjoyed the way Holly and I bantered back and forth as if we were old pros at doing this type of "live and online" presentations.  Another found the concept to be a perfect fit for his own association that has an 80 year-old "expert" who could no longer travel to events.

While this was certainly not the first event to ever "Skype-In" a speaker, it is still relatively uncommon for conferences, trade shows, conventions and other gatherings to take a chance on something that is different (and that runs the risk of having a technology glitch).  Holly, the host committee, and I all learned a few "best-practices" from this experience that will make it even better the next time any of us undertake a virtual show.

I appreciate it when conferences try things that are out of the ordinary. I think all speakers should be open to "playing" with the event organizer to revamp the old ways and further impact the "Conference Attendee Experience".

Congrats to Holly for doing something new (and KUDOS to the event organizers for supporting the concept!!!).  I appreciate the opportunity to have been part of this session.

Have A Great Day

thom singer

Thom Singer is known as "The Conference Catalyst". He works with meeting planners and conference organizers to set the tone for a meeting. His presentations educate, inspire and motivate attendees to engage deeper in the event and make meaningful connections. 

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Guest Blog by Matt Scherer - Marketing Professionals Shouldn't Overlook Engagement When Crafting Social Media Strategies

When I saw a local bank post an ad saying that if you liked them, they would give $1 to one of five local charities during Christmas, I had visions of the Eddie Murphy film “Trading Places.”
I know this sounds somewhat random, but let me explain.  In the movie, Ralph Bellamy and Don Ameche play two callous millionaires who give a $1 tip as a holiday gift to a staff member at their exclusive club.   I had visions of that snarky scene as I read this recently:  ”Like us and we’ll donate $1 to the XXXXXXX charity. Stuff the Sleigh!
So, I passed on this generous offer.
I’m not against helping charities.  Yet, I value the bandwidth of my personal Facebook page to the point that I do not want to get their posts from people I don’t know or care about.
Some of you may think that this is Monday Morning social media quarterbacking.   And yes, it is that.  However, there are a couple of better ways to increase “likes” on a corporate Facebook Page.
I would start first with the staff who manage the five charities listed on this offer.  If I worked in that bank’s marketing department, I would have asked their social media coordinators from these non-profits to ask their followers to like my financial institution.  Having worked for one prominent non-profit, I know that they have passionate patrons who would have posted something like:  ”Please like XYZ Bank on Facebook because it supports my favorite charity. For every “like” they get, we will get $1.  Please click on this link taking you to their site….”
I believe that many people, new to social media, believe the key to success is building a lot of followers.  And, while that has some merit, I would think the most important but overlooked factor is engagement.
Engagement happens when marketers realize it’s not about generating numbers but instead it is about creating a conversation.  Great content starts this.  Responding to all posts is just as important.
I recently helped one local restaurant update its social media policy.  They had passionate followers who often commented on the food and service.  Yet, the management never responded to their usually positive input.   Now, when someone comments on the food or the fun they’re having with their friends, the restaurant responds quickly to these comments.
Often overlooked, personal interaction also helps to build engagement.  I noted during one visit to this restaurant that a group was having a “back to school” party in this restaurant’s beer garden.  A server was taking their picture for one teacher’s  Facebook Page to celebrate his birthday.
As I completed the updated social media policy, I put in a segment on customer engagement with the restaurant’s Facebook Fan Page.        Now, when patrons at this North St. Mary’s Street restaurant celebrate an event and ask a server to take a picture, the staff member has been trained to ask his customer to post the picture on his or her Facebook Fan Page.   A couple of their patrons have posted pictures of their events on their page.
This bank could have added that personal element to this campaign.  With signs at each window of their bank or by posting this message on the back of a deposit envelope given to a customer, they could have added more followers through engagement.   If a customer asked a bank rep about this, an enthusiastic response would have increased their likes.
For those new to social media strategies, now is the time to remember the engagement aspect.  Too often, many people my age, tend to allow younger people to handle social media strategy because as one person told me recently:  ”I don’t understand this, but this young man does.”
Yet, asking those engagement questions will help connect your business, cause or non-profit to a Facebook Page so that people will respond to it.  And more importantly, they will tell others about you.
Matt Scherer is the chief executive officer of Scherer Communications, a public relations and social media consulting firm.  He also is one of the founding producers of TalkNowSA, an interactive web site that combines traditional radio and TV interviews with an interactive chat function.  He hopes that his friend, Thom Singer, will someday appear on his new show.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

When A Conference Luncheon Is MORE Than A Conference Luncheon

The National Tour Association (NTA) and the United Motorcoach Association (UMA) co-located their annual conferences for the first time this year.  They combined opening sessions, meals and breakout sessions were open to attendees from either organization.  They also shared space side by side for their trade shows on the same floor. I had the honor to speak at the event, and the planners did a fantastic job of creating an "experience" for the over 3000 people in attendance (including an opening reception at NASA).

