26 March 2012

Weekly Dynamic: Behind the Scenes at Convergence 2012

Everyone likes a peek behind the curtain now. Since many of you are now drowning in tips from Convergence 2012, I thought that I would do a behind the scenes post for this weeks Weekly Dynamic.

I got to participate in the GP General Session this year. It was a ton of prep and practice work for several weeks leading up to Convergence. We practiced via Lync with video chat and we practiced in person. Everyone at Microsoft was very supportive, even as we made changes right up until the end trying to deliver the best session possible.

Backstage was a like a high tech Broadway production. Is there a backup tablet? Is there a backup phone?  Do you know what to do if "X" breaks? Lots of tech people in black. A few nervous people rehearsing before they go on stage and trying to stay out of the way of the tech folks.  Oh, and no diva's, just professionals. Pam gives a great pep talk.

After that it was bright lights, a blur, an adrenaline rush that it's over, then relief that you didn't fall off the stage. This is quickly followed by a visit to Twitter  to see how you did. That's when I realized that I said "Sexy" on stage  in the context of accounting software. Fortunately a nice chunk of the audience loved the fact that ERP can by sexy.

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Backstage at the #Conv12 general session

For the concurrent sessions it's a culmination of weeks of presentation building and practicing. We have to have draft presentations in three weeks early for review, so you can't wing it. I do a lot of practicing standing up presenting to a wall to make sure that all the examples work and that I can get from one topic to the next smoothly. I saw someone at another conference once take an hour and a half with a  break for lunch in between to present 50 tips in 50 minutes. That won't be me.

I tend to push the envelope every year with things like high energy intro music for my sessions. This year Pam was willing to look the other way as I brought in a T-Shirt sling shot and launched items into the crowd. I was pretty careful and everyone seemed to have fun. I wasn't sure how to get a T-Shirt cannon past airport screening but the slingshot didn't get a second look. It works at basketball games, why not Convergence?

Finally, as speakers, we have a few kinds of feedback as to how we did. There is the purely anecdotal feedback where someone stops you in the Expo, the hallway, the airport or even your home airport and tells you that they enjoyed your sessions. Then there is online feedback from places like Twitter which is a little more quantitative because you can count the Tweets from a session and they can be both positive and negative. No one ever stops me and tells me that they hate my session.

Lastly there are the evaluations that users fill out. For a large session of say 300 people we can see between a 100 and 150 attendees rate the session. I read every comment to try to make the next session  better. Thanks to you I've added version numbers to the tips and tuned the way that the follow up documentation is setup.

Many of you are complimentary. Some folks offer great suggestions for improvement. A small group seems determined to not say something nice and some of you make me laugh. All of the tips are anonymous so we have no idea who said what unless you stick your name in the comments.

I'm taking a risk being transparent with some examples so that you'll understand what I mean. Not all of these comments came from my sessions or from this year so here goes.

    • By now a chunk of people are used to my very fast 50 tips presentations. People still say "present slower". If I do that then I hear back "presenter went too long".
    • In my first 50 Tips session this year someone commented that I wasn't spending enough time with the tips on the screen for them to get the tip number. That was fantastic feedback. I was able to adjust in the repeat session.
    • I saw one eval where the attendee didn't mark any ratings and then commented "I did not attend this session". Clearly I have no idea what to do with that.
    • I have also had people comment "You should do fewer tips". With all do respect, that's not gonna happen. Perhaps you should pick a different session. I mean that in the nicest way. The label is very clear and the math is easy. 1 tip per minute = 50 minutes. 5 minutes to get going and 5 minutes to get out = 60 minute session.

This year, these comments from my sessions made me laugh:

    • "Picked up a ton of helpful tips. The only thing wrong was it was incredibly cold in the theater and the guy running the sound board kept falling asleep. He almost fell out of his chair 3 times."
    • "always a favorite. Where did get the slingshot?" [Amazon.com. Price $13. Laughter when I brought it out...Priceless]
    • "This session alone makes the fee worthwhile. And no I didn't just say that because those are the exact words Mark opened with. ;-)"
Mariano Gomez and I talked about this at Convergence this year. None of us tune our presentations to get good ratings. Frankly, when 100 people are giving either of us a 3.9/4.0 (97.5%) rating I'm not sure how make it better. There is a point at which you can't get 100 people to agree on anything and  I'm thrilled with being in the high 90's. We simply want to deliver a presentation that is interesting and valuable. Between the Mariano/David combination and my efforts we own 5 out of the top 10 sessions this year so clearly something is working.

I want to end with a huge a thank you to everyone who attended one of my sessions. By simply being there you make me forget the long nights of building presentations and the stupid feeling I get when practicing to the wall. Your comments, tweets and evaluations are just the icing on the cake. If you didn’t make this year, please join us in 2013 in New Orleans.

I'm not sure how to top the slingshot next year. I'm not sure that I'm going to try. Maybe I'll do something like this: