Monday, March 19, 2012

Mike Daisey: Hazy Details

Since I posted a blog about my reaction to attending Mike Daisey's one-man performance, "The Agony and Ecstacy of Steve Jobs," Daisey has admitted that he fabricated certain elements of his trip to the Foxcomm plant in China. His performance now includes a brief explanatory note and he has scrubbed a few details in the recounting of his experience in China.

The brouhaha has been focused on an episode of National Public Radio's "This American Life," in which Daisey's story was presented as entirely factual. "This American Life" has retracted that episode and re-interviewed Daisey to get at the bottom of what about his experience actually occurred and what he created.

Here is an excerpt from the transcript of that radio interview, in which Daisey is speaking to "This American Life's" Ira Glass:
"...everything I have done in making this monologue for the theater has been toward that end — to make people care. I’m not going to say that I didn’t take a few shortcuts in my passion to be heard. But I stand behind the work. My mistake, the mistake that I truly regret is that I had it on your show as journalism and it’s not journalism. It’s theater. I use the tools of theater and memoir to achieve its dramatic arc and of that arc and of that work I am very proud because I think it made you care, Ira, and I think it made you want to delve [into inhumane working conditions at the Foxcomm plant]. And my hope is that it makes — has made— other people delve."

I guess I don't feel particularly betrayed by Daisey because I experienced his message in the theater, not on NPR. My assumption at the time was that he could very well have embellished the truth to make his point carry more dramatic weight. Had I since learned that all of the details of his trip were fabricated, that would be another matter. But his main point — that we need to pay attention to the way all of our tech tools are made — sticks.

Which brings up an interesting question for the meetings industry. How can you vouch for the veracity of keynote speakers' stories? And are you obligated to fact check them?

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Celebrating #Neuroscience

Image by Jared Tarbell, via Creative Commons
This week is Brain Awareness Week, a good time to assess the growing influence that neuroscience research is having on how we think about meeting design and creating environments that support learning.

At Convene, we've taken a lively interest in the topic: In our cover story in July 2010, Andrea E. Sullivan, president of Brain Strength Systems, introduced readers to mirror neurons, and Dr. John Medina got us thinking about chunking information during presentations.  In January, David Rock, author of Your Brain at Work described how the NeuroLeadership Institute reconfigures their agenda and structure in pursuit of the goal of having the brain-friendliest meeting anywhere. In February, we explored a very new idea: that parks and public spaces don't just help us relax, they help us think.

The role of emotions in cognition and decision-making also is making waves. One of my favorite interviews in 2011 was with Anne Kreamer, author of It's Always Personal: Emotion in the New Workplace. And Convening Leaders speaker David Brooks surprised me when I talked with him last fall by his knowledge and interest in mindfulness, which, come to think of it, we also wrote about last year.

Researchers are at a very exciting stage, when the puzzle pieces of how the brain works are beginning to fit together. There will be lots more to think and write about, and to put into practice.

A special salute this week to Jeff Hurt, of Velvet Chainsaw Consulting, and his passion for exploring brain-friendly meetings at Midcourse Corrections.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Here Are Some Interesting Statistics About Meetings

View more presentations from cdurso.

How many hotels are opening in the United States this year? What are the top five international meeting destinations? How many meetings does the average planner organize every year?

Find out the numbers behind these and 12 other burning industry topics by clicking through this PowerPoint presentation I delivered at Convention Sales Professionals International's 2012 Annual Conference in Washington, D.C., last week. Every number in there comes from either Convene's 2012 Meetings Industry Forecast, published in our November 2011 issue, or our 2012 Meetings Market Survey, which is forthcoming in this month's issue. Because while there may be lies, damned lies, and statistics, sometimes there are simply really interesting numbers that help you get a better handle on your job.

Monday, March 5, 2012

On Apple in the Big Apple

"Look at this," my dad said to me recently, pointing to the new digital camera he had purchased. "It's a Japanese camera manufactured in China. What else is new?"

I thought about that frequent lament — that all the manufacturing jobs have left the U.S. and other countries for China — when I saw Mike Daisey perform his theatrical monologue "The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs" at New York City's Public Theater yesterday afternoon.

For nearly two hours, Daisey sat in a chair on the spare stage to share his love story of all things Apple, and in stark contrast, a riveting account of his visit to Shenzhen, China. In particular, his trip to the massive Foxconn Technology plant, where 430,000 workers toil under inhumane conditions to produce those very cool Apple products, as well as nearly half of all consumer electronics sold throughout the world. (A recent New York Times article corroborated Daisey's diatribe.)

It was sobering, to put it mildly. The iPhone in my bag seemed heavier than usual. As my friend and I sat talking in the theater while the audience streamed out, we wondered what to do with this information. As we made our way out, we were handed a piece of paper. The headline on one side read, "Change is Possible." The other side: "The Rest of the Story Is in Your Hands."

How is this relevant to the meetings industry? Two things come to mind. First, how helpful it is — should you have speaker who will be delivering a message that will likely make attendees want to do something to feel less powerless — to provide some kind of follow-up material.

And secondly, as Convene's latest epanel results (to be published in next month's issue) show, meeting planners have embraced the iPad, like so many other industry professionals and consumers. Nearly a quarter of those responded to the survey use a tablet for work and 32 percent use one for personal use; nearly 80 percent of these tablet users have an iPad. We, too, have a say in this. From Daisey's handout: "Apple has long been a pioneer in technology — now they have the opportunity to lead the entire field into an era of ethical manufacturing. Let's keep pressure on them to do the right thing." Apple CEO Tim Cook's email is

Note: Since I posted this, there's been a bit of a brouhaha about Mike Daisey's performance not being entirely factual. See my updated blog post on this.

Friday, March 2, 2012

"The Ideas-Conference Boom"

New York magazine landed in my mailbox this week, with a story, "Those Fabulous Confabs," that comes straight from the heart of the meetings industry. It's a gossipy look at the growth and evolution of the TED conference, and dozens of similar conferences, like PopTech and the Aspen Ideas Festival, that have sprung up in its wake.

Audience at TedGlobal 2010
The story covers some of the same ground I did in a story last year, although I was more starry-eyed about the trend. And if you were at 2012 Convening Leaders in San Diego, there's a good chance you already know what TED's founder, Richard Saul Wurman, who is quoted in the article, has to say about conferences. (Or you can read Executive Editor Chris Durso's interview with Wurman.)

The story asks a question about the new conferences which nagged at me:  "Are we running out of things to say?" I'm not sure if editors were just trying to be provocative, but the notion that a few dozen or even few hundred conferences could scratch the surface of what there is to say about sustainability, creativity, or solving global problems, just for starters, is one I can't take seriously. Organizers' judgment about who and what is worth hearing may fail, or we may be running out of time to listen to all those ideas, but those are different problems.

What I also found interesting was the short shrift the article gives to attendees. Other than an elite group of speakers and A-listers, ideas-conference attendees are painted as a pathetic and grasping lot. (The story begins with an anecdote about an attempted mugging of a TED conference attendee for his badge.)

The article recounts the value that speakers get from the connections they make from such conferences, and it seems likely to me that attendees —who mostly don't have a voice in the story — could tell similar stories. The conferences aren't proliferating simply because they offer content that, in many cases, is available on the Web. Attendees go for the opportunity to connect, and I don't think they are so clueless they would continue to attend if there wasn't something to be gained.

I would love to hear what you think.