The lunch program on Day One was one of the most amazing events I had ever attended at a conference.  It was sponsored by and it was more than a luncheon, it was a happening.  The entertainment was a medley of performances from ten Broadway shows with the current stars of the New York shows.

In addition to the 90 minutes of "WOW" from Broadway, there were a couple of surprises that made the whole thing more personal to the organizationsl.  The current chair of NTA "crashed" the stage dressed as the Phantom and sang part of a song from Phantom of the Opera.  Turns out he has a great voice and actually starred in Phantom in Hawaii 15 years ago.  How cool.  But the real hook was when the current chair of UMA and his wife came on stage to introduce the star of the soon to open Jeckle and Hyde.  They raved about this upcoming musical, and the woman who would soon sing to the crowd... as it was their daughter.  The UMA chair's daughter has a lead role in the musical in New York.  What are the odds?  (That was really cool, and she stole the show with her voice!).

Stephanie Lee, the president of, was the MC of the lunch and she did a great job weaving the ten performances together while showcasing all the top musicals (some of which will open this winter in NYC).  The numbers included songs from Flash Dance, Jeckle and Hyde, Nice Work If You Can Get It, Once, Motown, Cirque du Soleil, and others.

The production value of the "Stars of Broadway" lunch was top notch and the audience of 3000 people were driven to their feet for a standing ovation following the final performance.  How often to conference audiences get that kind of experience that touches their souls and drives then to a multi-minute applause?

Those in the meeting industry are always looking for ideas on how to have unique experiences at their events.  Too often we end up with a lot of the same in a different package.  This lunch hit on all the marks of what those who plan conference events dream about.

As it turns out this is a regular thing for the NTA conference, as has been sponsoring similar spectacular lunches at the NTA Travel Exchange for about a decade.  The regular attendees look forward to being treated to the "Stars of Broadway" and first timers are always blown away by the level of the production.  As the audience exited the ballroom there was nobody who was not smiling, laughing and talking about what they had all experienced.

Having twenty Broadway actors flown to your conference for a 90 minute show would not be practical for every conference (it does fit in well with the NTA Travel Exchange, and's strong network in the Theater wold makes it all possible).  However, there are other ways to "wow" an audience.  Looking for partnerships with sponsors who have access to something cool in your industry and then taking the risk to create a lunch or (other event) that is more than a meal. The concept of doing something unique and unexpected will work for any conference.  It needs not be a Broadway "show" to be a "SHOW".

Have A Great Day.

thom singer

Friday, January 18, 2013

Cool Things My Friends Do - Josh Pottinger Serves As President of Local Make-A-Wish

Each Friday on this blog I enjoy highlighting some of the cool things my friends do in their work and personal lives. 

Josh Pottinger has been a wealth management adviser in Austin since 1995.  He and his business partner, Jason Chirogianis have built a successful 5-person team that now resides at UBS Wealth Management.

When Josh is not serving his clients or spending time with his family, he is a dedicated volunteer for the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Central and South Texas, trying to make a small difference in the lives of children. When he found out that over 27,000 children are diagnosed with a life threatening disease each year in the United States and that 300 of those are in the Austin area, he and his wife decided to jump right in and get involved.

As a father of two young children (Elle, 6 & Johnny, 5), he and his wife Kristen have gravitated to organizations that benefit children in some way. Josh is now in his 2nd term as the President of the Austin Regional Board of Trustees and he also serves on the Governing Board for MAW.  During his time on the board he has worked hard to help the organization expand.

This year Make-A-Wish in Central Texas is on track to grant 200+ wishes in our 40 county area!

Coming up in June 2013 they have a super cool event that you may want to check out. The event is called "Over the Edge" and its a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity where you can rappel down one of the tallest buildings in downtown Austin (This sounds so cool -and many of my friends have done this in past years!).

