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January 18, 2017, 03:10:02 PM

Panel Discussions Suck.  Here’s How to Make Them Suck Less

 

C2 Panel

If I hadn’t been locked down in some very important meetings this week, I’d have been in Ottawa as a guest on a panel discussion hosted by the federal government.  Subject matter was entrepreneurship and startups (very apropos for Play The Future), which is the same theme of the ResolveTO conference I’ll be part of in Toronto next week...another event rife with panels.  

No great shock here, as panel discussions are a staple of just about every conference on earth; as common as the branded neck lanyard...but way less colorful, exciting and useful.  

By now, I think you get the point that I’m no big fan of the genre. About 10 years ago, I wrote a blog post called “Give Me Keynotes or Give Me Death,” essentially about me swearing off ever again being a part of a dreaded panel.  In it, I ranted

Most panel discussions are not.  

They are falsely overly-polite bore-fests, where people speak one after the other for 5-10 minutes each, while the remaining panelists sit in stultifying silence waiting their turn.

To make matters worse, most close with the perfunctory Q&A session...where there are few "Q"s and even fewer "A"s.  

Add to this mess a moderator who is either cluelessly unfamiliar with the panelists, or so filled with his own agenda that he (sadly, most are males) ignores those sitting next to him and delivers his own long-winded diatribe instead.

A recipe for irrelevance and disaster.  And one I'm not willing to partake in anymore.

Time has mellowed me, I suppose.  While I still find panels banal, I have acquiesced and participated in ‘em a few times over the past 10 years...but knowing that I would try to be an incendiary device on stage and toss a couple of controversy bombs into the proceedings.  

Sometimes, this has worked well, last October’s Banff Forum, for example, when I suggested that the CBC hold a bake sale as a fundraiser, or last May’s C2MTL (see above), when I snuck in a subversively false panel just before a real one (where my panelists all spoke simultaneously).  But by and large, even with my madness, most panels I’ve endured have maintained their tradition of lameness and sameness.

Again, time has mellowed me.  A decade ago, I merely complained, but now, I actually have come up with a recipe on how to IMPROVE these panels, because Lord knows, they ain’t going away anytime soon.  So, if you want your event to have a half-decent panel, or want to be part of one, include a couple of these elements into the mix:

Conflict

The worst part of panels is that most of them have the converted preaching to the converted and bored.  A good panel needs conflict.  If everyone’s on the same page, nobody will turn it. No Jerry Springer-esque on-stage fisticuffs, but a contrary viewpoint--or many of them--are a necessity.

Surprise

Do something different.  Say something different. Wear something different. Bring out a beer.  Upset the equilibrium somehow, someway and you will be thanked and remembered forever.

Audience Wall Breakdown

It boggles the mind how often I see panelists talk to and look at each other almost exclusively, treating the audience like a bunch of spectators at the world’s most insipid zoo.  Bring the crowd into the conversation long before the perfunctory request for questions.

Movement

Stand up.  Lie down on the stage. Toss something into the crowd.  Throw your water glass in the air, spin and then catch it.  Be kinetic.  Why do so many panelists think they are part of the mannequin challenge on stage?  Since when did air become cement?

Props

It’s a visual world folks; back up your mouth with something three-dimensional and tangible. The audience will remember the object long after your words are forgotten.

Eyes Takeaway

As per the above, the result of a visual world is that what stands out is captured and shared.  Don’t just think visually; think how to create an Instagram/Facebook Live moment.

Brain Takeaway

It could be as trite as a slogan on your t-shirt, or as heady as a poem (don’t laugh; my panelmate at the Banff Forum, Canada’s Poet Laureate George Elliot Clarke, killed with this one), but any successful panel plants an intellectual seed to be pondered long after stage time is over. However, these words of wisdom are rarely improvised; think one up and deliver it...loudly!

January 11, 2017, 05:22:25 PM

I Am Drugs

 

IMG_3375

Even though I don’t wear them too often, I have a collection of over 250 ties. No silly “character” or “theme” ties; cool, classy and striking stuff.  Mostly, they are bought to “go with” a certain jacket or event, but many a time I pick up a tie or two on the spur of the moment because, for some strange reason, they call out to me.

