Spent the weekend at Netroots Nation learning some tech-savvy online organizing tips. In the more than five years in this field, I’ve been to 1 to 2 of these conferences a year and I think I’ve finally hit the point where, for the most part, I can clearly identify the sessions that will work for me. And, when I miss the mark, I often find it’s less that concept of the session is off, and more that the presenter is breaking a few basic rules:
- DON’T use the session as a sales presentation. I don’t care if you just invented the online organizing version of an iPhone just don’t do it. I did not come to this conference in order to be sold to.
- If you must highlight your product, DO highlight it in terms of a solution to a problem I already have. Teach me something, show me how to solve an issue for my organization. If your new widget/program/company is a solution to the problem, that’s great, but don’t lead with the sales pitch, lead with the problem/solution.
- DON’T take your one case study and try to expand it into an overarching lesson. Have the outline of what you want to teach and then find a mix of examples that fit instead of trying to pull lessons from your single success story. Otherwise it’s too hard for people to relate to their own goals unless they have the exact same foal as you. Any scientist will tell you that a sample size of 1 is useless.
- DO use audience participation, not just a lecture. The three best sessions* I attended truly engaged the crowd on the topic at hand, either testing the tool, crowdsourcing a new meme, or proving the importance of paying attention when it comes to rapid response pinging people on Twitter in real-time while the presentation was going on.
* Specific credit to those sessions that were great:
Michael Sabat’s “Winning Wireless” skirted perilously close to being just a sales presentation, but he managed to make it “You need to be on mobile, here’s why, here’s how easy it is.” And that last part that was so key, as he was able to show the org’s standpoint of setting up a campaign and then had us pull out our phones to try it from the end-users’ standpoint. So of course he had to show HIS product, as that’s what he had access to. But the overarching point wasn’t “Buy my product” it was “You need to be on mobile, and it’s easy to do.”
Jenifer Daniels “Words that Work(ed)” was not only fabulous in that she tapped into a lot of issues I’ve been itching over (like progressives’ naive insistence that facts will win the day) but she taught us some basic ground rules and then asked us to implement them by crowdsourcing a new tagline/slogan for an issue that the room deemed critical. It was great to be handed a set of tools and then immediately be asked to put them to use.
Chris Cassidy’s “Rapid Response Across Mediums” was a fun, information-filled presentation. But what really drove it home was that while he was lecturing on the ABCs of rapid response (pay Attention, Be prepared, Close), his colleague was in the back of the room tweeting fake comments/pictures about those in attendance in a real-time test of who was, in fact, paying attention. Even for those who arrived late and didn’t sign in (personal *whew* there) it’s still likely a lesson attendees won’t soon forget.