If you are interested in getting involved with the organization, I'm sure Josh would enjoy speaking with you --- as they are always seeking enthusiastic volunteers.

Have A Great Day

thom singer

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Austin Sales Training, Presentation Skills, and Meeting Facilitation

Davis / Hill Solutions LLC is a training and consulting firm designed to assist companies in Austin, Texas (and beyond) with staff development courses in sales, leadership, business development, communications, and presentation skills.

When I began speaking professionally four years ago I assumed that I would have a robust training component to my business.  However, in the midst of the recession many companies suspended their employee training programs (thus, I built my business around speaking at conferences and individual coaching). While I often was asked to create in-house corporate classes by those who had seen me speak, it was not an active part of my early business focus.

Today there is a renewed interest in customized classes to educate, inspire and motivate employees.  Additionally, many companies and law firms are finding it useful to bring in outside facilitators to create better engagement in their planning sessions.  I have always enjoyed this component of my work, and am excited to work with a variety of companies across several industries.

Davis / Hill Solutions is a distributor of DiSC Workplace Assessments, and much of the DiSC training methodology and course-ware are utilized in the classes we offer.  Every class is designed with the client's unique staffing framework, and half and full day instruction are available.  

We will be working with a variety of experienced trainers to make sure each client receives the ideal instruction.  Additionally there is a series of public classes being developed in conjunction with local incubators and co-location facilities for entrepreneurial companies and solo-preneurs (more information coming soon!).  

If your team is ready for education and facilitated discussions to move your company closer to their potential, I look forward to talking with you soon.

Have A Great Day.

thom singer
Director of Training
thom (at)
(512) 970-0398

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Austin Texas Tops The Charts In Jobs - Leadership Austin Engage Breakfast

Leadership Austin hosted their monthly Engage Breakfast on January 15, 2012 at the Long Center.  The topic was "Topping the Charts: Austin's Job Creation", and it was an upbeat panel discussion about where the Texas Capital has been, where we are, and what is around the corner.

  • Ray Almgren - Vice President of Product Marketing for Core Platforms, National Instruments
  • Tamara Atkinson - Deputy Executive Director, Workforce Solutions - Capital Area Workforce Board
  • Gary Farmer - Vice Chairman of Economic Development, Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce; President, Heritage Title Company of Austin
  • Hall T. Martin - Founder and Director, Texas Entrepreneur Network
  • Brian Sanders - Anchor, KXAN
Of course it is easy to have a positive conversation when your city is leading the country in jobs.  The November 2012 unemployment rate was 4.9 % in Austin, which beats the state (5.8%) and national (7.4%) numbers by quite a margin.  And we are leading in new jobs created over the top 50 metropolitan areas in the United States.

Austin is a city with both a robust start-up community, with half of all investments in Texas start-ups going to companies in Central Texas. And it is not just technology ventures, as we have diverse sectors including gaming, food trailers, packaged foods, etc....

We also continue to attract larger corporations to move their headquarters or open satalite offices in Austin.  256 companies have relocated part of their operations to Austin in the last nine years.  

But it has not always been a bed of roses.  Austin has seen the ups and downs economic trends over the past few decades.  We were hit hard in the early part of the 2000's due to the tech bubble and our over focus on the semiconductor industry in the 1990s.  Today we have a much more diversified economy, which is what positioned Austin to lead the way through the most recent recession.

The Chamber of Commerce and other organizations have worked closely with the city to help the region become a highly desired area for both companies and professionals to locate. New college graduates flock to Austin because of the creative, innovative and entrepreneurial spirit.  

However, our boom-town does have challenges.  Too many high school students are dropping out or not pursuing advanced education.  This means they are forfeiting the opportunities that are abundant in the area for skilled workers.  We need to do more to expose young people to opportunities.  We have too many available technology related jobs (over 2000 unfilled), while every service job posted receives 55 applications.

Austin continues to top all the lists (and has for the 21 years that I have lived in the community).  Yes, part of the reason we do so well is our wonderful landscape, weather, recreation ,etc.....  But the economic leadership that makes us the envy of cities across the world is not an accident.  We cannot take it for granted, as everyone is looking to compete for the talent and the jobs.  Fortunately, Austin has amazing companies, elected officials, organizations and volunteers who work tirelessly to keep up on top!/

Leadership Austin continues to bring great programs.  I attend the Engage Breakfast each month (when I am not out of town) because the audience is always left with new information and their minds are filled with ideas.  

