July 17, 2012


Exchange: ideas, advice, learningHow would you improve the conferences and networking events that you attend?

What’s Missing?

There are usually more insights in the audience than on the stage. Yet we politely watch as the official speakers go through slide decks they've used again and again. We clap when when they finish and our lives go on much as before.

The wisdom of the group goes unused except during the short question period. What a waste.

If the speakers simply put their presentations on YouTube, we could all save time and skip the boring bits.
You can watch a pre-recorded speaker or attend a live webinar but you'll lose the opportunity to network.

At in-person events, the networking is almost always random. It’s too easy to get stuck chatting with the wrong people. What a waste.
What happens after an event? Not much.

There's often no way to stay in touch with attendees unless you exchanged business cards with them. The organizers horde those details, which prevents a community from forming. The exception is Meetup, where we can continue discussions and contact each other. Not many business events use Meetup. What a waste.

A Modest Wish

I've been looking for events where the audiences participate. At one extreme are volunteer-run "unconferences". My first experience was Bookcamp 2009. Anyone could volunteer to speak. Attendees were expected to participate. If something could be improved, we were expected to act. If bored, we were to follow "the law of two feet" and leave for a better session. Similar events where I've spoken include Freelancecamp, Podcamp and Word11.

I haven't found anything similar for business people. The Globe And Mail started a Small Business Summit in Nov 2011. The speakers were generally good but
  • the overall format was presenters/audience
  • the networking was random

SMB Exchange

the most valuable day of the year for your businessRavi Nayak (LinkedIn) at the Toronto Board of Trade has talked about ways to harness the wisdom of members.

The SMB Exchange looks like a way to fix the problems with conferences and networking. Here’s my understanding of how the SMB Exchange works.
The speakers don't (gasp!) use PowerPoint. The sessions will be primarily facilitated group discussions. That unleashes the wisdom of the attendees. I’m envisioning something like a TED Talk with interaction. The outcomes are unpredictable and could be magical. You can’t get the benefits unless you’re there in person.
The Toronto Board of Trade hosts many facilitated networking sessions. Each round table of 6-8 has a facilitator who gives each attendee two minutes for an infomercial. There's often time to go to another table. This type of networking is civilized and reasonably effective. However, you may still meet too many of the wrong people.

At the SMB Exchange, attendees provide their elevator pitches in writing in advance. The organizers plan to assign seating during a networking segment and lunch. Imagine sitting with the right people.That’s very valuable.
Attendees can chat online before and after the event. A community could develop. That would be wonderful since there’s an opportunity to connect with people you might not meet in person on the day.

The SMB Exchange looks like an excellent initiative with lasting benefits. I’m looking forward to attending and participating.


PS I've registered. How about you?

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