One such tie is a somewhat discreet (well, for me) plaid of red, blue and white made by a company called Blick.  But the aesthetic that drew me to this neck-worn accessory was not its front-facing pattern, rather an embroidered quote from Salvador Dali hidden in the silk lining behind two folded back panels.  It reads:

“I don’t do drugs.  I am drugs.”

Whenever I put it on--usually with a navy suit and powder blue shirt--I kind of chuckle to myself, as my very conservative exterior on that occasions is being turbocharged by a secret subversive interior message.  (See photos above.)

I love this hidden quote, and ever since I read it, I have tried to implement its spirit in my day-to-day... particularly now as Play The Future embarks on a couple of exciting moonshot projects alongside its all-important USA launch on February 1.

Even as a non-drug-user, the words are intoxicating. “I don’t do drugs.  I am drugs.”  Despite its conceit, it’s not as cheeky as it first sounds.  Frankly, it’s quite straightforward and logical, for what do “drugs” do?

  • They make you feel good.
  • They can expand your brain.
  • They can become addictive.

Not terrible as business objectives, don’t you think?

What a treat if everything I did made my customers, my partners, my colleagues feel good.  

What’s more, imagine if every product update, every speech, every meeting was a learning opportunity with concrete takeaway.  

And finally, what better tribute to one’s hard work than if people demanded--better still, clamoured for--more!

If I, and everything I work on in 2017, can achieve just two out of these three, I’d be ecstatic.

So ecstatic, you’d think I was on...well, you know what ;)  

January 5, 2017, 02:52:28 PM

How To Make Great 2017 Predictions

Mobile Data

I love this time of year because everybody seems to be obsessed with telling the future.   

For one’s selves, people make “resolutions”...and we know how most of them end up come February (and we also know why my gym was so crowded last night).

But for the bigger picture, people make “predictions”...and most of them end up being as valid as their resolutions.  

There’s a reason for that.  And a cure.  Keep reading.

The predilection for prognostication (now there’s a term!) is quite endearing; in fact, I’m currently building quite a business based on humans being hardwired to try and see tomorrow today. (It’s called Play The Future; learn more by clicking here.)

Ironically, said business was initially spawned back in the ‘80s at just about this time of year when I was doing a grocery order for my wife and six-week-old son at home.  Waiting in the checkout line, I picked up the annual National Enquirer “Prediction Issue,” and was regaled by the foretelling of events like “Elvis To Reappear for Concert at Carnegie Hall” and  “Alien Will Land on the White House Lawn” (perhaps they were really prescient with that one).  

Who ever checks up on these?” I thought to myself. “Is there a ‘Prediction Result Issue’?

Well, there wasn’t, but perhaps the National Enquirer folks were onto something with their hallucinogenic moonshot thinking.  Think about it--this time last year, if I were to tell you that Britain would leave the European Union, that reality TV “star” Donald Trump would be elected President, and that the stock market would embark on an extended rally upon the news...well, you would’ve have me locked up for treason, if not madness.

Yet here we are, living today what was unthinkable just a few months ago.

So therein lies the secret of better, perhaps I should even say “great,” predictions:  go out on a limb, and then jump even higher to the one slightly out of reach above you.  You may fall on your ass, but when you’re right, the win is, shall we say, Yuge.  

The problem is in taking that leap.  It’s easier to survey people and forecast on an average of their opinions...yet we all saw the results of that last year.  Predicting by polling is now about as relevant as a Fax machine. I carry a reminder of this with me every day; it’s pictured above, a sheet from a survey done by the (now defunct) Yankee Group.  In it, back in 2001, they polled consumers about willingness to pay for mobile data.  

The figure of “$20” got a wafer-thin less-than-1% support.  

The big winner was “nothing,” with a whopping 70%.  

It was this sheet, and these stats, which were used by nay-sayers to tell me why my business at the time--the two-year old Airborne Mobile--would fail.  “Look at the survey; nobody will pay for mobile content,” they sneered.

Cut to today, where people WISH they could pay $20 per month for their mobile data, a commodity now as valuable as oxygen. More importantly, cut to 2005, when we sold Airborne Mobile to a Japanese company for well over $100 million.  Thanks Yankee group!

The lesson here is don’t listen to what is, or what the aggregate think; dream what can’t possibly be...even if that dream has a bit of nightmare in it.

So when you make your 2017 predictions, take the path of the unrealistic, because as strange as it may look today, it’s the best path to tomorrow's reality.