Social Mediators 8 – What do you want from a conference?

It’s conference season. And we’ve all gone to conferences that we loved – and conferences that we hated.

In this week’s episode of Social Mediators, Terry Fallis, Dave Fleet and I discuss what makes a good conference experience – and what can ruin a conference.

One good idea and I’m happy

I don’t just attend conferences because I love Las Vegas hotels (I don’t) or seaside resorts (I do.) I take time out of our schedules for much more practical and worthwhile reasons. I want to hear from leading edge thinkers and network with others who share common interests.

I’m happy if one simple need is met: I want at least one good new idea from each speaker. If I get that, the conference is worthwhile. If not, I’ll exercise the law of two feet and head out to do some work.

So, I’m easy to please. Give me great content and I’m a happy camper.

My personal hit list

Now to the other side. Things that detract from the conference experience. As a frequent conference attendee, there are some things that really bug me.

1) The conference within a conference. By invitation-only dinners and get aways for speakers and sponsors that are obvious to paying participants. We pay good money for a conference. We don’t want to feel like second class participants.

2) The conference with an unstated agenda. The worst of these are conferences that bring business together with government. You can get the feeling that you’re merely a prop in someone else’s GR campaign.

3) Panellists who think that they’ve given value merely by showing up. Conferences like SxSW which use a panel picker have seen a real slide in the quality of many panels, as a noticeable number of panelists seem to place their greatest effort into campaigning to be selected, not in preparing their presentations.

4) The biggest annoyance of all: Product pitches from sponsors who become speakers. When I speak, I rarely mention my company name. I’m there to educate, not to do a product pitch from the stage. And I don’t expect others to abuse their time on the stage.

And what about you?

What makes a conference a good experience for you?

What are the things that detract from the conference-going experience?

Where did I go wrong with this presentation proposal?

istock_000006111221xsmallGive to get back

I try to give back to the communications industry by offering to speak at meetups, barcamps, schools, industry conferences and other gatherings that want me. Usually, I’ll speak about about social media, sharing what I’ve experienced and learned over the past five years.

I’ve never delivered the same presentation two times in a row. Social media changes so rapidly and there are so many new developments and issues that I’m constantly adding new material.

Don’t waste their time. Make it relevant

When I plan a presentation, I always try to approach the presentation from the perspective of the participants. What is their background? What interests them? What do they already know? What could I offer them that would make their hour with me a worthwhile use of their time?

Usually this approach works. I deliver what people are interested in. And they think their time with me was well spent. Occasionally, I miss the mark.

In the past few years, I’ve become active in the Canadian Council of Public Relations Firms (In fact, I was elected Chair of the CCPRF in December.) And one of the topics of ongoing discussion among the PR consulting firm CEOs has been the need to ensure that new employees arrive in our firms with the knowledge and skills necessary for success in the era of social media.

Oops. This one didn’t make the cut.

So, when the Canadian Public Relations Society put out a call for presentation proposals for the CPRS National Conference scheduled for June in Vancouver, I thought that it would make sense to propose a session with a panel of CEOs of some of Canada’s leading PR firms talking about the knowledge and skills they believe that people should be acquiring in order to succeed in our evolving industry. The CEOs of three other firms – Palette PR‘s Martin Waxman, Weber Shandwick‘s Kerry Harris and Argyle‘s Dan Tisch – volunteered to participate in this panel. So, I thought I’d have a rock solid session that would be of interest to the members of the CPRS.

Oops. I was wrong. I received an email telling me that our submission had been declined. Clearly, I’d missed the mark with this proposal.

Fair enough. The conference organizers want to put on the best conference and I’m sure that they had many great presentations to choose from.

Doing better the next time

But, of course, I’d like my presentation proposal to be among the better ones. So, if I missed the mark this time, I’d like to improve for the next time. And I’m hoping that you can help me with that.

I’ve reproduced the presentation proposal below. If you are a public relations practitioner, please take a look at it and tell me how I could tweak it to make it something you’d find useful.

