Monday, February 25, 2013

Events Can Change The World

When people gather together at a live event they share ideas.  That is when the good stuff happens.

A conference, trade show, convention or other meetings are built around venues, agendas, speakers, and information.... but the real power happens in the "Hallway Conversations" that spontaneously occur between attendees.  While content matters, the content alone is not enough to create memorable experiences.

When planning a conference, sponsoring the event, or delivering a keynote speech, all of us who work in the meeting industry must remember that our work efforts can help connect people and thus we have a material impact on their life, career, company, industry or the whole world.

Does this sounds like a lot of responsibility?  It can be.  Connecting people brings with it opportunity. Many people are longing to find the right people with whom they can create their own path toward success. But we now have so much "noise" in our society, that developing real relationships seems to be getting more difficult.  The internet, social media, smart phone and other tools are creating distractions that are limiting the ability to notice those seated next to us.

Meetings are often undervalued and stereo-typically misunderstood. Too many meetings are designed so similarly that we cannot see the differences when looking at the online agendas.  We easily forget that each conference is unique because of the different mix of people who attend, not who is the keynote speaker.  Even two events in the same industry are not the same.  The value is not in the content, but instead it is those seated in the chairs. The power of meetings is in the people... and it is people who can change the world.

As you plan your next event, do not champion the celebrities or industry gurus who populate the stage. Speakers are important, as they set the tone for the whole event (a crappy speaker can suck the energy out of your conference so fast it can never recover).  But do not mistake those on stage to be the stars of your show.  The spotlight must be on the participants, and in today's highly competitive meetings business you have to discover ways to let the audience know they are the ones that matter.  Partner with the keynote and breakout speakers to empower the crowd to build upon what they hear from those presenting and take it to the next level.  

Encourage people to not let the lessons of your conference to end with the final good-byes, but to take the messages forward and have impact on the future.  It can happen!  Your conference can change the world.

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, February 23, 2013

What Is The Conference Catalyst?

Does your conference have a catalyst?

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, February 22, 2013

Cool Things My Friends Do - Kent Savage and Matt Hovis Launch ""

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

( Co-Founders Kent Savage and Matt Hovis)

I was invited to be an early user of (one of my friends, Laura Beck, is their PR person).  I signed up for the digital business card service and poked around the site several times, but I was not aware the value this cool Austin start-up has created until attending their "Launch Party" where I got to spend time with co-founders Kent Savage and Matt Hovis.

Icon is a cloud based platform designed for the modern professional who lives are lived online, but split up across several platforms.  It is a digital business card that allows you to easily share your information and curate your online persona. Icons are optimized to be shared with anyone, anywhere via smartphone, email or online. They provide valuable personal analytics - like who is viewing, saving and sharing your contact information and even reveal what you have in common with those you meet.

While I do not believe the paper businesscard should ever go away (they still serve a purpose), Icon seems to have found the answer to what others have been trying to solve in creating a tool that is both easy to use and provides real value to those who are looking to use technology to help as part of their networking efforts.

I see a huge use for in the event/meeting/conference space.  Often the organizers of large conferences create a custom apps or other tools specifically for their meeting that allows attendees to share information and seek out the desired networking opportunities.  The problem is that not everyone uses these apps, and when they go home they do not revisit the connections they made in their phone.  While the folks at Icon have not yet implemented this feature, they could add a conference tab that would allow users could register when they will be present at an event, and make connections accordingly.  Since they would already use Icon in their daily lives, it would solve the problem of not being irrelevant later.

There are many tools out there being created to help people network, and most do not catch my eye as really valuable to the end user over time.  I see Icon as being something I would use and recommend.  Its cool. Plus, it is always great to see the good things coming out of Austin, Texas!

Check it out and let me know what you think.  The site still working out some of the bugs, but the concept is strong, and I can see it taking off.

Have A Great Day

thom singer

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Do You Write Letters? (Yes Handwritten Notes!)

I recently saw this TED Talk (they showed it at TEDxAustin), and I knew I had to share it.  It is by Hanah Brencher and she talks about the power of writing letters (yes, with pen and paper).

Have A Great Day


Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Successful Events Are About More Than Flawless Execution

The Minnesota Chapter of Meeting Professionals International hosted a full day of learning called iConnect.  I had the honor of being the kick-off keynote and the "Conference Catalyst", but also was able to sit in on several educational breakout sessions.

