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Sunday, March 29, 2009

5 Conference Truisms Still Apply: SES New York Wrap-Up

About a year ago I reviewed some traits that really made for a bad audience reaction at a digital marketing conference: excessive salesiness, disrespect of other panelists or the conference, bailing completely without phoning it in (fine if you give notice or have to leave for family reasons, not that these things appease disgruntled audiences), admitting you're unprepared, and leaving all the brilliance in the bar and drooping through the sessions. I can prove it because those are some of the types of speakers who get very low ratings on surveys.

By these criteria, I didn't see any bad sessions at SES New York this week. (I do admit that I was relatively unprepared in one session, Turning Small Changes into Big Profits, because I was filling in for someone last minute -- no one's perfect.) Perhaps a sign that audience expectations are up for several reasons: growing professionalism in digital marketing, and a vocal demand to get value for a dollar that doesn't stretch as far as it once did.

Guy Kawasaki, a keynote speaker, violated the salesiness rule in spades and was (somewhat justifiably) curt to the timekeeper on the session, but the debate can still rage about whether certain highly-paid "showstoppers" (think Jim Cramer) need to be that way because it's part of their schtick. Ultimately, Kawasaki's content was original and remarkable. I hated a lot of his message, but I'll write more about that later.

One panel I'm very familiar with, because I spoke on it, was the Advanced Paid Search panel crammed with six people and a moderator. Normally, paid search panels can tend to get salesy and the agencies can sometimes crow too much about their case studies and client lists. That's mitigated when the subject matter is a bit geeky (like the Quality Score panels); maybe that's because it gets a bit more like SEO and everyone is having (good clean technical) fun. This Advanced Paid Search tactics panel had such a rigid pacing requirement that no one had time for a sales pitch, and everyone shrunk things down to a concentrated set of juicy tips. To use a Canadian-sounding analogy I just made up, they were flooding the backyard rink (good) rather than farting in your general direction (bad).

We're always learning things on the conference circuit. I had assumed that a six-person panel would be bad. Not so. It all depends on the people, the material, the moderation, and audience expectations.

Posted by Andrew Goodman




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