Welcome back, folks. Back to work last week and straight down to Tasmania for our own conference with Scene Change people from around the country. And very productive it was, too.
A conference technology company having its own conference raises some interesting questions.
We all speak on a semi-daily basis, face-to-face, via video Skype. This ticks all the conversational boxes. You can hear them. You can see them. You could argue: why bother having a conference at all?
Undercover Communication: Fun to Do, Hard To Manage
The idea of a conference as a series of presentations and formal discussions misses a large part of the picture. Part of the role of any conference presentation is providing material for the discussions that happen in smaller groups after-hours. That’s where friends are made, alliances are formed, stories are told and deals are done. The truth comes out after dark.
Face-to-face, you pick up far more of the non-verbal signals that tell you whether your ideas are getting across or not.
It’s a tricky area for Management, because informal communication is almost impossible to manage. It just takes its own course.
Can The Machines Take Over?
Years ago when I was a corporate communications guy for a big event technology firm, I’d get regular calls from trade journalists writing their annual story on videoconferencing.
“Will videoconferencing replace actual conferences?” they would ask.
A tough question, as I had a vested interest in promoting videoconferencing, since it cost about a million dollars a minute at that time. Even so, the answer was clearly, emphatically ‘no’. Like living on food pills from a robotic vending machine, it’s one of those Jetsons-future ideas that completely misses the point of human nature.
Meetings Are A Personal Thing
Humans are social animals. We like to gather in flocks, preferably with a drink in hand, to gossip and complain and flirt and generally draw comfort from the fact that everyone else has pretty much the same problems as you.
The idea that this can all be replaced by electronic transmissions goes against thousands of years of human instinct. It’s like the idea of telecommuting, which was going to transform our way of life and reshape our cities. As it turned out, it’s fun for a week or so, but unless you seek out human contact, you’ll grow permanent tracksuit pants and turn into a one-person dandruff farm.
Of course, there are meetings that should be replaced by Skype. I know people who regularly fly to another city, have a one-hour meeting in a windowless room at the airport, then fly home again. Personally, I’d rather stand on the side of the highway operating a Stop/Go sign.
The technology is there to support the personal element of meetings, not replace it. Gathering around and telling stories is something that defines us as humans, and that’s something we should celebrate.