Saying Goodbye to the MIMA Summit

October 19, 2009

Like a recent high school grad packing up to go to college, the process of putting to bed my fourth and final MIMA Summit has been one tinged with nostalgia, laughter and some sadness (but surprisingly, few regrets).

From my first Summit back in 2006, (Me to MIMA: “Can I see the budget?” MIMA to me: “Um…budget?”) to watching a crowd of over 1,000 people geek out to Seth Godin a few weeks ago, it’s been a long and exciting journey.

I’ve learned some valuable lessons along the way…

1. User Experience Doesn’t Just Apply to the Web

In my world, “users” live on and off line. Anytime I create an experience that someone is going to interact with, explore and well, live within, I call that a “user experience.”

And when it comes to planning events, creating a good user experience is my number one priority.

Think about it, the best events (like the best web sites) are designed in such a way that you don’t even know why you like them, you just do.

It’s the little touches and attention to pre-event details that make that happen.

Before each event, my team and I walk through each step of the day with the user/attendee in mind…

Photo courtsey of TKA Photography

Photo courtsey of TKA Photography

  • What door will they walk through when they arrive?
  • Should there be a sign there?
  • How big should the sign be?
  • Will the facility be O.K. if we mount a sign or do we need to have them supply us with an easel?
  • If we need an easel, how much will the facility charge us for it?
  • Will our budget allow for that?

And so on…

Multiply this process by hundreds of decisions, and you can see why this process is labor intensive, but also critical to each event’s success.

2. Fortune Favors the Brave

Since my client has been a rotating cast of MIMA board volunteers, it would have been pretty easy to play nice and produce a safe and tidy event year after year.

Unfortunately, “safe and tidy” hold little interest for me.

Each year, I brought some big ideas and goals to the MIMA table and fought hard to gamble on taking the more difficult road in order to achieve the bigger success.

My pitch to MIMA?

“I’ll handle the guts, and you guys will get the glory. Please, just trust me.”

And you know what?

For the most part, they did…year after year.

So thank you MIMA. I am tough and I push. But I also know that you’re sitting at the top of a much higher hill than when I started working with you back in 2006, so it wasn’t all for naught.

3. The Bigger They Come, the Softer They Fall

I’ve dealt with hundreds of speakers while producing the Summit. And I’ve seen my fair share of douchebags and divas from among their ranks.

Interestingly, the speakers who cause the most ruckuses are the ones I never expect to be a problem. The more famous they are, the nicer they end up being (yes, I’m talking to you Mr. Godin. You are a delightful and quirky little dude).

If I’ve learned anything about working with speakers who are “internet celebrities,” it’s that you need to watch out for the mid-level fame chasers.

(That, and, the end of the day, everyone still needs to have access to a bathroom before they go on stage.)

4. Technology and Conferences Were Made to Be BFF

One of the best parts of producing the Summit was the opportunity to create experiences for people who love technology.

Since this playing field is constantly changing, it’s been hard work to keep up and keep it relevant. And it’s forced me to look at tools not just as pretty cherries that we can plop on top of the Summit experience, but as vehicles for increasing dialogue, interaction and the exchange of information.

It’s been a challenge, but I must admit, I’ve loved every geeky minute of it.

The intersection of on and offline experiences via events is a rapidly emerging playing field and I intend to keep my company firmly in the center of the all excitement in the years ahead.

5. You Can’t Do It Alone

Here’s the truth, 2006 Summit presenters…you didn’t meet me in person when you spoke at that Summit because I couldn’t walk.

(Yep. I ran that sucker flat on my back with a spinal cord injury, on the floor of little room in the corner of the Depot.)

Want to know how I pulled it off?

I got peeps.

I’ve probably worked with over 100 volunteers in my four years of planning the Summit. And I owe each and every one of them my thanks for helping me get the job done.

I’d like to extend a special thank you to the people who’ve signed up for multiple tours of Summit duty: Kary Delaria, Andrew Banas, Nate Mueller, Jackie and Brian Johnson from Fresh Color Press, Story Tellers Media & Communications and past and present MIMA board members Kelly Burkhart, Kristina Halvorson, Julie Vollenweider and Matt Wilson.