Doug Chorpenning from the Wet Paint Group hosted an interesting discussion called "Don't Put Your Event Before Your Brand".

His talk was thought provoking, as it pointed out that logistics are not enough for planners. Below is a mix of his shared ideas combined with my own two cents:

Event participants expect more for the conferences they attend than just flawless execution.  They want an experience.  

Logistics are a commodity, but we had to do everything we can to de-commoditize events.  Everyone involved in the creation and delivery of events needs to be part of creating the story, long before they show up on site.  Everything from the venue to the design of the invitation to the online registration system is part of the ambiance. (This couples with my belief that speakers are more than vendors hired to fill a slot, but instead partners in all aspects of the event!).

Those who are truly creative create things out of nothing, and planners need to always be thinking creatively, not simply building upon the same old / same old template.  Listening to clients and being willing to invest in the right people, vendors, and materials is paramount to success.  Yes, it can cost more money, but you cannot "Free" yourself into "Amazing".  To create a "happening" you have to do things the audience does not expect.  

Take a look at what people and companies in other industries are doing and seek ways to bring their use of creative technology into your event.  Only looking at other conferences for inspiration brings about more of the "Cookie Cutter" events.

Social Media no longer seems "new", but the truth is that it is less than ten years old.  Discovering new ways to use these tools is still possible.  The key is to remember that the most successful social media platforms are all visually based: Facebook, Flickr, YouTube, Pinterest, Instagram, etc....  Be sure you materials are appealing to look at, and create compelling content that goes beyond the verbal and written if you want to reach the heart of your audience.

Be willing to try new things, and understand that it is okay if not everything works.  Without risk there is little reward.  People are forgiving when they know you are blazing new trails with their best interests as your motivation.  You must be willing to experiment.

Tie your blog and other social media tools to the posts of your speakers, vendors, attendees, etc... Make it a community, not simply a way of you to push your message.  Encourage all those who are partners to promote your event before, during and after the actual dates.

Remembering to put the experience of attendees at the forefront of all that you do in planning events is the way to getting out of the logistics mode and breaking out into the creative vista that we all crave to be a part.  

The best planners I know have the right mix of detail orientation and big picture dreaming (You cannot be a successful event planner without an eye for detail!), but if you only cared about the logistics, your event might be blah (and nobody is seeking to attend blah!).

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. 

Sunday, February 17, 2013

The Downton Abbey School of Business

There were three lessons for entrepreneurs in embedded into season three of the popular PBS show Downton Abbey:

1.  Times they are changing.  Lord Grantham learned this the hard way.  As much as he wanted to cling to the past successes, he came to realize that one cannot live in history.  You have to be looking ahead all the time or you could lose it all.

2.  Anyone can pull themselves up.  Tom Branson's move from chauffer to member of the family was about more than his marrying Lady Sybil.  He had to be willing to look, listen and learn to earn his real place at the table.  His humble upbringings could not hold him back, nor would the death of his wife.  My guess is in season four he will grow even more into a leading place in the family business (never underestimate an Irishman!).

3.  Just when you think you have it all, a truck comes around the bend.  Matthew was not paying attention as he sped along, thinking he had it all figured out.  There is always something out there that can mess up your day, and looking at the clouds only takes your eyes off the road.  Plus the seatbelt had yet to be invented.

Season three was plagued with hardship for those upstairs and downstairs at Downton Abbey.  My guess is there will be more of the same next year.  But they will be back and pushing forward, just like entrepreneurs do everyday.

Have A Great Day.

thom singer   

Motivation Is NOT A Bad Thing

Over the past few weeks I have seen several people slam the idea of "Motivation" when it comes to speakers.  I realize that a few weak cheer-leading tactics in the business world, disguised as motivation, is what has people sometimes feeling "icky" about the concept.  However, motivation is a good thing... when defined correctly!

Content vs. motivation is a silly argument, as there are few examples of speeches that are pure motivation.  Without content there is nothing there at all.  A speech is not the best way to convey high level content, as it would be better to email a White Paper. Speeches rely on the interpretation of each individual audience member.  All speakers should be motivational speakers, as without a call to action a speech quickly becomes a book report, brag, or data dump.  

Admittedly, some content sucks, but that is a discussion for a different blog post. 

Motivational speakers get a bad wrap (thanks Chris Farley!). In advance of an event people claim they care most about the "content" at conferences, which cause organizers to seek smart people who have done cool things.  But that does not always connect with ability to relate their stories to an audience.

