An end to bland tech conferences
If you were at TechCrunch’s conference in Berlin last week, you may have seen Caen Contee, VP of global expansion at scooter and bike startup Lime, put on the spot about the company’s use of controversial PR firm Definers.
Now Lime is trying to backpedal on comments Contee made on stage, and not quite carrying it off. Exactly what Contee said or how Lime has responded isn’t massively important here (catch up on that here
). What really struck me about the episode is that it’s an all-too-rare example of a tech conference inviting a guest onstage and making them squirm because they were unprepared for an obvious question.
Far too many tech conferences have boring fireside chats because the interviewers don’t want to upset a speaker whose name helped them sell tickets. And the speakers are usually too media-trained to say anything juicy anyway.
Now, you don’t have to make a subject squirm for a good interview, but you do need to tell the audience something useful and new that they didn’t know before. Otherwise, why are they sitting there? And if you’re just running through a bunch of bland talking points you agreed with the subject’s PR team in advance, the audience is justified in checking their email instead of paying full attention.
All too often, conferences sell tickets on the names of speakers, but put too little thought into making sure those speakers provide value to the people who bought those tickets. Seeing some ‘proper journalism’ playing out onstage and learning something new about a company definitely counts as providing value for money.
Most of the value I get from tech conferences comes from the people I meet, but it would be good if the content was truly gripping too. Often I slip into the auditorium just to find a dark, quiet place to get on with some work at the back.
So, tech conferences: in 2019 let’s have less of the following: bland, PR-led interviews; keynote speakers who just recycle material we’ve all read in blogs over the past 6 months; panels that too short to achieve any depth or too long to hold an audience’s interest. That’s a plan we can all benefit from.