Bonus lesson: People don’t read programs.

Seriously. What’s with that?

That’s all….my big revelations and remembrances from four years of Summit excitement.

Thanks to everyone involved with the conferences for the memories, the support and even the bitchy survey results (I read every last one of them).

Good luck to MIMA on their plans for the 2010 event and don’t worry about me folks….

…me and my peeps? We’re just getting started.

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The Miseducation of Jennifer Kane

April 15, 2009

This winter I decided to take a personal “J term” and study social media.

As with any super-hot buzz topic, there were no shortage of resource materials, expert presentations and educational events for me to choose from in my quest, so…

• I signed up for presentations, seminars, webinars and teleseminars.
• I was exposed to a lot of experts in the field.
• I read a number of whitepapers and books.
• I spent a lot of time listening, watching and taking notes.

Ultimately the goal of my immersion was not just to learn about social media (although I did).

The goal of this project was to learn how people are marketing and teaching social media to other people.

I learned a great deal about that. For instance:

1. “Everyone and their brother” is jumping on the social media education bandwagon.

There is a lot of good stuff out there to choose from if you want to learn more about social media.

But there is also an awful lot of garbage out there too.

After wading through some of the garbage, my advice would be to choose wisely when you’re looking for social media education opportunities.

Also, if the host of the event you’re attending is not working with an event planner, don’t expect a stellar “user experience” at your event.

Planning events, contrary to popular opinion, actually kind of is rocket science. (Bells and whistles like coffee refills and full toilet paper rolls in the bathroom don’t just magically happen by themselves.)

Sure, any company can produce their own event. But not every company has the skills to make sure that you have an exquisite time while you’re there.

2. Because of “the great recession,” a lot of events are focusing on how to make money quick from social media tools.

…and shame on the people who are hosting these events.

Making money instantly from social networking is as absurd as thinking you’ll make money right out of the gate from face-to-face networking (do you walk into a networking event and pronounce, “I have arrived! Let the sales commence”)?

As much as we’d all like to make a lot of money, the fact remains that insty-sales are a product of lust, not trust.

Building a relationship that leads to a long-term valuable client partnership takes time.

3. For many people “teaching” = “slideshow of statistics.”

If you want to learn about social media, chances are you’re already familiar with the Intenet.

And if that’s the case, you can Google how many people are on Facebook or how fast Twitter is growing just as easily as your “teacher” in any social media class can.

Using teaching time to talk about how popular social media is isn’t education – that’s marketing.

What you’re less apt to find at most any event – and what I find people are most curious to learn – are details on “why” this is all relevant and “how” to implement these ideas.

4. Presenters at events still like to talk AT other people.

Social media is social folks. If you can’t translate that to your real-time instruction, you’re missing something critical.

5. You can pay a sizable amount of cash to learn about this stuff and walk away with pretty much nothing in return.

Quantifying the return on events can be tricky since everyone who attends has a different learning style and may use what they’ve learned in very different and personalized ways.

One thing that can more easily quantified is the impact of the learning if the subject is taught using a theoretical approach (as were most of the events I attended) versus an experiential approach.

Essentially, if you were to take a seminar on riding your bike and no actual bikes were involved, is it possible to really “get” what you’ve been taught?

If the subject you are teaching is examining the nature of conversation and interaction, I’d propose that your education style should be the same.

From an ROI standpoint, this means that if I’m paying a few hundred bucks to attend an event, I want to get my knees scraped up a bit during the learning process and walk out of there with the ability to ride off into the sunset.

DO I THINK I CAN DO BETTER?

After much analysis and soul searching, I decided that if Kane Consulting wanted to complain about the state of social media education, that we should put our money where our mouse was and produce an event of our own.

So we did. And you can register for it right now.

Will we be able to magically avoid every one of the missteps I’ve mentioned above?

Probably not.

Will we produce an amazing event experience that addresses these concerns head-on and commits to focusing on real-time “user-experience,” experimental learning and return on investment?

You bet your sweet tweet we will.

Hope to see you there.

(bike photo by Stig Nygaard, Flickr Creative Commons)