I can’t offer you anything other than my thanks. And my pledge not to waste your time if you find yourself at one of my presentations.

Building your Career with Canada’s PR Consulting Companies
What do the leaders of public relations firms look for in recruiting new employees and deciding who to advance? It’s about more than billings. In this era of social media, what are the skills that PR pros must acquire or develop in order to build a successful PR consulting career?  Four PR firm CEOs, Thornley Fallis’ Joseph Thornley, Palette PR’s Martin Waxman, Argyle’s Dan Tisch and Weber Shandwick’s Kerry Harris, will tell you what they look for and answer all your questions. This panel is co-sponsored by the Council of Public Relations Firms and the CPRS.

Anyone interested in a career in PR consulting, whether PR student, new job entrant, mid career or senior practitioner, will be interested in this session.

The objectives of this workshop are to alert CPRS members to how they can prepare themselves to succeed in today’s fast changing public relations discipline and to give them insight into how PR firms are trying to help them prepare for the future.

Participants will learn:

  • What PR consulting firms look for when recruiting new employees;
  • What skills and expertise PR practitioners should be developing to equip themselves to succeed today and tomorrow;
  • How PR agency heads are trying to help their employees acquire new skills and expertise that they will need to advance in their careers.

PR professionals will gain insight into what PR firm heads feel are the essential skills and expertise of tomorrow and how they can acquire this.

PR consulting companies will benefit by the exchange of best practices and corporate communicators will gain insight into the challenges facing their suppliers and what is being done to meet those challenges.

So, what do you think?

How could I improve this session proposal to make it more interesting and more useful to public relations practitioners and other conference attendees?

What topics would you like to discuss at Third Tuesday this year?

Third TuesdayWe’re extending the invitations to speakers for the first Third Tuesday Toronto and Third Tuesday Ottawa meetups of this autumn’s season.

This year, we hope to feature some of Canada’s best new social apps and the developers and entrepreneurs behind them.

Who would you suggest that we invite to talk about their social apps or Canadian startups? Leave a comment here or in the Third Tuesday FriendFeed room.

IABC World Conference rescheduling is a disservice to Canadian IABC members

Here’s an unfortunate situation. The International Association of Business Communicators has rescheduled its annual World Conference to the same weekend as Canadian Public Relations Society National Conference.

The CPRS announced some time back that the 2009 CPRS National Conference will be held in Vancouver June 7-9, 2009. Now, I’ve received word in the IABC’s member newsletter that the IABC World Conference has been rescheduled to overlapping dates, June 7-10, in San Francisco.

Canadian Public Relations SocietyLike many Canadians, I belong to both the IABC and the CPRS. The principal benefit I receive from these associations is the opportunity to attend their professional development conferences. By attending these conferences, not only do I have a chance to keep abreast of the latest thinking about communications, but I also have a chance to meet and discuss these ideas with other communication professionals from across Canada and North America.

Scheduling these conferences to occur on the same weekend is a terrible waste of resouces and potential.

In this case, it appears to me that the party responsible for this conflict is the IABC, which changed its conference date. Now, some might say that this doesn’t matter. They may see IABC as primarily a US-based organization. But to those, take a look at the number of active IABC chapters in Canada, including the largest IABC Chapter in the world, Toronto.

So, here’s my call to the leaders of the IABC: Serve your members better. Coordinate your conference dates with the CPRS so that your Canadian members can have the opportunity to participate in all of the professional development conferences that you offer.


I wasn’t alone in my annoyance at IABC’s move. PRWeek reports that “Derrick Pieters, director of communications, Department of Justice Canada, Prairie Region and the North in Edmonton, and CPRS president, said they were surprised, and not initially warned, of the date change. “It is unfortunate there is a conflict, but it was just an unfortunate set of circumstances as to how it happened,” Pieters commented. The article quoted me as saying that “the IABC, as the bigger, international organization, has ‘not played nice in Canada.'”