The rub is that when sitting in the audience people do want style, experience and motivation from the keynote speakers and breakout leaders (coupled with their high level content).  Content alone can get dull very fast.  The opposite of motivation is not a good thing for the success of a conference.  

What is the opposite of motivation? -  De-motivating? Stifling? Sucks the energy out of the room?  None of these are what conference organizers want in their marketing materials.

(My mantra is "Just because someone is smart, or has done something cool.... it does NOT mean they belong on stage".)

Yet it is not too much to ask for those who make presentations to provide both useful and interesting content coupled with the ability to connect to an audience.  You can - and should - have both content and style in all presentations.  When people learn to improve their speaking skills it is an investment in their future audiences.

When people disrespect the idea of "motivation" they often can have a self agenda going on in the background.  They can be the ones who want to prove they are the smartest person in the room or they are misunderstanding what it is to provide motivation to people.  The "smartest" focus takes the spotlight and puts it on the stage, instead of on the audience.  The real stars of a conference are the participants.  When an audience member is motivated, it is something they know in their core.  It is individual. Not, as some claim, a false group feeling of fluff.  Saying that undermines the legitimate feelings of the people in the chairs, and demotes them to sheep.

I agree that there are speakers who play on the emotions of people and manipulate... but these are few and far between, and their tactics should not make the rest of the us sit through talks by those who are not invested in the audience.  A blah speech is an opportunity lost for everyone.

If we are really planning events that are about the people who attend, we need to put motivation side by side with content.  To allow speakers to suck the energy out of the room is a crime.  Not good.

What do you think.  This topic often can stir emotions, and I welcome those with differing ideas to let me know your two cents.

Have A Great Day.

thom singer

Saturday, February 16, 2013

ProductCamp Austin - A Great Event

ProductCamp Austin celebrated their tenth event in five years (they host this informative and motivational networking event twice a year: winter & summer) this week with a large sell out crowd of over 600 people. The AT&T Conference Center was again the perfect venue for this high energy event.

It is a wonderful community gathering that is a true "Un-Conference".   Speakers sign up to speak, and the audience votes that morning on which topics are of the highest interest. This year they had a record number of proposed talks.  Once the votes are cast the participants and speakers are given the schedule.  Throughout the day sessions cover Product Development, Go To Market Strategies, Product Strategy, Product Management/Marketing Careers, and Marketing Execution.

I had the honor to present a session called "Giving Better Presentations at ProductCamp (and Beyond)".  It was a fun experience as the audience seemed to resonate with some of my advice.  It is more and more common for professionals to have opportunities to deliver presentations (at work or at a conference), and yet few people have had much training since their 8th Grade Book Reports. I loved the conversation with the group, as the topic clearly resonated.  Maybe some of those who were in my session will submit proposals for the next ProductCamp!!!

The rest of the day I was able to attend other sessions and visit with old and new friends.  If you have never been to ProductCamp Austin then you should mark your calendar for July 20, 2013.  Jump right in and propose a session, or come as a participant. Eithe way, be ready to "Teach, Learn and Network".

***Rumor has it that if 60% of those in attendance in July are repeat "Campers", then ProductCamp Austin president, Mike Boudreaux, will shave his head (that is a rumor that I am helping to start!).

Gaining access to new ideas is the key to those who want to expand their horizons.  Last week I spent Saturday at TEDxAustin, and this week I was at ProductCamp.  With all these ideas, information, concepts, theories and motivation in my brain... I need to get to work and make things happen.  Watch out 2013!!!

Have A Great Day.

thom singer

Friday, February 15, 2013

Cool Things My Friends Do -- Michele Payn-Knoper: No More Food Fights!

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

Michele Payn-Knoper is a friend of mine from the National Speakers Association.  She is one of the first people I ever met when I attended an NSA event.  She is smart, cool, dedicated and fun.... and we have the type of friendship where if I say something snarky... she would punch me in the arm... HARD  -- (YES, this happened last summer...Ouch!).

This week Michele released her new book, No More Food Fights!  Michele not only speaks about agricultural issues, she and her husband are farmers.  Known as one of North America’s leading farm and food advocates, she serves as a resource for people interested in agriculture and food through speaking and community building programs.

And she is not kidding around... she has strong opinions about the choices we are making as a society around food and nutrition.

