Posted by shannonclark on August 21, 2007
I attended Gnomedex this year and had a great time – though I did not like almost a majority of the speakers. There has been a lot of discussion throughout the blogosphere about this years Gnomedex. Earlier today, Chris Pirillo posted his deconstruction of the post-gnomedex discussions.
On that thread I left a very long comment, which I reproduce below.
This was my second Gnomedex. I came expecting to spend the weekend reconnecting with a lot of friends, seeing some interesting presentations (including a few that might be announcements/newsworthy) and have a great time in Seattle.
I ended up having a very professionally useful conference (somehow doing bizdev for an ad network is not as difficult as I thought it might be – something about helping people make money I suspect). I indeed also had a great time in Seattle, had great meals and met many really amazing people.
All that said, I was very disappointed in this year’s speakers. In conversations I had at and around Gnomedex the rough consensus was that 1/3 of the speakers were kooks and aweful, 1/3 were okay, and 1/3 were good (Guy was perhaps great – but gave a speech many had seen many times before).
But I think the opening and the closing speakers started and ended on a bad note – and that many other speakers in various small ways showed a mismatch with the audience (I know Michael who spoke on Open Money in other contexts but did find his closing requests for funding a bit off putting along with how he handled a few questions).
One small bit of advice which I think though seemingly small was a big part of the change in feel this year.
Last year there were short presentations BETWEEN sessions (from Make magazine etc). At many other conferences these short between session presentations (videos, music etc) give people some mental space. For MeshForum I call these “Interstitials” and generally program artists and others to give short presentations/demos (in many ways much like the ignite talks – which was I think one of the standout moments).
Also there was a lack of cohesion between the speakers – a wide range of formats (one speaker, two speakers, lots of speakers for short periods) and not much of an overarching theme connecting the speakers and telling a story. This is hard, but I think a good flow to the speakers could have really helped.
And another small item – not certain this was the case, but this year it felt like the lighting in the audience was darker than in years past – for me at least this drained a bit of my energy while sitting in the audience (you’ll note in contrast to last year, I asked many fewer questions – and most questions were asked by folks in the most well lit/near the stage parts of the space.
I would suggest that you take a bit of a cue from SXSW – let people start to submit speakers – but also be proactive in asking for speakers – and frame those talks in some manner.
But in addition to speakers – I would look into getting interviewers. I’d suggest that probably almost all of the speakers this year (perhaps not the ignite folks whose talks were very concise and focused) could have benefited from a truly great interviewer asking them questions on stage – and then supplemented quickly with questions from the audience.
My suggestion would be:
– have the interviewer give a short context setting introduction of a speaker (but not a 30 second one, possibly a 4-5 minute intro w/slides)
– have the interviewer ask a few questions or one main one that leads into a solid but short presentation by the speaker (5-10 minutes probably – ala the ignite talks). This should probably set the stage for a viewpoint the speaker holds – something they are passionate about and working on (I personally don’t mind hearing about companies – but prefer to also get context)
– then some follow up questions from the interviewer – say 10-15 mins (so this is the first 30 mins or so)
– then for the remaining 20 mins or so, open up to a lot of questions from the audience (and ideally find a useful way to get some from IRC/twitter/backchannels as well)
The interviewer should probably have access to a computer on stage – so they might expand on an audience member’s question – inserting additional points from the IRC for example. Ideally as well it might be possible for people in the audience to also add to a question so that the speaker then addresses more folk’s questions/issues/thoughts
A key question to keep in mind in all of this is “what is the goal of the presentations?”
– spark discussions?
– capture and document a thesis/experience? (and share that with the attendees and through them the world)
– make news/announcements (launch a new product, make a political point etc)
– move the “blogosphere” forward on a given issue [I’d personally recommend against this last point – especially since there is by no means only one “blogosphere” and though Gnomedex is great, it doesn’t actually have everyone important on any given issue in attendance. That said, a session could certainly be scheduled with the intention of raising an issue and giving it a higher profile – along with one or more approaches to dealing with it (privacy vs. live streaming for example could have been one this year – i.e. disclosures, releases, commercial use, archives etc)
Hope this is helpful. Getting speakers and scheduling them in a balanced and well flowing manner is by far one of the hardest parts to organizing a conference.