I’ve been on the right and wrong end of conferences and speaking for a few years now, and when it’s done well, the connection between audience and speaker can be powerful and insightful. Hey it can even be good fun. A couple of things towards the wrong end of the scale have passed my way recently and I’d like to share them with you.
I was following a really fascinating twitter stream from the recent HR Future event. Peter Cheese was speaking and provoking a lot of really interesting reaction. He seems to be laying down a challenge to HR to raise its game and he seems to be laying down a challenge to his own organisation to do likewise. Good stuff, both are much needed. He acknowledged that the CIPD needs to communicate better with its members, and the brevity of twitter notwithstanding – I think that is a dangerously vague comment to make. Easy to agree with the sentiment, who wouldn’t? Much harder to turn it into something relevant and meaningful. Most of the zillions of surveys I’ve taken part in and considered the results of, produce a clarion call for better or more communication, few get past that into the detail, and I and doubtless others are keen to be engaged (perhaps via things like the current CIPD/MIX Hackathon) and to learn more about what that means for CIPD members.
Something else that came over the airwaves was a disappointing assertion that people don’t attend CIPD branch meetings because they don’t like being sold to by consultants. I don’t doubt that and yet it seems a pretty poor ‘finger pointing’ type excuse to put forward for poor branch attendance (though a subsequent tweet said that 17% of members do regularly attend their local branch meeting). Peter Cheese’s comment reminded me that I volunteered to give a talk on social media for HR for the CIPD Central London Branch in 2012. My experience as ‘the consultant’ was less than ideal, so by way of putting the other side of the tale, here’s my experience:
CIPD Central London Branch
We agreed a date for the talk – January 24th. The day before the talk I was told there were 62 bookings and we should expect 30 to 35 people to show up, which in the end proved about right. I may be wrong, I often am, but I doubt that around half the people who booked had a last minute attack of ‘Oh no this guy’s going to sell to me I’d better do a no show’ fever. Despite the fact my Dad died unexpectedly just two days before the vent, I felt I’d prepped well in order to deliver something I hoped was useful and enjoyable. I suggest I’d prepped a little harder than the CIPD branch chair who didn’t know my name and despite being reminded of it just before introducing me – still managed to forget it again. During the introduction Mr Forgetful asked if I was a CIPD member and I replied honestly, ‘no’. I was then treated to a mild castigation in front of everyone before being allowed to carry on. Nothing like being made to feel welcome huh?
I know how much it sucks to get pitched at by a speaker, so I just don’t do it. I’m so conscious of avoiding the pitch I have sometimes been known to forget to tell people my name and what I do, as Rob Jones, Neil Morrison and others will testify. At the start of the session, the first thing I invited people to do was play a social media bingo game I’d made. This had two benefits, firstly it got everyone talking and second – it gave us all an idea of our collective knowledge in the room on the subject of social and so helped me, to a degree, in positioning the subsequent talk. I then gave what felt like a useful talk – and we had a lively Q&A afterwards. A few days later I posted a write up of the talk on Scribd which has been read a modest 1,200 times, so all in all – I think I delivered good value that evening and beyond. I have yet to receive the promised delegate feedback which I always look forward to reading in the spirit of self improvement. To be fair – I didn’t chase it that hard as I had other more pressing things on my mind.
I appreciate this took place prior to Peter Cheese’s appointment, there are always two sides to every story and this is of course just one of those two sides. It’s easy to say ‘people don’t attend branch meetings because they don’t like being sold to’ and I believe and agree with that statement. I also believe there are a few simple things the CIPD could and should be doing to improve these experiences and similar ones at conference. I’ve contacted Peter twice to ask if we might get together and talk about this, I appreciate he is very busy and I’ve not heard back from him yet. I’ll keep you posted.
BOC Cutting Edge Marketing and PR Conference
I was recently approached and asked to speak on the ‘Dark Side of Social Media’ at the above conference which is happening in London soon. I replied with three questions. How long do you want me to talk for, how many people will be in the audience and what is the speaking fee you have budgeted for this slot? I was told they’d like me to speak for half an hour to an indeterminate number of people, and no fee would be forthcoming. Given that I would need to rearrange some stuff to attend and that tickets for the two day event cost £790, I thought that was pretty tight and so declined their kind offer. Since then, the conference organiser has reciprocated by adding me to a marketing list selling all manner of training courses, and by trying to sell me a ticket to the conference even though they know I can’t make it.
There will be more posts on the whys and wherefores of conferences in the coming weeks, and I am grateful to Adrian McNeece for reigniting my thinking on this subject via his recent excellent post ‘The Ministry of Truth’. I sometimes wonder – is the conference industry on a mission to eat itself, its customers, or both?