Her book breaks down stereotypes,showing farmers who don’t wear overalls but who do use technology in producing food and preserving the environment, dairy farmers who work on “cow comfort,” and how hard farmers work on sustainability. On the other side, the book reminds farmers that only a tiny percentage of the population lives on a farm and urges farmers to tell their stories through social media and every day conversation to correct mistaken beliefs about food production perpetuated by traditional media.

The book’s very design lends itself to exploring both sides of the issue. One side of No More Food Fights! offers six senses for those who primarily consume food—chefs, healthcare professionals, foodies, dietitians, and retailers. Flipping the book reveals the other side, which features s 6½ steps geared toward those who produce food—farmers, agricultural businesses, and ranchers.

Throughout the book, she intersperses personal stories from farmers, food scientists, dietitians and ranchers. She naturally guides readers from both sides to “reach across the plate” to honestly explore food concerns and the critical connection from farm gate to food plate. Bring peace to your plate—and your next trip to the grocery store with No More Food Fights! as your guide.

Releasing a book is a HUGE accomplishment.  And thus she is top of the list this week for "Cool Things My Friends Do".

Have A Great Day

thom singer

Sunday, February 10, 2013

TEDxAustin 2013

The TEDxAustin 2013 event was an experience.  It was a long day filled with speakers, great food, intriguing conversation, and thought provoking ideas. The event touched all the senses.  I feel fortunate to have been present with so many old friends, and some new ones.

Over 500 attendees participated in the event at the Circuit of the Americas facility (Austin's new Formula One track).  The organizing committee did an amazing job of curating this annual conference that brings together a unique mixture of the Austin community.

Discussions with others about the favorite speakers of the day reminded me of the subjective nature of the art and science of oratory.  Those who are listening to presentations seem to have different nuggets of information that resonate within their hearts.  My friends had different favorites, and it was interesting to see what ideas stood out.

My personal opinions of the best part of the day are simply my observations.  Others would have conflicting thoughts on what contributed to their experience.  There is not right or wrong as all the speakers were very good and I applaud them for participating in the TEDx forum.

There were three talks from TEDxAustin 2013 that linger in my memory:

Faith Dickey.  Hers was one of the shorter talks, yet her hobby of slaklining was both interesting and frightening all at the same time.  Walking on a cord hundreds of feet in the air is certainly not for everyone, but her passion for how the activity makes her feel "alive" resonated as I believe we all long for the deep sensation of knowing we are here.  Her message of  not letting fear be an inhibitor was thought provoking.  And the expression of "relief, humor, joy and triumph" when reaching the other side made lots of sense to me!

Michael McDaniel and Jared Ficklin.  These two Frog Design employees presented a revolutionary idea on how to change the face of mass transit in Austin and beyond.  I question if their moving gondolas will become the future, but it is out of the box thinking that changes the world.  I cheer the presentation and their enthusiasm and joy in sharing this idea.

Darden Smith.  Mr Smith stole the show.  His presentation was augmented with this guitar playing.  He intermixed song with background music as he shared the details of his journey.  The message of "attention, intention and doing what you love" resonated deeply with the audience.  I give him the nod as "best of the day".  His song Angel Flight is a must listen, and his work with soldiers clearly has impact..

I have attended three of the four Austin TEDx events, and they are always inspiring. It was a great way to spend the day.  As with all events, the "hallway conversations" with others who shared in hearing the presentations was where I found the most value.  I would have enjoyed a little more interaction within the ranks of the audience.... as the people I talked with provided so much insight.

Have A Great Day

thom singer

PS - If you live in Austin, Texas and know a high school or middle school student, you need to tell them about TEDxAustin Youth.  This event will take place on March 30, 2013 and will be an amazing experience for them to be exposed to the wonders that can happen at a TEDx event.

Friday, February 08, 2013

Cool Things My Friends Do - Christopher Justice Makes CEO Stand for Cut Executive Officer With Diet and Exercise

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

Christopher Justice is the CEO and founder of Sparksight, Inc.  He is a dedicated entrepreneur and family man... and he has lost 25 pounds since Thanksgiving.  He posted his accomplishments, and his healthy routines, on Facebook this week, and I had to admire his efforts.  Yep, cool stuff (an worthy of being this week's "Cool Things My Friends Do").

The thing is Chris was not overweight.  He was just like most middle age executives, but nobody would have said he was fat.  But he got inspired to get fit, and he took action.