Have A Great Day.

thom singer 

The Blank Piece of Paper

While participating as an online observer to the PCMA Convening Leaders Conference I had the chance to participate in some live chats with others who were remotely viewing the sessions.  Much like being in-person at an event, I found the most valuable nugget or idea did not come from a presentation, but instead from another attendee (it is always the "Hallway Conversations" that bring the best information!).

Meredith Low, a meeting professional from Toronto (and my new virtual friend), added her thoughts in the online "Group Chat" during an afternoon session.  She was building on something said by the speaker, and her words carried a punch that out-shined the great information that was coming from the event's planned agenda.

She talked of an exercise she does with her clients where she asks them "If this meeting you are planning did not exist, and you were to start fresh to design a way to bring your community together, what would you do?".  In other words, take out a blank piece of paper and let's create an ideal situation to achieve your purpose... what existed before does not matter.

This is a GREAT idea for anyone regardless of their products or services.  All industries can benefit from Meredith's idea of looking at your world with a fresh perspective.

I spent the rest of the day reviewing at my speaking business.  As something becomes established, like a career, you can easily get caught up in "what is" and not "what could be" (or "what should be").  It is easy to look at concepts and processes that have worked in the past hand hold onto them for dear life.

This process of thinking about my company from a blank sheet of paper spawned several interesting thoughts and new ideas.  It also made me examine some of my habits that may or may not be in my long-term best interest.  I am still sketching out what I would be creating if I was starting today (and if money was no object).  Much of what I am doing is right.  Some of it was right at the time I began bootstrapping the business, but not as much now that I am established.

I discovered some areas that could use immediate adjusting, and a few that can be tweaked over time.  I still do not have the luxury of unlimited funds, so a few ideas I have cannot be implemented because there are the financial realities that everyone faces (except, apparently, the U.S. Government).  However, this exercise gave me the chance to dream and to explore.  That is what all entrepreneurs and intrepreneurs (you need not work for yourself to be a creator of something exciting) need to do more often.  It is easy to get caught up in the minutia of our day-to-day routines.  The "Blank Sheet of Paper Exercise" is something we should all do regularly.

Thanks Meredith!

Have A Great Day

thom singer

Monday, January 14, 2013

My Day Attending A Hybrid Meeting - Remote Viewing A Good Option, But Does NOT Replace Being Live At The Conference!

Hybrid Meetings are here to stay!

There has been a lot of discussion, and worry, about how online content would impact the meetings industry.  When the internet first exploded on the scene there were those who predicted the demise of the live meeting. Would people invest the time and money to travel to conventions if they could see the presentations on their computers?

However, in-person gatherings are never going away, as humans are experiential beings who desire to share what they are learning and doing with others.  In fact, the meetings industry is expanding again following the couple of years of recession.

Additionally, most webcasts over the years from meetings have been choppy at best.  The technology did not always work, and thus attending session remotely was often a frustrating experience.

There has been much talk about the "Hybrid" format, where the live conference, trade show, convention or seminar also has an online component for those who cannot attend. Some feared this would undermine attendance, while others argued this would supplement the event by providing content to those who could not be present. I have always believed in the later, but had not really ever experienced a conference remotely where I was overly impressed.

An event is about more than the content, as the "hallway conversations" and other interactions with my peers is always what has delivered the most value from conference participation. Plus, the lags in technology have usually left my remote viewing in the "blah" category.  I am often left wanting more, or simply logging off long before the presenter finished.

Until today.

I was not able to attend this year's PCMA Convening Leaders Conference in Orlando.  With my busy travel schedule it is often hard for me to justify more time away from my family when I am not speaking at an event (I gave 57 presentation in 2012, and expect the same level in 2013).  But as an active participant in the meetings industry, this is a gathering I would have liked to have been at in-person.  I spoke there last year and have developed ongoing friendships with many who I met at PCMA CL in San Diego.  

Thus, I registered to participate in the hybrid broadcast. There was no cost for doing this (there is some debate still in the industry if the online option should be free or for-fee.... I am not sure, but since it was free I adjusted my schedule to be sure I could try the hybrid).  