Help organize the Third Tuesday Social Media Meetups

A chance to give back

Are you interested in helping to organize a monthly event that gives social media enthusiasts in your community an opportunity to to meet others who share their interests, learn from one another, and hear from some great speakers on social media topics? If so, read on, because I’m going to ask for you help.

Third Tuesdays: social media and the culture of generosity

Third TuesdayOne of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had in the past two years has been to be part of Third Tuesday. Third Tuesday has provided me with a great opportunity to mix with others who share my interest in social media and to learn from them.

During the past two years, some top speakers have been part of Third Tuesday: Shel Israel, Shel Holtz, Richard Binhammer, Mathew Ingram, Michael Geist, Mark Evans, Colin McKay, Anthony Williams, Rob Hyndman, Michael McDerment, Saul Colt, Katie Paine, Marcel LeBrun, Stephen Taylor, Paul Wells, Marshall Sponder, Mitch Joel, Alex and Ali de Bold, Darren Barefoot, Jesse Brown, Brendan Hodgson, Giovanni Rodriguez, Danielle Donders, Ryan Anderson, Marc Snyder, David Jones, Terry Fallis, Julie Rusciolelli, Keith McArthur and Martin Waxman. And that’s just the Ottawa and Toronto line-up.

By the way, all of our speakers donated their time and efforts to us. Our speaking budget is zero. So, a special thank you to our speakers! You truly have acted in the spirit of generosity.

A community needs organizers

Third Tuesday in Toronto and Ottawa were originally established by a group of bloggers who followed one another’s writing online. We thought it would be a great idea to meet in real life as well as virtually. And we thought that it would be even better if we could open it up to others who shared our interest.

In Ottawa, the founding group included Colin McKay, Ian McKinnon and Brendan Hodgson.The original Third Tuesday Toronto group included David Jones, Terry Fallis, Chris Clarke and Ed Lee. During the past year, Donna Papacosta, Michael O’Connor Clarke and Parker Mason have joined the group of Third Tuesday Toronto boosters and organizers.

In 2007, Third Tuesday groups started in Montreal, Vancouver, and New Brunswick. And now there’s a group of people who are coming together to organize a Third Tuesday Calgary.

Thanks to those who spontaneously organized Third Tuesdays in their communities: Michelle Sullivan, Mylene Forget, Chris Moore, Nicolas Cossette, Marc Snyder, Pierre Bouchard, Mitch Joel, Tod Maffin, Tanya Davis, Monica Hamburg, Lisa Rousseau, David Alston, Dan Martell, and Chris Nadeau.Woof. That’s a lot of people. That’s a lot of commitment.

Keeping it relevant; Keeping it inclusive

Every good event and group evolves with the times and with the changing composition of its participants.

A good community event should reflect the interests of the community it serves.

As we look forward to the third year of Third Tuesday in Ottawa and Toronto, it’s time to ensure that we don’t become stale and inward looking. And the best way to do this is to open up the direction and organization of Third Tuesday to a broader group of people.

So, if you share our enthusiasm for exploring social media and you’re prepared to contribute your time and energy to making sure that Third Tuesday serves the community, please consider being part of the organizing group.

What can I do?

What’s required of the organizers? Well,

  • Meet face to face twice a year. The rest of the time we connect and organize via email and Twitter.
  • Contribute your ideas of topics that people would be interested in discussing.
  • Have a network of people who could speak on one or more of these topics and be willing to extend an invitation to our speakers.
  • Be willing to act as M.C. at a session.
  • Be prepared to help coordinate the logistics (find us suitable locations; obtain gifts for guests, etc.).
  • Attend the events, look for new people and make sure they are introduced to others. This is about community and the best communities welcome new people and make them feel like they’re at home.
  • Spread the word about upcoming events and share what we’ve heard and learned by posting about each session on your blog.

Where do I sign up?

If you’d like to lend a hand to the organization of this year’s Third Tuesday Toronto, Third Tuesday Ottawa or Third Tuesday Calgary, leave a comment on this post or Twitter to “thornley.”

I’ll pull together a meeting of the organizers in early August.