At the end of last year as he began to plan for Sparksight in 2013 he laid out what his company needed to do to improve.  His business plan had three areas of focus:

1.  Lean

2.  Simplicity

3.  Accountability

He soon noticed these were also the goals for his improved fitness. He built a plan personal to go from 190 lbs and 29% body to 160 lbs and 20% body fat that would follow the same three points. That first milestone had to be supervised by a doctor and required daily tracking including weight, BMI and blood pressure.

The plan mirrored the foundation for the company's 2013 revenue and performance plans.

Rather than start in January, he started before the end of the year. He cut sugar in November, all carbohydrates in December and alcohol/coffee in January. He cheated a little here and there with pizza, a couple of days a beer with friends and a few cups of coffee. Regardless, he lost 25 lbs and went down to 20.1% body fat in about 60 days. His only exercise was two – three days of week of kickboxing.

The ironic thing is that his business started the same focus on lean growth and also has seen the results.  Sales improved and the employees have joined in the workout routines, staring the Sparksight Fight Club. (Every Wednesday night employees do heavy cardio workouts and kickboxing).  The company culture is feeding off being strong and tracking everything.

Growth is about what goals you set for yourself. With a healthy company culture, everyone feeds off what you do as a leader. If you are focused, people around you become focused. Being Chief Executive Officer is challenging, but for Chris being CEO now means being the Cut (and Lean) Executive Officer...which allows him to have more influence as a leader.

His final goal is 165 lbs and 15% body fat. He figures that will be about 60 days from now.

Chris is inspiring.  Many of us think about losing 20 pounds, but few can do it with as much discipline.  I am going to follow his lead for Lent and cut way back on sugar, coffee and alcohol while upping my exercise during the 40 days starting this Wednesday.

Have A Great Day.

thom singer

Thursday, February 07, 2013

You Can't Know Everyone

Something weird has happened the last few years,.... the definition of the word "know"...K.N.O.W..... has changed throughout our society.  Everyone thinks they "know" everyone.

Getting to know someone used to be a process.  It could not happen immediately, and nobody expected to fully understand the psyche  and personal motivation of another person by viewing them from afar.

But social media has changed all that.  People now assume a relationship because they have heard of the other person.... regardless of if they have even met in person.

"We are friends, I met him at a convention last year"

"I know her... I read her blog"

"We follow each other on Twitter"

"She's my Facebook friend"

Because of this new environment there are a lot of hurt feelings when one person assumes there is a relationships when there was only an encounter.  The word "connection" is used often, but that used to mean something of value.... now it could mean we are both clicked "like" on LinkedIn.

Shaking hands at a conference and trading business cards does NOT make someone part of your network.  It makes them someone you have met once.  There is a big difference between a brief chat and an ongoing mutually-beneficial relationship.  Our propensity to seek shortcuts does not serve us well when building a network that brings value to all involved.

A friend complained recently that someone she met did not remember her the second time they crossed paths.  She was upset, and I understand, because I have been there (actually I have been on both sides of this problem!).  But in our busy society we meet so many people that we cannot possibly be expected to recall everyone, especially if the original meeting was for a short duration and did not make an impression.

I asked my friend what she did to follow up with that person after their initial encounter?  The answer was "nothing", but she still expected to be remembered.  She had not sent a handwritten note, an email or a phone call.  She had never reached out to make a referral to her new acquaintance or invited them to join her at a networking event.

Is it our responsibility to remember everyone we encounter even if that person did not make an effort to cultivate a future relationship?

Not everyone who meets me will recall me later.  Nor will some give a damn that I exist.  I do not take it personally, but instead I assume this because I do not matter in their life at this point.  Now, if I have met them several times... that stings, but everyone has their own priorities (and that may not include me).

Assuming that we are important to each person whose hand we shake is one sided.  Just because we desire their attention does not mean we deserve it.

Being forgotten once should not undermine the opportunity for a great friendship in the future.  Instead of getting mad, take ownership that you did not make a lasting impression.  If we wish to build something we need to work on being memorable.  One of the best ways to be remembered is to make a referral or otherwise connect the person with someone who brings them closer to their goals.  Now you cannot do this for everyone, but too few people ever do this for anyone.  Serving others in some way will make it more likely for you get noticed.

You can't "know" everyone.  It is okay.  And not everyone wants to know you.  Focus on the people who you do know, those whom you want to get to know better, and especially those who show a desire to create a long-term friendship where you both seek to help each other succeed.  It takes time to really establish a network.  Stop thinking it is about knowing everyone and cherish the ones that matter.

