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September 26, 2008

Losing it

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.

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I only attended your SL presentation (in SL that is) so can't comment directly on the rest of the day (although I was suprised that the programme for the day was only available in Powerpoint format, and the file seemed to be setup in such a way that my PC at least thought it was a Word doc, and kept trying to open it in Word - without success. Computer says no)

In terms of the SL part, it seemed to go pretty well. It was the first time I'd done this in SL (I'm not much of an SL user to be honest) and the chatter in SL was generally interesting. Since, to some extent, SL acted like a backchannel on your presentation, I wasn't expecting you to respond or take part, and it was nice when you did pick up on a comment or two.

It would have been nice if you could have captured more audio/input from the RL audience - when the mike did pick up sounds - especially laughter from the RL audience it really added to the feeling of 'presence'.

I liked the idea of using some different representation of 'voting' to get feedback on your proposals during the presentation - but wondered if some type of object which changed in size/nature depending on voting in SL might be clearer for everyone to see - perhaps just a cube that got bigger everytime someone touched it (I'm just guessing what is possible here) - seeing where people were standing from with SL required me to whizz around with the camera a bit, and wasn't the easiest thing to judge.

Anyway, overall very enjoyable I thought, and I'd definitely attend future SL events like this.

Hi Andy
Sounds like an interesting day - and I followed it via your Twitter post which referenced your live blog. It's interesting that some of the sessions covered the green aspects of events and yet it was your informal live blogging and announcements which helped in this respect.
As you said UKOLN has been involved in amplified conference since 2005. And note that as well as the paper on best practices which you cited we also have a number of briefing papers on various aspects of best practices for running amplified events, which are available at:
http://www.ukoln.ac.uk/qa-focus/documents/briefings/#web2.0-events

From your live blog:

> 11:40 Andy Powell: tell the world what
> you are doing to make your event green -
> on the event web site

Simple. Put this message on the event web site:

"Event replaced with one in Second Life. Stay at home and attend. You don't even need to shower, dress smart, or put on a fake smile first..."

Wonder how the carbon emissions of (a) the "real" attendees and (b) the SL-only attendees compared for the event yesterday?

Thanks for the, as ever, excellent live blog and this write up. Though next time I want more juicy details within coveritlive when your winding up the rest of the attendees!

You are of course right, we live in a world where we twitter, blog and do everything online... we are the odd ones. (but the rest will catch up). Sounds like the day was really a primer in running a traditional event, and this is what most the audience wanted. It's a human nature that spam is anything sent uninvited *except* what you want to send.
Having said that: crowdvine/ning and using tags in photos/blogs/twitter are such powerfully tools, I used crowdvine the first time for the Open Repositories conference this year and found it so useful during the build up to the event. As such, I think it important to explain these concepts (and the concept of a back channel) to anyone organising an event.


On another note, I echo what Owen said above.
When I heard about SL conferences a couple of years a go, it seemed like the worst of both words, you can't chat to others over coffee, but at the same time could end up in a full room with a bad view at the back. But i was impressed how well it worked. A powerpoint presentation on my screen and some audio just wouldn't be the same.

Cheers
Chris

Excellent stuff, I commend you on a very informative article. Always interested in hearing other event managers views etc. You sound like you wanted what I am always searching for.
Regards

Sarah

Hey Andy,

Just wanted to support you on the Java app. thing - they are horrible! :-)

Pete

Many thanks for an excellent post and for your participation at the event last week. I actually thought that you were very balanced in your comments here and appreciate your frustrations. As you acknowledge, the audience is at many different places on the spectrum and in trying to prepare an agenda for the day we tried hard to accommodate a range of peoples expectations. Despite wishing to extend the debate about events (and other things)we are frequently reminded by services and projects that they are often not well resourced to carry out the more promotional aspects of their work and seldom have very many people with specialist skills in these areas. Consequently there are still a good number of people still looking to understand the more traditional aspects of event management - how often have we all been to events (of course not JISC types!) were even the most basic of issues are badly dealt with, getting such people to embrace 'new' technology will scarcely improve their ability to interact with other humans face to face ... Many of us in JISC-world look to people like yourselves and others to help us all move forward and whilst those in the vanguard may find the laggards frustrating, those at the end of tail also become frustrated when they are made to feel prehistoric. JISC-world is made up of people at all stages of the cycle and the 'whole' will only move forward with the example of the early adopters - so Andy please keep on prodding away but don't forget that it is sometimes daunting for others - deep breath and count to ten...

1) Java apps - I agree
2) I agree with the general comments that we have to remember that us bloggers/twitterers/SLs/etc. are not necessarily 'the norm'. However, I have an issue in that what this doesn't cover is that no matter where you (as the event organiser) are on these issues, you are now increasingly likely to be hosting an event where someone is (at least) blogging. This suggests that even if you don't want an 'event blog' etc. you should be thinking about what it means to have others 'amplifying' the event, even if you don't. To be honest I think there are some easy wins here, you really don't have to do much thinking or engagement with the detail of technology to establish a conference tag...

I'm sure me dropping out at the last minute didn't help as you mentioned as I was due to cover most of those social web related topics so I do apologise for that.

I think the recent success of Crowdvine at ALT has proven that there is a place for these web tools around an event - they don't always need to be the focus but like Owen mentions above some thought should be given to them anyway.

Strangely enough one of the things that seems to go wrong most often is actually the easiest - creating, publicising and sticking to an event tag! I made a mess of it at the JISC Conference and it does seem to be a common theme!

Very surprised people get so engaged in event organisation discussion on your blog! I suppose that just goes to show that now we can use ICT in more novel ways for this kind of thing it becomes a discussion that crosses the boundaries of different 'groups'(sorry not sure what term to use, groups, types, roles...??) so from event organisers to developers.

Therefore maybe also demonstrating the fact that we're at a point where it is going to be hard to know where to pitch such advice.

I find myself torn between the amplified conference and what it can offer and getting delegate lists correct. I recall one event this year that still had my job title from 1996 on the delegate list :-)

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