What about money?

Of course, before you get involved with something like this, you’ll want to know whether it carries some type of financial commitment.

Well, we’ve been very fortunate for the past year in having a lead sponsor, CNW Group. (Disclosure: CNW is a Thornley Fallis client.) CNW has covered our largest single cost item, the sound system. We’re talking to them right now about supporting us again this year. More on that soon, I hope.

Pass it on

One final thing. If you’ve attended a Third Tuesday in the past and you’d like to see the series continue, please let other people know that we’re looking for others to join us in organizing. Twitter, post, podcast about it. Pass it on.

WordCamp is coming to Toronto

If you’re a blogger, if you’re interested in a day of good discussion about social media, or if you want to know more about the best blogging platform around, you’ll want to attend WordCamp Toronto on October 4 and 5.


WordCamp brings together bloggers, designers, developers, podcasters and all kinds of social media enthusiasts to learn, share, talk and explore the potential of social media and the WordPress publishing platform.

WordPress founder Matt Mullenweg has been booked to speak at the conference. Matt has said, “WordCamps are my favorite events to go to because there’s something about the core WordPress community that attracts smart folks with good philosophies that are fun to hang out with.”

Other speakers already confirmed include Brendan Sera-Shriar, Mike Ellis, David Peralty and Michael O’Connor Clarke (Yes, that Michael OCC, my co-worker at Thornley Fallis.)

The preliminary list of session topics includes:

  • WordPress Talk
  • Business Blogging
  • Blogging for Boomers
  • Podcasting
  • 30 Tips to Make Your Blog Better
  • Social Media for Dummies
  • Running Your Blog Like a Pro
  • Vidcasting
  • Entertainment Blogging: A Panel Discussion

Centennial College Student CentreThe organizing group for WordCamp Toronto is being led by Mathieu Yuill and Melissa Feeney. The even is being hosted at the Centennial College Student Association‘s Student Centre at Centennial’s Progress Campus. (Disclosure: the CCSA is a client of 76design.)

Thornley Fallis and 76design have settled on WordPress as the best all round publishing platform available today. And because we’ve benefitted from the work others put into developing it, we’ve tried to give back by developing two free plug-ins, FriendsRoll and TopLinks, that we hope bloggers will use to revitalize their blogrolls.

I’m keen to attend WordCamp Toronto. Not only because the blog posts and Twitter stream from other WordCamps have suggested to me that I’ll be able to mix with a particularly smart group of participants, but also because I’m hoping we can get some feedback on FriendsRoll and TopLinks from this social media savvy crowd.

If you want to attend, WordCamp Toronto, you can register at Eventbrite. I hope I’ll see you there.

What social media topics do you want to hear about at the conferences you attend this year?

I try never to give the same presentation twice. The real world of social media is changing and developing rapidly. And my presentations should reflect those changes. So, what was new last year may be old this year.

If you’re like me, I’m sure that you scrutinize conference agendas closely so that you can pick the topics and sessions that will offer you the greatest opportunity to learn about and discuss issues that matter to you.

I should be shaping my conference presentations to cover the issues that interest the participants. So, I thought I’d ask you, the readers of my blog, what social media topics you’d like to hear about at the conferences you attend this year.

To prime the discussion, here’s a topic for a presentation that I submitted to a conference organizer earlier this week:

Measuring Social Media : Social media gives individuals the power to switch instantly from reader to author. And this has transformed the Internet into a web of communities of interest. Organizations are changing their communications to be part of the communities that matter to their customers, clients and stakeholders. But how do they measure what they are achieving through this effort?

In this session you will learn:

What to measure in social media;

What tools will help you measure social media;

The basic building blocks of a measurement dashboard for community managers.

Would you find a session on this topic useful?

What are the social media topics that you would to hear about at the next conference you attend?

Third Tuesday Montreal Social Media Meetup Launches

For the past two years, people interested in exploring the potential of social media have gathered at Third Tuesday meetups in Toronto and Ottawa. Last autumn, Third Tuesday Vancouver and Third Tuesday New Brunswick groups joined the discussion.