Show you care by being the one who instigates the follow up and maybe they will remember you.  If you want people to care that you exist then show them you have an interest in their success, too.

And if they do not seek to establish a relationship... so what.... send them good vibes and move on to someone who does think you matter!

Have A Great Day.

thom singer

Trash Talking

I think we all can fall prey to doing it.  People want to prove marketplace superiority and take a few easy shots at the competition.  They have a little gossip or a juicy story that undermines a rival, and they are all too happy to share the information.  Most do not mean to bad mouth others, but the ego can be so sure it is correct, that there is no explanation for the success of the competitors without finding a way to undercut.

The problem is that this is a slippery slope.  We roll our eyes, look for flaws, and rally those around us to the stories of how others secretly suck.  Soon we do it all the time.

Generalized stories about other lawyers who clearly are lucky to win business (even if the truth is they are spectacular) become the mantra.  A knock on an accountant who barely can add ( but who not only does great work, her clients love her).  Ripping the reputation of a consultant (who has meaningful impact on his clients).  The person talking always seems to have the "right" point of view.

Interestingly the people I know who are the most successful (professionally, personally and spiritually) seem to rarely trash talk the competition (or anyone).  They follow the rule of all grandmothers throughout time who advised "if you do not have something nice to say, say nothing at all".

This topic came up over lunch a few days ago, and since that time I have seen many examples of the negative story used to bolster the person talking.  I have even caught myself doing it (it wasn't awful, but it was not right). 

I am working on catching this behavior and changing it.  I prefer to tell positive stories and point out the great things that other people do.  The success of another takes nothing away from me.  I believe that Cavet Robert (Founder of the National Speakers Association) was correct when he said their is always enough "pie" for everyone.  No need to belittle the slice of somebody else, there is plenty for all who desire a piece.

Is this the norm?  What do you think?

Have A Great Day

thom singer

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Brainstorming / Mastermind Discussions In The Dark

The Austin Chapter of the National Speakers Association held a special meeting to help members mastermind ideas, brainstorm solutions, and renew focus for the new year.

The event was hosted by chapter president Patti DeNucci and limited to a small group size.  The program was facilitated by Teri Hill who organized the whole evening.  Each participant visited three tables during the night, and then the group came back together to share best practices before adjourning.  Each table had a different discussion topic and individuals were assigned a rotation so that there would be a variety of professionals with whom to chat.

What made this event different was it was held in total darkness.  Nearly three hours of sharing and challenging each other to reach higher levels all by the light of a few candles and the illumination of iPhones.  Think high level round-table discussion by a campfire!

The darkened house was not on purpose.  As the groups sat down at their first tables for a 30 minute deep-dive conversation the electricity went out in Patti's neighborhood.  While some might cancel the event or take a break to see how long it would take Austin Energy to remedy the situation, NSA members are more resilient.  We know that we always must be prepared for anything that can go wrong during an event, and the motto "The Show Must Go On" is not limited to Broadway.

The atmosphere of sitting in darkness made the evening a unique experience.  With all that is being written in the meetings industry about "Alternative Conference Formats" and the studies on how human beings learn and retain information in a variety of environments, this turned out to be a great experience for all in attendance.  Certainly not a night anyone will forget anytime soon.

Sure, being surrounded by talented professional speakers and a few open bottles of wine guaranteed a good event from the start.  But the blackout added a new dimension to a successful business gathering.

Thanks to everyone who participated, I was inspired to take actions already that will help my business advance.  Once again NSA provides something that I do not believe that professional speakers could ever experience alone.  Who says great power failures can only happen at the Super Bowl?

Have A Great Day.

thom singer

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

6th Annual Fundraiser for the "Kate Singer Endowment for Cranio-Facial Research" Benefiting Dell Children's Medical Foundation

Eleven years ago Kate was born with a condition called Sagital Synostosis, and required surgery to reconstruct her skull. 

At the time there was no Dell Children's Medical Center in Central Texas, thus we had to search outside of our community to find the right doctors who would operate on Kate and give her a fresh start in life. 

We donate 5% of all speaking fees that I earn to funds we have created at both Dell Children's Hospital and Rady Children's Hospital (where Kate was operated on in San Diego), and each February we celebrate Kate with this online fundraiser. 

Today Kate is doing great, but one in 3000 children are born with some type of cranio-facial abnormality.  We ask you to support the research for this important cause.

Thank you for your support of this great cause! 

