A keynote speaker at Meeting Professionals International's MeetDifferent 2010 has been generating sparks from bloggers who followed the conference, not because of his message, but for the way he delivered it.
The speaker was branding specialist Marty Neumeier, who preached a philosophy of radical simplicity for organizations in search of products that are both good and different. The message was strong, but for much of the audience, Neumeier's style was his undoing.
On site, he came across as a brainy, slightly preoccupied professor. I heard scattered complaints that he'd failed to interact with his audience until moderator Glenn Thayer drew him into a closing Q&A. But Neumeier's voice and his PowerPoint slides told the story.
The experience was worse for participants attending via MPI's Virtual Access Pass, the online content feed, which broadcast images of the speaker but not his slides. "Marty maintained direct eye contact with his laptop computer while speaking," said blogger Michael McCurry. "It was a painful experience for virtual attendees, and about 15 minutes into the presentation, he lost me. I went AWOL (Attending Without Officially Listening)."
The discussion on McCurry's blog pointed to two underlying issues.The easy, obvious problem was with the visuals. Neumeier's slides were integral to his talk. For the online audience treated to a speaker staring intently at his laptop, the experience must have been mind-numbing, but the fault wasn't Neumeier's or MPI's. The slides were available, and it's mystifying that MPI's online vendor didn't include them in the virtual feed.
However,most of the online debate about Neumeier's talk focused on whether organizations should accept keynotes with rudimentary presentation skills in the first place, even if their content is stellar. Most felt MPI should have vetted Neumeier better and, ultimately, screened him out. In an inadvertent nod to Neumeier's formula for brand success (inadvertent, since they never saw the slides), McCurry's audience concluded that speakers can't just be good at style or good at substance: they must be both.
Yes, the best presentations deliver great education in an entertaining package. But sometimes, we expect to be spoonfed, and we assume our clients expect the same.
Over the years, I've covered dozens of technical talks that were dull, dry, or monotonous, some of them keynotes, that still contained essential information for their avid audiences. They were delivered by leading specialists who, I imagine, would have seen speaker training as a waste of their time.
In the other corner, we have meeting professionals whose job is to put fun and inspiration into the on-site experience.
When the two meet in the middle, the results can be transformative. But if we turn away the best knowledge just because it's delivered by someone who won't look up from his or her laptop, we undermine our clients' success and our own professional credibility.
On a very different topic: In the Olympic viewing lounge at MeetDifferent, after the Game That Shall Not Be Named, Canadian hockey fans assured their U.S. friends that they'd witnessed the Canadian men's B game. We knew we would see you again in the gold medal round, and figured we could afford to let our favo(u)rite neighbor(u)r win one. Now we have the rest of the story. Never mind that most of the NHLers on the Canadian men's squad play for U.S. teams … Canada rules!
Mitchell Beer, CMM, is president and CEO of The Conference Publishers Inc., Ottawa, Ontario, one of the world's leading specialists in capturing and repurposing conference content. Beer blogs at http://theconferencepublishers.com/blog. Send comments, facts, arguments, or column ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.