When we asked Editor-at-Large Dave Erickson to interview journalist James Fallows about his experience at the helm of the Agenda 2002 conference, we imagined the article might include Fallows' insights into the conference industry, and perhaps commentary on the environmental and organizational elements he'd experienced at events over the years that had shaped his philosophy for Agenda. After all, Fallows is an observer for a living — a national correspondent for The Atlantic Monthly and a National Public Radio commentator. Surely we've never featured such a noteworthy pundit.
As it turns out, we didn't get exactly what we expected. Fallows, to our surprise, claims little interest in the conference business or how it works, and he has only attended a handful of tech-industry meetings. What we did find was an executive producer with keen observations of the PC industry who wasn't afraid to bring his journalistic independence to the podium, and a company — IDG Executive Forums — willing to risk change and take a chance on creativity.
In choosing Fallows, IDG brought in a true event-industry outsider to revive its Agenda conference. IDG's approach can teach us a lot about good conference management, or management in general, for that matter: Hire the best minds, build a support structure around them that helps them to succeed, and be flexible if change is needed.
“We believe this is a talent-based business,” says IDG Executive Forums president Lia Lorenzano, who hired Fallows after a nine-month search. “He brought an incredible perspective.” Fallows worked hard to fill the agenda with speakers who were “interestingly off-topic” and changed the format to fit his background, creating what he calls a “live magazine.”
For more on Agenda 2002, turn to page 22. Let me know what you think and how you keep your events on the leading edge. Drop me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org, and share your ideas on fostering change, surprising your audience, and creating a leadership role for your conference.
Enjoy the issue,