The opening session, featuring keynote speaker Morton Hansen, was a great online experience.  I had read Mr. Hansen's book (co-authored with Jim Collins), and was curious to experience his presentation.  I was very happy with what I witnessed.

The technology used by PCMA to webcast the conference worked very well.  I did have to go through a download of software and a re-boot to get it to work, but I anticipated this and allowed time for the necessary set-up.  Their technology provider was MediaSite by Sonic Foundry.  The manner in which it allowed me to view was superb.  I had the choice of seeing the slides or the speaker in larger format, with the other being in a smaller window.   The streaming was nearly seamless, and the camera operator captured the presentation perfectly.

Mr. Hansen used two live "Tweet or Text Polls" to engage the audience, and I was able to participate remotely, which gave me a bit of a shared experience with those who were live in Orlando.  Plus, several of my friends who were present or also watching online were commenting live on Twitter and we were able to have our own back and forth whispers via "Tweet" (similar to leaning over to the person next to you in an audience and making a comment or sharing a point of view).

Being able to participate in the Opening General Session at PCMA Convening Leaders from 1000 miles away was a great experience.  It was NOT the same as being there, thus meeting organizers have little to fear from offering a selection of sessions to those who cannot make the trek.  I would never skip a conference because the data was available online, but it is a nice option.  

Content alone is not what makes a conference unforgettable.   We often mistakenly think that the agenda and data are the drivers, but without the shared experiences among the people there is little that lasts.  I enjoyed what Mr. Hansen had to say, (and thought he did a great job of connecting his message of "Great by Choice" to the lives of those who organize conferences), but the video alone was not as moving as I imagine it was from the main stage.

My excitement level over watching hybrid online events has changed.  I would now choose to do this from a variety of other conferences in industries that offer a chance to participate from afar.  But I am even more sure that the "hallway conversations" and other human-to-human engagement is what really stamps success on an event.  Clearly looking at the PCMA CL agenda this topic of getting people engaged has reached the top of the pile of what is important in the industry (Many have been screaming about his for years).  It will be fun to see where it goes from here, as I talk with planners on this topic nearly everyday.

Mr. Hansen challenged the audience to take risks in how they structure events.  He pointed out that we do not need to take risks we do not need (but getting folks more engaged IS something we need), and warned against "change for the sake of change"... but his closing challenge rang true in many ears!

I look forward to seeing some of the other PCMA sessions this week that are offered online.

Have A Great Day.

thom singer


After the success of the opening session I logged onto a breakout session that was offered online.  "The Art of Engagement: Making Your Conferences Extraordinary, Not Extra Ordinary" with Greg Fuson.  His talk was interesting (and right up my alley), but the extraordinary part was the Group Chat conversation that took place between many of the people who were watching remotely.  Taking Greg's concepts and ideas, we discussed related issues.  Some on the chat agreed with each other, while others differed in their opinions (but all were articulate and respectful of areas that did not match up).  

Some of the participants were meeting planners, while others were vendors to the industry.  All had quality points of view, and the engagement made the remote experience more robust.  Those live in the room could not debate and dive deeper like we did online.  Hopefully the others online, who did not join in the chat, also found value in the banter.

A few of those who participated were: Jeanne Torbett, Meredith Low, Deanne Davis, Jay Daugherty, Cory Fransway, Jennifer Kingen Kush, Amanda Clark, Dana Gracia, Stephanie Gimmi, Mercedes Peralta, Judy McClain, Allyson Wagner and Mahogany Jones.  Thanks to all of you for creating and amazing hybrid experience.


I logged onto two other sessions via the PCMA Convening Leaders Hybrid Meeting.  In all cases the education level was good, but the live chat with the other virtual participants was what made the experience shine.  Some friends and clients were on the chat, and one person reached out to me by email after the session ended and wants to talk more about my speaking offerings for her conference.  Thus, one can network without being in the same room!

Overall I have to give the virtual option for this event an A+.  I have never had this level of an experience attending a virtual event.  But at the end of the day I still do not feel complete - as one cannot really share an experience with other people when sitting alone.  


I had not meant to add more to this blog post, but watching Jeff Hurt's presentation I was compelled to chime in again (Jeff is with Velvet Chainsaw, and a friend and mentor to me over the last 18 months). 

His interactive breakout session took the experience of remote viewing to a new level.  The way he engaged the online audience was spectacular, and he used the dead time in the room when the live audience was doing live exercises to present directly to those watching on their computers.  

