Greetings from Conference Headquarters, where the signs that we were closing in on the launch of our conference in early August were...nowhere to be found. Six large boxes of conference t-shirts did not arrive at our doorstep that week. Neither did a skid full of conference guidebooks. We did not just ship three palettes of cra-, um, essential conference supplies to a hotel in a different timezone, and there have been no discussions at all with people that have the words "regional" or "manager" in their titles.
Those all help define what this year's conference is not about. So what is it? What was it?? The Presentation Summit is much more than a collection of Zoom meetings. When I first conceded that the only way we would be convening this summer would be through digitalia, I became instantly depressed over the specter of us all sitting around staring at the Brady Bunch squares that define our new lot in life.
I vowed to not give in to that specter. Instead, all keynote addresses and seminars were livestreamed through a broadcast studio. We had technical directors in each session and meeting hosts to assist the presenters. We do not have to hope that audience members happen to have their video windows the right shape and size; we make sure of it. A whole lot of smart people spent many hours preparing to make your viewing experience as rewarding as the medium allows, and we owe a debt of gratitude to all of them.
And we did use Zoom for some things -- we called its number for less formal gatherings, like discussion groups, hangouts, and Monday's crazy Trivia Contest.
This year promised to be full of conference firsts, and at my age, that's noteworthy. In fact, a virtual conference is a non-stop procession of new experiences, and even though the live event has taken place, we are still trying to figure out the proper ratio between the two adjectives "exciting" and "terrifying."
But there is a third adjective to discuss: "comforting." Because we have lots of company here in this mash-up of trailblazing and cluelessness, and that is the fact that an overwhelming majority of you are doing this for the first time, as well. As of this writing, there are exactly 406 of you who have attended this conference as patrons or partners -- i.e. not members of the Summit team, not speakers, not staff. And of that number, 274 of you attended for the first time. Our first-timer rate is always quite healthy, usually around 55%, but we've never before seen it at 67%.
Furthermore, while we did not poll for this, had we asked the question "Have you ever attended a virtual conference before," we suspect the percentage of you answering "Nope" would be over 85.
This is despite the fact that most of you in attendance would have answered "Yep" had we asked "Do virtual conferences blow chunks?" (And no, we did not poll for that, either.) Indeed, whatever this is, we are all in it together. Thank goodness!
That said, this is a whole new conference first for us. It's hard enough to bring engagement to a virtual event held live; you are reading this weeks or months after that -- how do we make you feel engaged? Well, even if there are not 400 other people on the platform right now, you can:
We are happy to report that our all-you-can-eat buffet will not close until February 2021. Until then, you can watch every keynote, every seminar, every interview, and every after-hours event. They're all here for you.
So those are your marching orders: consume this content and if the mood strikes you, reach out to a fellow consumer. This is how you discover what an amazing community of gentle professionals Presentation comprises. We recently received a registration from a woman named Erin who described herself as follows:
"I love to travel, am an avid bird-watcher, an amateur watercolor painter, and an aspiring apiarist. I am happily married with two boys who keep me laughing. Though I am terrified of stinging insects, my father-in-law and husband both have raised bees and are steadily convincing me that it's time to give it a go."
OMG, how can you not want to connect with this person? Erin, I want to meet you and hug you! I hope you inspire everyone to enter the platform, find their biography and give of themselves as you have.
That said, we totally get it if you are just here for the instruction. It is entirely your prerogative to attend seminars, listen, absorb, and then check out. We'll try our best to draw you in, but there is no judgment if you resist. And if ultimately your summary of the 2020 Presentation Summit is "yeah, it was okay -- I learned some good stuff," we'll take it.
But just know, we're trying for more. We're tilting at the windmill of genuine and measurable audience engagement. As we have done since 2003. As we are famous for. And maybe with your help, we'll get there.
That's what has us so excited about this new experience. And terrified. And about a dozen other adjectives. Adjectives are good. When you can't hug other people, at least we have our adjectives...
The [insert adjective here] Conference Host
The Presentation Summit