Heard Enough Talk About TED Talks?

Even if you’ve never been to a TED conference, if you’re an event organizer, the phenomenon has changed your professional life — sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse — and could change it even more, if you’re willing to risk it.

Having now lived with the TED phenomenon for about 10 years or so, when an attendee at a conference I’m associated with walks up to offer me some advice and starts with, “You know, at TED Talks….” I find it hard to not roll my eyes.

Never have so many had so much to say about an event so few have ever been to.

Still, the concept behind TED is a substantial one that is slowly beginning to transform the conference industry — again, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse.

The better: One piece of real information many people have connected to regarding TED is that there is an 18-minute limit on all presentations. That has forced those who organize conferences to realize they can’t sit three or four speakers behind a table in front of an audience, give them an hour and a half and a clicker for their slides, and expect a satisfactory result.

TED has helped many of us realize it doesn’t take that long to tell a good story or deliver a valuable lesson.

The trend is toward shorter conference sessions where fewer speakers — often only one — take a deep dive into a single subject before the attendees move on to their next deep, but quick, dive.

The worse: I can’t count on both hands the number of people in the last few years who have told me, “My goal is to do a TED Talk.”

The well-branded TED phenomenon has pushed us into the era of the “thought leader,” the person who is less interested in giving your conference attendees information they can use and more interested in evangelizing an idea, usually one they alone know can save the world.

It has created the speaker who has a “following,” who moves from conference to conference delivering the same presentation — albeit with a different clever title each time — and whose real ROI is a round of applause at the end and the opportunity to distribute their Twitter handle.

Meanwhile, the conference organizer is stuck with a crowd of attendees filling out post-event surveys a few days later who suddenly realize that, while they enjoyed the speakers’ performances, they can’t remember a single thing they learned at the event that will help their businesses.

The promise: What started out back in 1984 as a single conference for 800 invited guests…remains that, but it has spawned a never-ending string of TED-related channels that constantly reinforce the original brand.

Most of the 18-minute TED Talk presentations are available at ted.org, YouTube and other venues. There are thousands of TEDx Talks held by unaffiliated organizations, but under strict guidelines mandated by the original TED organization.

There are TED Books, TED blogs, TED Prizes, TED Fellows and, yes, countless opportunities to become TED’s marketing partner.

A little more than 10 years ago, after entrepreneur Chris Anderson bought TED from its founder, he declared it no longer a conference, but “ideas worth spreading.”

That’s his brand: “Ideas worth spreading.”

Why doesn’t the average Annual ABC Conference and Trade Show have “ideas worth spreading”? Why is access to ABC followers limited to three or four days the same month every year?

The promise that TED offers the events industry is the opportunity to expand its brands way beyond a mere conference into numerous paths for followers and community members to take that will allow them to spread their own ideas.

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Is Your Show Transactional or Transformational?

In a recent CEIR Blog post, Robert Hughes noted that, after interviewing hundreds of exhibitors, he found that more than 90 percent of them thought the general contractor owned the tradeshow they were exhibiting in.

What is wrong with this picture?

The evidence for this revelation is clear: The biggest check an exhibitor writes is to the general contractor, not the show manager. The general contractors often represent the only human beings exhibitors meet, the ones they know to go to if they have problems.

Apparently, most exhibitors only talk to show management when they’re booking their space – and who among us has not made preselling the next year’s show our top onsite goal?

This may be efficient on the part of the show manager, but it’s no way to grow an event. It’s no way to worm your way into the heart of a community, which is exactly what events must do in the future if they are going to remain competitive with digital marketing vehicles.

The successful relationship between a show manager and an exhibitor (or an attendee, for that matter) cannot be transactional. It cannot simply be the exchange of something perceived to be of value, money in exchange for a booth in the exhibit hall.

A successful relationship between an event and its participants must be transformational. It must be more than the hackneyed “place where buyers meet sellers.” A transformational event is one that puts itself at the center of an industry’s community, the place where that community comes together from time to time to meet itself.

You certainly don’t want participants calling it the “contractor’s show,” or even the “show manager’s show.”

You want them to say, “This is our show.”

Michael Hart is a business consultant and writer who focuses on the events industry. He can be reached at michaelhart@michaelgenehart.com.

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