His session was hands on for the audience, and it was a great example of how to do a session that is not "cookie cutter".  Room layout and having round table discussions, etc.... was a great showcase, but more important was how Jeff behaved as a presenter.  The problem is that few speakers or facilitators can do what Jeff did in regards to giving control of the learning to the audience (I like to think I can do this on some levels!!!).  

While having someone with confidence and experience leading an out-of-the box session is great, my fear is that some will just let anyone facilitate, and thus it could come out flat (Jeff's session ROCKED both the live and remote participants!!!).  He mentioned that training those who will present at your conference is one way... but I wonder if most who speak at conferences are open to such training.  

Speakers, facilitators and other presenters must all be seen as partners in cultivating the event experience.   It reminds me of my manta: "Just because someone is smart, or has done something cool -- it does not mean they belong on stage!".

Jeff showed by example the importance of having the right people leading workshops, and not just finding a subject matter expert.  His point was spot on when he mentioned moving away from SME (Subject Matter Experts) to SME (Subject Matter Experience).  His program was an experience, and if I was not already a huge fan of Jeff Hurt... I would be now!!!

Thom Singer is known as "The Conference Catalyst". He works with meeting planners and conference organizers to set the tone for a meeting. His presentations educate, inspire and motivate attendees to engage deeper in the event and make meaningful connections.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Is Your Conference LAME? (Lectures And other Mediocre Experiences)

What was spectacular about the last conference you attended?

Over the last few years there has been a lot written about the changing face of conferences, trade shows, conventions and seminars.  There is no disagreement that we need to re-invent the live event experience, but what that means is all over the map.

The problem is there is no such thing as an "awesome app" that will guarantee your Conference Attendee Experience.  A famous keynoter does not really get people inspired.  Simply instructing breakout speakers to be more interactive cannot change their presentation ability and how they engage the audience.  Open bar and a band will not get people into meaningful "hallway conversations".

Wanting better events is one thing, creating a new way is much harder.

Too often events are simply L.A.M.E.

"Lectures And other Mediocre Experiences"

I am not saying that conferences need to eliminate "lectures", clearly when we gather people for major events there will the desire to hear from speakers who can educate, inspire and entertain.  However, the old school style speech where an expert talks at an audience is no longer interesting.  Humans are experiential beings and desire more than Moses coming off a mountain and sharing The Word.  People want a conversational style interaction, and they want to share their own thoughts with others.

Finding speakers who can do more than deliver an 8th grade book report is not an easy task for organizers.  With a record number of people calling themselves "speakers",  many people end up on the agenda who are not really focused on the overall experience or prepared to take the audience on a journey.  To create something beyond the normal it is not simply about the speaker's content, but about their style and speaking experience too! (remember, just because someone is smart or has done something cool -- it does not mean they belong on stage!)

But the solutions to better conferences are not  only on the shoulders of the presentations (although speakers do set the tone for the whole event).  All aspects of the conference design must be explored to ensure they are not just mediocre.

The breaks need to be redesigned to allow for conversations between attendees.  The amount of time and the area provided must encourage people to go deeper in discussions with each other on the topics discussed.  Talking with each other in the hallways ("hallway conversations") is often sited as some of the best parts of the conference, but if breaks are short and the space provided is over-crowded or otherwise inconvenient  then nothing special can occur.

Room layout and decorations are also part of the aesthetics that impact the event.  Allowing for more space in the networking areas and session rooms will cost more money, and too much room can make it look under-attended.  Thus working with a designer is key to creating something unique and functional.

Reminding people that the value of the conference is not actually found in the agenda, but in each other, is paramount to creating a culture where folks engage.  But that can be scary as the agenda is the tangible part of the event.  To say it is not the key focus is risky.  Yet without taking chances everything is a 'cookie cutter" to all other gatherings.

Organizers are looking for the magic formula that will be both different and guaranteed.  The same-old way to structure an event is at least proven.  Nobody gets fired for making a schedule that looks like last year. Plus, doing some things different may not work out well, and that means that people could complain.  But when something new works out and is spectacular.... everyone wins.

I would rather attend an event where I know they tried new stuff and some of it failed than just having it all be LAME.  It is my opinion that others are hungry for events that push the envelope (this does not mean having to totally re-invent the program format... although that could be good too!).

