Over the weekend I attended The Audience Conference at historic Caroline's on Broadway in the heart of Times Square, NYC. The conference was to be a blend of social media and comedy, and their similar relationships with content, audience, and the like. Only a 60-minute train ride and an affordable $100 price tag, I couldn't pass it up.
Via the suggestion and rave-review by C.C. Chapman, I signed up only minutes after learning about this conference. I was particularly intrigued by the fact that there was NO Tweeting, live-blogging, or connectivity of any kind. I saw a few people using their iPhones to take notes, but otherwise we were disconnected from our technology. My iPhone didn't get any service so I had no choice. I'd have to admit - I felt far more focused and connected (in a non-digital way) with the speaker and my fellow audience members. I wasn't racing to Tweet out the latest speaker soundbyte and staring at the hashtag column instead of at the speaker. There is definitely value in spreading presentation content virally, but I thought this was a unique selling point for the conference and enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere (and table-service).
The day started at 10am and was split into two parts: the morning containing "Tech" speakers and the afternoon containing comedians (apart from a sit down interview between host Loren Feldman and Jason Calacanis). I won't go into depth as to what content they offered, but every talk was different and interesting, and the comedians actually performed their comedy sets and gave some rare insight into their craft during the Q&A sessions afterwords. Their jokes are content, just like our blog posts, and they A/B test just like Marketers do. They also, like Marketers, have to know who their audience is, pay attention to their wants/needs, react when expectations aren't met, and connect with them. All of the comedians brought an honest piece of their lives into their sets, reminding us all of the importance of transparency and storytelling.
For such an affordable conference and limited amount of tech-related speakers, this conference had an impressive lineup. Chris Brogan, C.C. Chapman, Chris Pearson (founder of Thesis), and host Loren Feldman from 1938 media. They certainly didn't disappoint and because of the small venue, all of them were easily approachable which is why a conference like this is so rare. Instead of swooping in and out, all of the speakers were there for the conference in its entirety.
As for the comedians, they were all really funny and all had totally different styles but each of them echoed the same sentiment - quality content is king, always be testing and revising, and you have to know and understand your audience. It made me think about the vast differences in blog topics and writing styles. Whether you're a food blog or a sports blog, quality content wins and without an audience you're just talking to yourself (so don't ignore them).
My favorite comedian was Harrison Grennbaum. He had a fantastic delivery, a welcoming persona, a myriad of joke styles and even finished with an unbelievable magic trick. Check him out on YouTube.
As C.C. Chapman put it so eloquently when I spoke with him briefly, "This is a hidden-gem of a conference." The venue is quite small, and looked to seat maybe a hundred or so comfortably (although I'm sure they fit 200+ uncomfortably). This made for a very intimate and connected conference, where you felt like an active participant rather than a passive crowd member. No matter where you sat, the speaker was no more than a shout away and your question would always go answered. The food was fantastic compared to more expensive conferences that provide just a box lunch. I had some fantastic mini-wraps and potato salad for lunch and drinking was encouraged once the comedians took the stage. I'm sure that resonates with many of you.
I fully expect next year's Audience Conference to outgrown the capacity of Caroline's. Everyone I spoke to or overheard were raving about the conference, which means word of mouth alone will generate tons of awareness.
The Presentation Blogger's Thoughts:
Putting away my marketing/social media hat and putting on my presentation hat for just a minute, this was an interesting setting. No slides or PowerPoint or visuals of any kind. Just a speaker, a smaller-than-you'd-think stage, and blinding stage-lights. I have no problem that there weren't any visuals. Many speakers can tell engaging stories just by their lonesome on stage.
Lacking visuals, particularly slides, has some inherent positives (usually the fodder anti-PowerPointers use to argue against its use). Without slides there was nothing the speakers could use as a crutch. If they stepped on that stage, they needed to know their stuff and as a whole, they did. I only saw one slightly unsettling technique, which was when one speaker used his iPhone as his notes. I have no problem with using notes, but I would suggest having a simple small notecard he could have placed on the stool and glanced down at every once in a while. Instead he held his iPhone and brought it quite close to his face to read what was next. His content was great and he seemed like a super-smart guy, but I couldn't help but feel a disconnect when he'd look down at his iPhone.
The Concept of Audience:
A presenter's audience is so important. Of course without an audience, you don't have much of a presentation. That's what makes me so crazy when I see poorly prepared presenters with sloppy visuals they use as a crutch. It's so insulting to the audience - the people sacrificing their own time (and sometimes money) to listen to the presenter. You're not only doing a disservice to yourself, since whatever your story is will go unheard because of the "noise" created by poor visuals and delivery, but you're wasting the audience's time as well.
As presenters, writers, marketers, you have to love your audience. If you ask ANY of the social media influencers out there (you know, the ones that worked hard for years to become an "overnight success"), they'll all tell you stories about how much they care and have cared about their audience. They created high-quality and valuable content that they were passionate about. They responded to every comment. They found where their audience lived (in online terms) and engaged with them. They attended conferences and shook lots of hands and actually listened to the people they met.
There was no better example of this than at the very end of the conference when I approached Scott Stratten of UnMarketing fame. Scott is a sought-after consultant, speaker, author, and nothing less than a social media influencer. Scott used the valuable relationships he's built over the years to leverage Twitter and raise just under $30,000 for Tanner (his goal was $25,000), a special young man whose story pulled on Scott's heartstrings. Oh, did I mention he did this in ONE DAY?! Yes, just one-day. How's that for ROI of Social Media?
I wanted to compliment Scott on his amazing work for Tanner's cause. I don't know about any of you, but I get a little nervous when I approach speakers and "influencers" at conferences. I just feel like they get approached every two seconds and all anyone wants to do is pitch their business. I was afraid he'd presume the same about me. I'm probably wrong about that because when I pulled Scott aside, he seemed genuinely interested in what I had to say. We talked about Tanner, social media, relationships, audiences, the conference, and much more. I promised myself not to take up too much of his time (get in, get out), but Scott was so genuine and cool that we talked for at least 20 minutes. I'm just one of MANY "audience members" he has (over 60k followers) but he treated me like we were long-time friends and I can only assume he treats everyone like that. Now he's turned a follower into an evangelist. I've already pre-ordered his book, but if you haven't click here to order, available September 7th.
After reading this I'm sure you're not surprised that I highly recommend this conference. I don't know what to expect for next year as far as ticket-price, venue, and attendee growth, but if it stays similar to this year's, it's a must-go. The only other conference with this much value for the dollar is the 140 Conference. I will no doubt have fond memories of the conversations I had, people I met, valuable information I learned, and the brownies (which were to die for).