Thom, Sara, Jackie and Kate Singer

Monday, February 04, 2013

Take A Risk With Your Conference - It Can't Be Worse Than A Blackout At The Super Bowl

There is much talk about the desire for "alternative conference formats".  Meeting organizers are bombarded with advice to try new things, but how alternative should they get?  Are attendees really seeking different or just something more engaging?  Audiences are hungry for an enhanced "conference attendee experience" that reaches their soul more than having a celebrity share the details of their gold medal or their other life accomplishment.

But what does this mean to take a risk?

Attempting something new does involve a chance that people may not appreciate the new format, or they may not understand what is happening.  I hosted a "Learning Lounge" breakout room for an industry associations where there were several concurrent talks, participatory round tables, etc...   A woman walked in to look around, and while the room was a choice (there were traditional breakout sessions in other rooms at the same time), she complained that it was "weird" and that she was more comfortable with a regular lecture.  She then complained that the organization wasted time and money with the alternative learning format room, saying she thought an extra track would have been better.   (Most people loved it, but you cannot please everyone!).

A potential client who is thinking about hiring me as "The Conference Catalyst" for her event claims their committee desires a re-invention of their annual meeting.... but they do not want anything that is not guaranteed to be fantastic.  That is the problem, you cannot by definition have an experiment with a pre-determined outcome!  She admitted they are seeking a traditional conference agenda that people will "feel" was unique. I am not sure that is possible.

Her problem is that she hears the message of trying new things, but is not really confident in her own instincts. I also think she fears that if anything goes wrong she will be held responsible (while if it succeeds the planning committee will claim the credit!).  She secretly believes other events are doing wonderful things, but since she does not attend any other events (She has never been to an MPI, PCMA or ASAE event) she has not witnessed anything beyond her own repeated agenda.

This is why I believe planners must go to other events and talk to each other (in person and online) about what they are seeing attempted.  The meeting and association industry organizations do a great job of trying to make their conferences laboratories where new things can be tried.  But even at those events there are people who hate change and are turned off by the efforts to attempt something unique.

There are all kinds of "playful" things at conferences that encourage people to have more fun, get out of comfort zones, enjoy themselves and be part of the experience.  I find it satisfying when a client wants to do something different, and many of my friends who are professional speakers are thrilled when a client want to get them involved to attempt something special. Speakers who work often get to witness many conferences, thus planners should always partner with their speakers to garner ideas.

Unique topics with speakers from outside industry is one way to shake up normal routine of a meeting.  I am surprised how many organizations only use those who are from their own business circle for presentations. This is often not the fault of the planners, as I spoke for at a legal conference (my topic was business development, and I am a former legal marketing executive) and one attorney came up to me and confidently proclaimed that I should never have been hired to speak as non-lawyers are not capable of understanding the complex life of a lawyer (ummm, I was not teaching a legal topic...I was talking about getting more business).  A non-lawyer speaking at a legal conference apparently can be risky.  I was among the highest ranking speakers on the surveys, but the planner now only uses lawyers as speakers because a few people were vocal about those of us who were not attorneys.

Others change up the schedule, putting the keynotes later in the day.  This is a good thing, especially on days two and three, as people tend to sleep in and skip the morning sessions (to sleep off hang-overs or catch up with the office).  But that also can limit the attendance in the morning breakouts.  Starting later altogether can get more people into the general sessions, but then some will complain about not having a robust enough schedule.  I witnessed one group who had "optional" sessions early, thus implying the later agenda was more important (and the turn out for the later sessions was very good!), but the morning events were rather empty.

Unique meals and how those meals are organized can also create something memorable, but can be expensive. Getting a hotel or conference center to go "out of the box" with food and service often comes at a price.  I have seen some cool things done with food choices and the entertainment, but they cannot be done right without money and a planner with a big vision for something amazing.

Breakouts where attendees have to stand the whole time or sit on large pillows can cause people to take notice, and studies have shown that when you shake it up and engage people they retain more information. But some attendees are turned off by such ideas and will skip the breakout sessions with non-traditional set ups.  I have witnessed people walking out of sessions that appeared to have a gimmick in the way the chairs are arranged.  The sad part is these same experimental formats are often the ones where people who participate get the most value.

The real risk to an event does not come from trying something new, it comes from the unexpected.  Natural disasters, the passing of someone high up in the organization, a power failure, etc.... are what can create the real problems.  The 2013 Super Bowl was knocked off for 34 minutes by the lights going off in the Superdome.... and that caused most of my meeting planners friends to feel a sharp pain in their stomachs.