What do you think?  Are we asking too much for events to leave LAME behind and discover ways to be spectacular?

Have A Great Day

thom singer

Thom Singer is known as "The Conference Catalyst". He works with meeting planners and conference organizers to set the tone for a meeting. His presentations educate, inspire and motivate attendees to engage deeper in the event and make meaningful connections. 

Friday, January 11, 2013

Cool Things My Friends Do - Monique Maley and Marny Lifshen Host Women's Leadership Seminar Series

Each Friday on this blog I enjoy highlighting some of the cool things my friends do in their work and personal lives. 

My friends Marny Lifshen and Monique Maley are hosting a seminar series for women leaders in Austin.  "WOMEN Front & Center: Define your brand. Refine your presence. Expand your network" will run for three Tuesdays in January, February and March.

Join a select group of successful professional women who are committed to enhancing their personal brand, creating a confident and persuasive personal presence and improving their professional relationships. This unique experience gives you the opportunity to grow your knowledge, your skills and your network.

This three workshop series provides hands on, strategic and practical professional development in an intimate setting. The content and exercises are designed specifically for experienced professionals who are looking to make a marketable and measurable impact on their careers.

Marny and Monique are both active with the local chapter of the National Speakers Association, and each have a unique skill sets that will together make the seminar series a learning experience for all who participate.

Session One: Tuesday January 29th
Define Yourself! Crafting a Powerful Personal Brand

Session Two: Tuesday February 26th
Embody your Personal Brand: Personal Presence for Maximum Persuasion

Session Three: Tuesday March 26th
Get your Act Together and Take It on the Road: Articulate your Message & Build a Vibrant Professional Network

The cost for all three days is $499

Register or find more information at

Have A Great Day

thom singer

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Networking Mistakes Being Made At Almost Every Conference

Mistakes are made at events.  People say they come for the "networking opportunities"... but then they often fail to make meaningful connections.  Planners know that this is an issue and are always seeking ways to help attendees do a better job of meeting each other.  It is well known that the agenda matters and data is important... but when people have great "hallway conversations" with their peers, the event is a bigger success.  Thus getting people together means exceptional events.

Here are the most common mistakes people make when networking

1. Spending too much time with coworkers and other friends. Cliques are a big problem at events, even though people do not intend to be exclusive. It is easy to gravitate to those we already know and close ourselves off from the opportunity to meet new people. If this goes unchecked, it can undermine the whole atmosphere.

To combat this you must be conscious of the need to get people engaged.  Since people attend a conference, trade show, convention, seminar or other events for the "networking opportunities", there must be an environment where the people are the stars of the show.  Too often we see events that claim "content is king", and while learning is important, it does not trump the human experience.

2. Seeking time with celebrity speakers, industry gurus and other VIPs. Many people have a hope that they will meet someone more established (or famous) who will reach out and pull them up to the top. While this could happen, the reality is that most of these VIPs are not at the event hoping to discover a protege.  They are polite and happy to talk with those who stand in line to meet them, but few go home and follow up with those they encountered.  But when industry gurus or celebrities are highlighted as the focal point of the whole event, it is not surprising attendees flock to them.

A better idea is to get people to spend time with peers. Discovering others who are at similar career levels is an invest in establishing the foundation to what can grow into a meaningful and mutually beneficial friendships.  Conferences need to champion the power of the audience over their agenda and their celebrity speakers.

3. Talking too much. People often think that they should impress those they meet at conferences.  Hours are spent trying to craft a catchy "elevator pitch" and agendas include "speed networking" programs that turn the process of meeting into a fast-talking parlor game.  Instead of trying to be interesting, attendees should be interested in others and what they have to say.

Forget the goofy ice-breaker games and instead educate people to ask the types of questions that will launch meaningful conversations. The more one inquires about others, the better impression made. Talking too much about yourself will turn many people off (I struggle with this and am working to improve).

4. Paying attention to electronics. Smartphones and other gadgets are wonderful tools to make our lives more efficient, but at a conference they can be the wall that blocks interesting chats. If someone is on their phone they cannot be engaged with others and do not look approachable. Yet telling people to put their phones away will create a problem, as that is just not going to happen for many.

When a face is buried in a phone it tells others that the really fascinating people are elsewhere and that the offender is choosing email, text and social media over talking with them.  Creating a place where people want to have live conversations is always a challenge, but it can happen if the planners are intentional in their efforts.

