Monday, February 20, 2012

Community-Building with Richard III

Kevin Spacey at BAM
I went over the weekend to see Richard III at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) Harvey Theater and the production, with Kevin Spacey as the villainous Richard, impressed me on every level. And that includes an email BAM sent me a couple of days before the performance, which got me thinking about the opportunities organizations have in helping attendees prepare for events.

I didn't expect the email, which reminded me that I had tickets to the performance, which I bought months ago. It also included production notes, a map with directions to the theater, a list of nearby bars and restaurants, and an invitation to join a Facebook group for the event.

All of that is pretty standard. But where BAM excelled was in sifting through the available information on the Web about the production, finding what was relevant and reliable, and presenting it to me in an easy-to-digest way. I had intended to brush up on the history of The War of the Roses before the play; BAM sent me a link to blog post with a family tree of the warring British royal houses, two video clips, and a few additional links to articles and interviews. It wasn't exhaustive, but rather a thoughtful, "best-of" kind of list.

I appreciated it, and it reminded me of a Clay Shirky quote that I came across last week, which describes the contents about BAM's email perfectly:
Curation comes up when search stops working…[and] when people realize that it isn't just about information seeking, it's also about synchronizing a community.
I'm a fairly new member of BAM, and I joined, I confess, in order to have a better shot at getting tickets to very popular productions like Richard III. I know that the email is a marketing tool, but it made me feel like more than just a ticket-holder. And by not trying to sell me anything, but to give me something of value, I ended up more sold on BAM.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Recipe for Engagement

Meredith Rollins, left, and Mona Simon (in toque)
As editors, we’ve often written about the benefits of interactive experiences at meetings — of how a shared activity can strengthen relationships more effectively than just bringing attendees together in a meeting room or around a conference table.

Last week we experienced it ourselves, when Convene’s editorial and sales teams met with members of PCMA's executive, marketing, partner relations, and business innovation staffs for a planning retreat at Grove Isle Hotel & Spa in Miami.

One sultry evening, Chef Ehren Beers led us in an “Interactive Chef’s Challenge;" Mona Simon, director of partner relations and advertising, divided us into four teams, mixing it up in terms of our daily job functions. Luckily for us, Beers made food preparation practically foolproof: ingredients for our three-course dinner were pre-chopped and pre-measured, and Beers coached us on methods.

 Editor Chris Durso and ad exec Mary Lynn Novelli
It wasn’t structured as a competition, but our group managed to make it into one, talking friendly trash about other teams’ techniques, as we tossed together a chicken and mango salad, sautéed fish, stirred lemon and pine nuts into quinoa, and flambéed – or attempted to flambé – berries for dessert.

The hands-on dinner came at the end of a long day of strategy and discussion, as we filled page after flip-chart page of ideas. And it worked as advertised, switching on our playful sides, and creating a relaxing, if rowdy, atmosphere.

The resort looks over beautiful Biscayne Bay, and we moved from dinner to sitting around one of the hotel’s well-appointed fire-pits, overlooking the water, sipping wine, and talking into the night.

Software programmers invented the phrase “eating your own dog food,” as a metaphor for using your own systems, and it’s an apt, if inelegant, description of what we were doing.  And, with apologies to Chef Beers, our dog food tasted great.

Photos by Advertising Executive Mary Lou Sarmiento

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Sebastian Thrun's Big Idea

Today is the first-ever national Digital Learning Day, a good day to talk about computer scientist Sebastian Thrun, a Stanford professor who is leaving a tenured position and will teach free online computer science classes to a global audience. (Thrun begins talking at 2:27 minutes into the video.)

Thrun is a very popular professor at Stanford -- the class he taught with Peter Norvig on Artificial Intelligence (AI) routinely drew 200 students. But when Thrun offered the course online and, with one email,  invited the world to enroll, that number jumped to 160,000 students.

The experience changed Thrun's life, he said in a talk at the recent DLD - Digital Life Design conference in Munich. The course was exactly the same as the one he taught in the classroom on the Stanford campus, but the online students included working men and women of all ages from all across the globe.

As Thrun heard back from the online students about the impact the class was having on their lives -- including a note from a soldier stationed in Afghanistan who watched online instruction while on a break from mortar fire -- he decided that making education free and accessible could change the world, he said.

Thrun and two partners founded Udacity, which is planning to offer more courses, including a programming course with no prerequisites.

What does all this have to do with the meetings industry? Because Thrun is one of the world's premier scientists, we can expect to see him thinking deeply about the content and delivery of online education.

The first class has already yielded teaching lessons. Students told him that the online classes felt personal, despite the fact they were broadcast to thousands. They felt intimate, Thrun said, because he kept the technology simple, using a camera, a pen, and paper to illustrate course content. Thrun also up-ended the passive lecture model, finding ways to make the course material interactive, so that students were actively engaged.

Udacity is looking to add more instructors from top-tier universities -- in law, business, medicine, and other disciplines. No doubt those individuals will bring their own ideas about online education to the enterprise.

Udacity and its audacious goals were announced just a few days ago. But it does look like the start of something big.

Thanks to Dara at for posting the video.