I believe people are forgiving when an attempt at something new is less than fantastic.  But when the agenda looks the same as a conference held in 1992 they quickly get board and become critical of the whole event.  One does not have to take people out into a field and bang tambourines to create a unique experience, but anything new will involve risk.  Those who change the world have always been willing to look risk in the eye and take action anyway.

What else are you seeing at events where organizers attempt something new to make the experience different?  What is the real risk in not taking a risk?  And what if the lights go out?

Should events be changed at all?  Maybe a current best-selling author keynote, followed by three tracks with sponsors presenting white papers, and then a chicken lunch is the ideal way to host a conference (but it does sounds boring, doesn't it?).  This is a discussion that our industry must continue to hold if there is to be real solutions.  Speak up and share your thoughts with someone!

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, February 02, 2013

Urgency And People Will Grow Your Business

When trying to grow a business, you need a sense of urgency.  "Growth" does not happen by accident, and it will rarely happen the way you predict in your business plan.  Growing is not automatic, and in some cases, not necessary.  However, a focus on the the top line is necessary to get the business up and running.

For a new solo business (or any business), you must earn more than your expenses (for the business and the personal needs) or you will not be operating very long.  You can only live on a rice and beans diet for so long.  Eventually the reserves run out and your credit cards reach the maximum.  Launching the business must have urgent actions to accomplish the financial goals.

Too often entrepreneurs allow "hope" to dictate their early business plans, but this cannot bring about the results.  A sense of urgency is what creates the serious tone that is needed to create a strategic focus.

There is also a need for other people to support your cause when growing your company.  Many great business people fail because they ignore the power of their network in lieu of myopic attention to creating a product.  The best products alone cannot always go the distance.  It takes people who champion the cause and advance the reputation of the business.

I discovered through my own experience that not placing enough urgency on the sales operation could have derailed my business efforts.  Once I switched to a sales focus, my numbers rose quickly.  But the real success came from people who helped refer me to new opportunities.  Without the word of mouth that came from friends and those who saw my early presentations, I would never have had a business in the first place.

When others tell our story it creates more value with potential clients, and thus can speed up our growth.  Having people who are on our side makes the whole business journey more effective.

Now I look for ways to extend the urgency and to embrace the people who are my advocates. While I do not walk around instructing others how to promote my business, I try to take my excitement for growth evident.  Few things get others on board faster than your own passion for success, but you also must be willing to help them reach their goals (not everyone can or will look for ways to impact your career,.... but that should not stop you from trying to serve others.  Know that some will do the same for you).

Combining an attitude of urgency with the power of people is not always easy.  Our own hustle that can get us ahead will also keep us from seeing the whole picture.  We will easily miss the simple things that could lead to building long-term and meaningful relationships, and thus missed opportunities.

Go forth and grow, but do not try to do it alone.

Have A Great Day

thom singer

Friday, February 01, 2013

Cool Things My Friends Do: Mary Jennnings Hegar's Victory For Women In Combat

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 had lunch with Maj. Mary Jennings Hegar. She was the lead plaintiff in the landmark case that settled last week, Hegar vs. Panetta. Mary and three other women sued the Department of Defense challenging the military's policy excluding women from many combat positions.

She served three tours over two deployments to Afghanistan, and trained as a California Air National Guard Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR) pilot after serving 5 years in the Air Force. She was awarded the Purple Heart and the Distinguished Flying Cross with a Valor Device for heroism while participating in an aerial mission near Kandahar Airfield on July 29, 2009.

Last week The Pentagon decided to end the ban on women in combat.  This is a triumph for equal rights, and it is cool to know the person who now more than just a footnote in history.  Mary feels strongly that this case was about standing up for what is right. By denying qualified service members key roles and recognition it was discrimination, and that is not acceptable.  

I have been friends with Mary's mother for many years and followed the case in the news.  I was excited for Mary, and since I am the father of two daughter, I was pleased to see another glass ceiling shattered.

It was also funny to see Mary parodied on John Stewart's Daily Show.  This is the first time someone I know has been part of a comedy skit on the Daily Show... but knowing most of my friends, it it probably not the last!!! (Click Here to see the Daily Show video).

Mary will be speaking in Austin at the Metropolitan Breakfast Club on February 27, 2013.  I am looking forward to hearing the rest of her story!

Have A Great Day.

thom singer