Part 4 in a series. Parts 1 (SEM Conferences: Reflections at the Crossroads), part 2 (Dying Hard or Hardly Dying? The Economic Viability of Live Digital Conferences) and part 3 (21 Non-Obvious SEM Conference Takeaways) here.
Here are the remaining ten hopefully unusual insights from the past 12 years of conference-going. This list isn’t directed specifically to attendees or speakers, but rather, a mix of anyone and everyone involved or potentially involved.
- The craziest-seeming, gospel-spreading speakers should be listened to, because they’re probably riding a wave of particularly fast growth in a new channel. You needn’t follow their exact path, but don’t discount their message. They’re probably on the program for good reason.
- It’s a given that information may seem dated just a few short years after someone was pounding the table about it. But it’s more than a good laugh you have in hindsight. This is something you must guard against: being led seriously astray by keynote speakers or the bias of a program. Conference bias against any marketing tactic but the one the founder likes? Sessions skewed too much to affiliates or clueless suits? Undercounting Google search share? Lying with pie charts? Yet another defense of “great performing display network technology” that relies on shaky view-through-conversion foundations? Drop all your other projects this year because your law firm will go out of business because you don’t “wikify” everything? Depending on your own goals, some of the most respected voices at some conferences will be up to no good. Keep reality-checking. Try to cherry-pick wisdom and insight from the leading lights, while passing on the Kool-Aid.
- The international scene: lower digital marketing budgets, but infinitely fascinating. You must go to Oslo, Warsaw, Sydney, or Milan! You must! San Diego? Toronto? Them, too.
- Conferences are about helping and sharing, ultimately. You learn your own preferred sharing style through these events. For example, I like sitting on the plenary panels, in what Chris Sherman calls “muckity-muck format.” One time, Chris not only called it “the bigwig panel,” but supplied the actual big wigs – I like to think I look a little like Howard Stern here. More new ideas come out of these expert panels than people are typically expecting. The top minds in the business have a lot they want to get off their chests. Me included. ☺
- These really are conferences – not parties (a.k.a. “I’m too old for this shit”). Well, for me anyway. You start to dodge the late-night parties if you go to enough of the events, much like you dodge the long lunch lineup.
- They’re not holidays. (“You were in New York? I’m so jealous!” Ha!)
- They’re a business expense. (ahem) Go somewhere. Do neat things. It’s not so bad! They aren’t holidays, but at least you can walk around and take in some of the sights. (Plus, selfies!)
- Contrary to stereotype, keynote speakers aren’t empty fluff. Rather, they set the tone and agenda, and can provide the spark that can spur us to action. There will always be a human urge for a Colosseum.
- The glibbest speakers – even some who play fast and loose with the truth – might get invited back again and again, so we need to support the truth-tellers. Presumably, many of the greatest movies, books, and skyscrapers of all time – to say nothing of the Macintosh computer – wouldn’t have survived a focus group. How can we balance the popular information with the necessary curriculum to challenge professionals to learn needed techniques and to become aware of the hard truths? Experienced conference organizers sometimes throw out the numerical ratings. Novices fail to strike that balance.
- Danny Sullivan has an unnatural fascination with donuts. [Anecdote about 2 a.m. visit to Swedish 7-11 redacted for space reasons.] The takeaway here is that after a long day and night of conferencing, ensure you keep two donuts by your bedside table, to be consumed at 5 a.m. and 8 a.m., just in time to restore your brain’s functioning for the next day’s a.m. keynote. At lunch, you may find yourself dragged out to In ‘N Out Burger by a gaggle of ravenous SEO’s. (And for some reason, they’ll cab it. Delusional that this can combat the calorie overload, I walk.) Be warned! SEM conferences will blow your diet!
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