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April 12, 2010 / marden928

PSFK Conference

Last Friday, I attended the PSFK Conference at the Jewish Cultural Museum in Battery Park City, NYC. Most of the attendees were innovators and advertising folks – which proved to be an interesting mix. Innovators and advertisers need each other, but they don’t always gel. Lunch was interesting, we all mixed together in the beginning and by the end of lunch, we had dashed to different sides of the room. There was a third contingency that went to watch a film. Alas, I didn’t join that group. Lesson: birds of a feather, flock together, even at innovation conferences.

Although, not as quickly as you’d expect. The conference organizers had been smart to employ a button making company that created all kinds of fun buttons with words and simple graphics, so we could all label ourselves. Finding pictorial storytelling too intoxicating not to dive into, I grabbed 5 (and in turn became friendly with the button makers). Do check out Busy Beaver Button Company ( – they’re utterly passionate about what they do!

The list of who was there is quite impressive. And in fact, I’m going to just link you to someone else’s fantastic write up of who was there:

What I plan to do over the next few posts is critique the various presentations. As you’d expect from the diversity of the speakers list (graffiti artists to former cigarette executives), the presentation styles were all over the board. And yes, lots of great lessons were learned! (and some other, enforced)

Here’s some high-level of things not to do (I’ll go through the particularly fantastic presentations individually):

  • Good content does not equal a good presentation if delivery is bad.  There was one fellow who arguably had one of the best presentations content-wise, definitely one of the best resumes in his field.  Alas, he had a technical difficulty and it seemed to throw him for a loop at first.  Deeper into the delivery, though, we realized that his delivery was just bad.  He was all mono-tone, but not in that charming British humor way, more in the “I’m almost reading my speech, word for word,”  way.  Lesson:  If you’re going to just read your presentation, maybe it’d make sense to just pass it out to everyone in an article so we can read along.  Otherwise, accept that your whole audience is going to spend their time on email and Twitter instead of listening to you.
  • Don’t give a sales presentation at a conference.  Your attendees will be a bit bored and may be a little offended.  One speaker did just that – gave use the sales presentation for his actually, pretty awesome company.  Being an innovation conference, many of us were asking :  but why are you doing this awesome business?  but how does it work?  but who is your consumer?  how did you get on the speakers list?    Too many questions for an audience to have.  Lesson:  Remember to ask what the audience wants to hear from you anyway!  Not just what you want to tell them.
  • Be clear in what you want people to do. At the end of the conference, we were told that there would be an after party and that we could get the address on the website.  We were also told that we could go get drinks between the conference and after party by going to the bar that they went to last year.  Um, right.  Thank goodness we found some others int he same predicament so 10 of us were able to piece it together.   Lesson:  Post the address and a map of where you want people to go so they don’t get lost.
  • Arrogance can be a turn-off. There were a couple of folks who got up and told their life stories, and those stories basically went along the lines of :  I sold out back in the day, made a buttload of money when I sold my soul, bought another company, sold that company, made an even bigger buttload of money, and now I’m pursuing my life dreams and my life is FREAKING AWESOME!!!  No would would argue with the lives that were presented that said lives were anything but awesome.  But, it’s clear that these folks didn’t look at the room around them:  young innovators in their late 20s to early 40s, many of whom had just been laid off and are new entrepreneurs, who frankly don’t have anything resembling any monetary situations on the same level.  And many of whom would frankly not want to sell out on any level anyway.  I found the guy a great speaker and his imagery fantastic, but many others were just turned off.   Lesson:  Adjust your tone to your audience.
  • Dead space can be unnerving to your audience. There were 20 speakers at this event, and between each speaker, there was dead space while we got to wait for the tech guy to set up the presentation.  Considering that we were all sitting in a dark room, that we technically weren’t allowed to have coffee in (though many did anyway), it could a little tough at times to stay focused on the stage and not drift to smart-phone land.  Yes, there was an awesome flash thingy that went on between presenters, but that only sustained us for the first few.  The rest of the time, yup, we were kinda bored.  And yes, this is normal.  But why not take a cue from Vaudeville and have some in-between presentation entertainment?  A 30 minute clip of something, organized stretching, something to get folks to meet each other  (maybe the “say hi to your neighbor”  thing that so many churches do). Lesson:  See those dead spaces as an opportunity to foster connections and do something with them!
  • First presentations set the tone for the day. And in this case, our speaker had some of the most amusing content ever, but not a lot of energy.  His style and delivery was humor and dead-pan in that British way – and he really should have been at the conference.  But alas, his energy level was a bit low.  Higher energy levels are critical for a room full of people desperate for more coffee.  Lesson:  Start with your biggest energy haver – everyone else will feed off of their energy all day!

I’m looking forward to dissecting some more specific presentations in the next few posts.  And I’ll certainly be hunting for the videos for you!

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