3e Mardi / Third Tuesday MontréalTonight, 3e Mardi / Third Tuesday Montréal launches.
The discussion at tonight’s inaugural 3e Mardi / Third Tuesday Montréal will be led by two of Montréal’s social media pioneers, Mitch Joel and Mylene Forget. The topic: “Why you need to care about the new media channels.” A good starting place for a discussion of social media.

Montréal is a bilingual city, bringing together both French and English speaking communities. So, 3e Mardi / Third Tuesday Montréal will be a bilingual event, providing a perfect opportunity to enrich the discussion with insights about how social media is being adopted and used in different languages.

Congratulations to the group organizing 3e Mardi / Third Tuesday Montréal – Isolde Legaré, Marc Snyder, Nicolas Cossette, CT Moore, Mitch Joel, Carmelle Dion and especially Michelle Sullivan. They join the organizers of the other Third Tuesdays – Lise Rousseau, Chris Nadeau, Dan Martell, David Alston, Tanya Davis, Tod Maffin, Donna Papacosta, Terry Fallis, Chris Clarke, Ed Lee, David Jones, Michael O’Connor Clarke, Parker Mason, Ian Ketcheson, Colin McKay and Brendan Hodgson – in donating their time and efforts to provide people in their communities with an opportunity to learn about social media and meet others who share their interest.

Also, special thanks to CNW Group, who have stepped up to the plate in Montréal, as they already have in Toronto, Ottawa and Vancouver, to sponsor the hard costs of staging these events. Thanks to CNW Group, the organizers are able to focus on providing the best possible event at no charge to participants.

So, here’s wishing the organizers and participants a successful first 3e Mardi / Third Tuesday Montréal and many more to follow.

Hear ChickAdvisor at Third Tuesday Toronto

“I love your bag! Where’d You Get That?”Your hair looks fantastic! What Salon do you go to?”What’s the best cleanser for oily skin?

Hold on. Don’t click away. Yes, you ARE on ProPR. What do these questions have to do with ProPR and social media, you might ask?

Ali de BoldOne of the great things about Web 2.0 and social media is that entrepreneurs can bring their ideas to market with relatively little initial capital. ChickAdvisor is a prime example of a company started this way. Founders Alex and Ali de Bold have drawn on their own resources – personal savings, family and friends, and credit cards – to bring their idea to life.

Alex and Ali describe ChickAdvisor as “a social shopping reviews website for women to share advice on everything from hair salons to health clubs. All content is user generated and focuses on the products and local services women use every day. Members can add reviews, send links to their friends, add items to their hotlists and click through to buy items locally or online. Nothing beats a good recommendation and that’s what ChickAdvisor is all about!”

Alex de BoldSince they started their service in September 2006, Alex and Ali have built a community around ChickAdvisor by appealing to a focused interest of a clearly identified group (shopping and women). They haven’t reached profitability yet. But they think they are on course to do so.

So, Alex and Ali are two people who know a lot about creating an interesting social site that serves a need for a defined audience. They also know a lot about the challenges of creating a viable Web 2.0 business.

And they’ll be sharing what they’ve learned when they appear at Third Tuesday Toronto on Wednesday January 23 (yes Third Tuesday Toronto is on a Wednesday this month!). If you’re in Toronto that night, come out and join the discussion. You’ll meet lots of other people who share an interest in social media and Web 2.0. And you’ll hear a presentation by some people who are “there and doing it” right now.

Third TuesdayThird Tuesday events are free.* But we have to guarantee a minimum to the pub where we hold the event. If you plan to attend, please RSVP on the Third Tuesday Toronto meetup site so that we can get an accurate forecast of the number of attendees.

CNW Group* Yes, there’s a reason why these events are free. They are organized by volunteers and direct costs such as the sound system and room charge are paid for by our sponsor, CNW Group. Thank you CNW. You make it possible for Canada’s social media community to gather and learn.