5. Skipping keynotes and other sessions. People are experiential beings. When at an event there must be participation if an attendee wants to be part of the "mini-society" that is created at a conference.  There are communal activities that are expected for admittance into the group.  Yet too many people scour the schedule for when they can retreat.

Being present and active in all aspects of the conference must be part of the culture.  Creating an expectation for involved behavior throughout the event must be established. Building downtime into the agenda so that people do not feel overwhelmed is an important step to keep them from running away from the main events.

6. Expecting a short conversation to make someone part of a network. It can take several meaningful interaction with people before someone notices another exists. It is not uncommon for people to not grasp what another person does for a living until they heard it several times. Thus one meeting is not usually significant to create a relationship.  Yet people think a brief encounter makes them lifelong friends and are convinced they have established something meaningful.

Encourage your attendees to follow up with those they meet after the conference.  Do not let the power of connection created at your event die as soon as people leave for the airport.  Online communities and other forms of follow up should encourage people to extend their conversations once they get home.

7. Arriving late, leaving early, or skipping the networking time altogether. The best networking takes place before and after the main programs. Too often people will show up for the education but not the networking, and then wonder why they did not meet anyone who could have an impact on their future.

Being present at the networking events with a purposeful intention to meet others and discover what they are all about is the only way people will have success. Creating events that are uniquely interesting is important.  Simply coming to a ballroom for cheese and wine is hardly appealing to those who attend a lot of events.  The more inviting the social activity, the more likely people are to show up.


The best way to create an atmosphere for better networking is to make it a priority.  Do not pretend it is not important or that the human experience is secondary to the rest of the agenda.  Recognize that people want to connect, but that they will always suck at it when left to their own devices.  Address the elephant in the room and give your attendees the permission to network (it is what they want to do!!!)

Have A Great Day

thom singer

Thom Singer is known as "The Conference Catalyst". He works with meeting planners and conference organizers to set the tone for a meeting. His presentations educate, inspire and motivate attendees to engage deeper in the event and make meaningful connections.

Saturday, January 05, 2013

Inspiration Comes From Smart Friends

Invest in yourself and build friendships with people who will encourage you to excel in your personal and professional lives.  While there are many books you can read and systems you can implement... nothing can have the level of impact on your future success as the people in your life.

Belonging to organizations is a great way to find connections with others who share your values and goals.  When you are part of something that is bigger than only self, it propels you to higher levels.  Participation and the service with others is paramount to expanding your horizons.  If you are trying to do it all alone you could easily get lost on your journey.

I just returned home from an educational event sponsored by the National Speakers Association.  This particular event was called "The Laugh Lab", and was a two day intensive class for speakers on how to better understand and utilize humor.  The program was powerful, but the benefits of being present at this three day seminar were beyond the agenda.

The people with whom I was with were responsible for the real value of this event.  Like any conference, the sessions provided good material, but it was the "Hallway Conversations" with my peers that lead me to discovering ideas that I can put into practice that will serve the audiences I address in 2013.

Being around other speakers who are all growing their businesses is electrifying.  The Meetings Industry is a unique business, and those who work as speakers can find it to be a lonely.  My active involvement in the National Speakers Association has provided me with access to some brilliant people who understand my efforts to create and grow a business.  Plus, many actively are there to brainstorm ideas and share best-practices.

While we all have different topics of expertise and speak to a variety of types of audiences, my circle of friends has expanded to include some of the most uniquely interesting people I have ever known.  I am confident that if I had not joined NSA four years ago that I would never have established myself in this industry.  It is not that the association directly provides any business, but the exposure to the education and the contacts to other speakers has been the key to my success.

It costs money to belong to the group, and there is an investment of time and cash to attend the national convention and workshops, but all of this has allowed me to learn, grow, and avoid common pitfalls that others have seen.

I am often asked by non-NSA speakers why I would want to spend time with the "competition"..... I just do not see it that way.  These people are not working against me, but instead they are partners in my future.  NSA founder Cavett Robert was famous for saying  "Don't worry about how we divide up the pie, there is enough for everybody. Let's just build a bigger pie!"  --- I fully agree!!!

Inspiration comes from having smart friends.  I am lucky, as I have lots of inspiration coming my way.... as I have many smart friends!!!

Have A Great Day.

thom singer