The Montemagno Recipe for improving Le Web (and any other tech conference)

January 4, 2010

in Conference, Ideas, Tips

Marco Montemagno

Marco Montemagno

Marco Montemagno (blog, twitter) followed the live streaming of Le Web Paris 2009 and was terribly bored. He’s no ordinary spectator though. Montemagno is an Italian technology speaker & evangelist, web entrepreneur, TV host… in a few words a 360 degree communicator that has been running an  “internet evangelizing show” throughout Itally called Codice Internet. As most true-heart entrepreneurs, he likes to create (as opposed to destroy) so he compiled a list of 19 suggestions to improve Le Web.

I attended Le Web 2009 and shared many of Marco’s concerns so I decided to re-publish some of his points and build up on top of them. Before going on I warmly recommend you to first read Marco Montemagno’s original article: Why watching LeWeb2009 (and 95% of the conferences) is so boring: 19 things to change

“I started asking myself how it’s possible for a video to be so boring if the speakers and moderators are top level in their business, the content is rich and full of information, the online streaming was excellent and the room was full?” Marco Montemagno

The 19 suggestions issued by Montemagno can be grouped in 3 blocks that are part of the global “event experience”: Format, Show and Interaction. To maintain the correspondence between my comments and those of Marco I will indicate between brackets -like this (1), (2), (3), etc – the link between his suggestions and mine.

The Format

The Format is the structure that holds your event upright and makes it stand out (or not) in the city of skyscrapers made by other events. Like with a building, many elements are at play: design (looks, user experience, etc), functionality, location (venue), the content (who works inside the building)… Marco writes “LeWeb2009 has amazing content ‘served’ in a conference format that’s 30 years old” (1)

Round-tables and Panels are ineffective (3) (13), boring or just irrelevant… at least in most cases. The usual symptoms are: high number of participants, short time for each one, slow paced, no real interaction taking place or dull content being produced due to a lack of or lame moderator. Possibly the worst sin of panel members is them pitching their own products shamelessly.

Even though you have good content, you have to find novel ways of communicating it to your audience, creating a conversation and differentiating your conference from the rest of the competitors out there.

The Show

The Show is the Format put into action, and it may take place through several channels both physical and online. If your event’s life extends outside of the physical world, that experience has to be curated too. This sometimes requires tweaking the physical presence (8) to better satisfy what’s transmitted through other channels. TED Conferences are a good example though according to some delegates it sometimes risks to transform the main room into a TV studio.

For example if you’re live-streaming your conference, what do the watchers expect? How can you improve their experience? One of the reasons I often discourage live streaming is to avoid the lots of idle times that are uninteresting to follow on a screen. A solution is to slightly delay the release (hours, days) of the videos to allow a proper edit. This is also a good tactic for extending the duration of your event. If there is any real news happening during the conference, the “outer audience” -including the media- can find it out through the Twitter feeds, live blogging, etc. like during Apple keynotes. If there is a very high-profile session taking place that you want to absolutely transmit live, you can make a live stream of it and promote that specific moment as an event people can save the date for.

The flow of the show is very important and the key to it is having outstanding public speakers (4), not just intelligent, expert or successful people that are not used to giving presentations AND entertaining the audience. As Carmine Gallo writes in his book “The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs” (my book review, Amazon link),“most business communicators lose sight  of the fact that their audiences want to be informed and entertained”. After all, why do you go to a physical event apart from meeting people? (if there is no breaking news involved, most of the content can be found online, in books, etc).

It’s not only who you put on stage but how she gets there, how she moves, what she does and how she gets down. Enter the  Stage Manager -or Speaker Director (5), a ruthless ruler coordinating all that happens on and around the stage. From managing the flow of people on/off stage to interacting with the audio/video crew members to adapt the conditions for a better show or with the technical assistants to make sure that the speakers get microphoned, computers & presentations are ready on the podium, or with speaker assistants to make sure that they show up in time for the stage tests.

The role of the Stage Manager ends where that of the Moderator starts (10). The latter is responsible for running what happens on stage during the show by introducing, moderating or even interrupting the action (for example when the speaking time is over). Finding a good moderator is not easy. The role requires good public speaking skills, charisma, attention to detail, humor, respectability, timing and some knowledge of the topics being discussed.

Where is the Story?

One thing is the “theme” of the event (real time, energy, ..) an other thing is the “fil rouge” connecting all the dots of the event.
I never see an event as a number of isolated slots and speeches. I see it as a whole story that you’re telling to the audience. You need an intro, a start, a body and a conclusion. Everything written in an exciting way. 
Where is the storytelling at LeWeb?” Marco Montemagno

What about PowerPoint (or slide presentations in general)? They are the most abused show-killer in any kind of business events. There are very few exceptions and if you have to, please use it right. Montemagno’s reference to Garr ReynoldsPresentation Zen (and now Presentation Zen Design too) and Nancy Duarte‘s Slide:ology are valid ones. Remember that PowerPoint presentations are just a tool, like prezi.com, videos or no audio/video support at all. To deliver a good presentation you have to be a master in the art of using whatever you chose.

Interaction

One of the main reasons for attending a real event is the interaction: delegate-delegate, delegate-speaker and delegate-organizer (the “delegate” can be inside the room or behind a computer screen at home, office, etc). Make the audience part of your show (11).

Action, emotions and… Interaction. Gary Vaynerchuk (web, twitter) (2) is not only an entertaining speaker (thus adding to The Show) but he’s also very keen on generating interaction with the audience (live, online, etc). His presentation during Le Web lacked interaction because it took the form of a conversation with Loic Le Meur and not with the audience (he even complained about that on stage!). Vaynerchuk suggests that you pump up interaction by going one-on-one through Q&A (find out more on my interview to Gary Vaynerchuck).

The venue should be studied to comply with The Show (6) and to offer the best possible conditions to maximize interaction opportunities… like a relaxed atmosphere free of ambient noise…

If you make a mobile application for your conference, make sure that the list of attendees is there (with their prior consent of course) and that they to connect with each other directly. A photo taken during the event can help people find each other, as it happened during TEDxAmsterdam (see description of the iPhone app by Frog Design at the end of the article)

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