I spent much of yesterday in what felt like a time warp - sorry, I can't think of a nicer way of putting it.
I was at the JISC Services Skills event, Illuminating Event Management, a day that was intended to "explore all aspects of Event Management, from traditional 'Dressing a Stand' through to new and novel methods such as using web 2.0 to enhance your event". Unfortunately, on the day, the event felt far more "traditional" than "novel" - since when did a 'skills' day involve listening to presentations that wouldn't have been out of place 10 years ago?
I'm not being critical of the organisers here - on paper they looked to have pulled together an interesting set of sessions covering event management, getting the most from your conference stand, the use of online conferencing tools, the impact of Web 2.0 and Second Life and so on. No... it was just the way the day panned out I think, in part because the scheduled speaker on Web 2.0 (Matt Jukes) was unable to attend. As a result, the day lacked some of the balance that it might otherwise have had.
You can get a feel for the day by reading my live-blog for the event on eFoundations LiveWire - but note that I was pretty despondent by the end and not typing much :-( Look, I know it's important to label the vegetarian options correctly at lunchtime - 't was ever thus - and I accept that we don't always do it successfully at our Eduserv events (despite having a vegetarian on the team) but did we really need that level of information from a 'skills' day? JISC is supposed to be about innovation... right?
Where was the stuff about the amplified conference? About using tags successfully? About streaming options? About Flickr and Crowdvine and blogging and live-blogging and Slideshare and ... oh, you get the picture. I'd expect these things to be at the forefront of every event manager's thinking these days? In our sector at least. This stuff isn't that cutting edge after all... look at this paper by Brian Kelly et al. from 2005.
Instead, the closest we got to the Web during the first presentation were some URLs for venue searches (very useful BTW) and a suggestion that you need to get all your presenters to sign a bit of paper saying they are happy for you to put their slides on the Web (as PDF - OMG!). I was desperate to do a James Clay - leaping up with my iPhone streaming live to qik.com to ask the speaker if she'd like me to ask her to sign a bit of paper. This stuff is out there - get used to it. In many cases, it's not even happening over our networks anymore.
Grace Porter of the JISC was up second. She spoke about her event manager's toolkit - essentially a wiki (to which people in the community are invited to contribute). This was more like it! Good stuff. I've always thought that there was space for a social network of some kind for event managers - sharing reviews about venues, information about streaming providers, sample budget templates and the like. This sounds spot on to me and I'll certainly try and get the guys here involved. Grace also talked about making events greener, again a useful and timely contribution.
Then there was a talk about getting the most out of your conference exhibition stand. My innovative side wondered if we'd hear something about using an ARG to get people to your stand. Maybe something about Moo cards at the very least. Alas, no - just advice about dress codes, setting 'new contact' targets for staff on the stand and remembering to shower before turning up! Hmmm...
Accessibility seemed to feature very highly in the day - I'm not quite sure why? Not that I have anything against accessibility you understand. But two presentations, one about 'accessible email' - surely that was over the top (even just as a way to demonstrate some remote presentation software)?
Then in the afternoon we had presentations about using online conferencing systems - particularly focussing on Elluminate and Wimba. This was much more on target (for me at least) and it was interesting to see the tools in action.
Is it just me that hates the use of Java in systems like this? I know these tools are now the accepted norm but I find Java applications pretty much unbearable! I tried to construct a question around this in terms of accessibility but all I got back was assurance that they were fully accessible (whatever that means). I didn't make myself clear enough. Accessibility is about inclusion - it's a social thing more than a technical thing. Java applications aren't inclusive because they're bloody horrible. I guess it's just a personal thing...
So what else did I learn?
That Networkshop attendees don't like people typing on their laptops while they are listening to presentations - at least not according to the evaluation forms. Hmmm... all that proves is that luddites are at least as loud on evaluation forms as evangelists. The reality is probably somewhere in the middle? And if the loudness of typing really is a problem, how about putting all your mains sockets in one area of the auditorium, thus naturally pulling all the live-bloggers together in one place and letting everyone else sleep peacefully.
Oh... and that delegates to virtual conferences can sometimes be stupid enough to want to tell you their dietary requirements! Lol.
So, there was some stuff I found useful and some stuff I didn't and for some reason I allowed the latter the get the better of me. The straw that broke the camel's back (for me) was a question from the audience about whether the DPA allows JISC services to keep lists of email addresses to which spam about future events can be emailled. I kinda lost it at that point... pointing out that spamming people by email might not be the best approach to sharing information about events, even if it turns out the be legal.
My comments where misplaced and I probably went too far. Everyone uses email and there are target audiences for whom it is the only option. In my defence, I'd say that my interjection did at least cause a nice bit of discussion. When I started with, "I probably live on a different planet to everyone else, but ..." about 80% of the room nodded cheerfully! And when the next questioner referred to me as "passionate", everyone in the room knew that what he really meant was, "why did you just completely lose it, you *@#%ing idiot"! :-)
On balance and after some reflection, I think it was a useful day for me. It's good to be reminded that we don't all live in a world where blogging and live-blogging and Twitter and Slideshare and the rest are the norm - in fact, for many people, they are not even on the horizon. This is a shame... and part of the JISC's role is to encourage people to think about these things. I'm absolutely sure they will continue to do so. But I guess they also have to be mindful of where people actually are.
Oh, and I nearly forgot... I was at the event to give a talk about Second Life and how it can be used for events. I was up last. What can I tell you? Getting wound up and pissing off the majority of the audience just before your own presentation probably doesn't feature in most 'presentation skills' good-practice guides but I think I got away with it. I did the whole session in-world, with a virtual audience as well as the real audience.
I'll blog the details of my session separately, probably over on ArtsPlace SL, but suffice to say that this is a much more stressful way of giving a presentation than usual, since you have two sets of people and the technology to worry about. In many ways, it is a whole new way of giving a presentation - one that I think will grow in popularity and one that I hope I'm getting a bit better at each time I do it (but I'll have to let the two audiences be the judge of that).
If I offended anyone yesterday I apologise - I think it's better to be honest and upfront about stuff even if it can be painful at times. I also know that I'm at one end of a spectrum and other people are, rightly, elsewhere. If you want to respond to this post, positively or negatively, please do so - and I'm happy to be called an idiot, because I know I act like one some of the time. Yesterday being a case in point.