Did you hear that smashing sound?
On Tuesday at the CTIA conference, I broke a carved-in-stone vow when I appeared on stage as part of a panel discussion.
I had sworn off ever being part of another panel since a travesty of a Youth Marketing conference in L.A. in April.
And for good reason.
Most panels discussions are not.
They are a falsely polite borefests where people speak one after the other for 5-10 minutes 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 he (and 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.
Give me keynotes, or give me death!
The reason I acquiesced was a promise made by my buddy Antony Bruno, the Exec Director of Billboard's Digital/Mobile Conferences. He vowed that this would be a "different" kind of panel; one with no theme, no structure, no form and no holds barred. It was his "experiment," he said, one positioned at the end of the day, with little to lose except about an hour.
Well, never mind "nothing to lose," there was everything to gain. The session, amazingly, ended up as a WIN-WIN-WIN, for those involved on stage, for the audience, and for Billboard Event folks.
This was an anomaly right from the start, where the standard bottled water before each speaker was replaced by six-packs of Heineken and Coors (full disclosure: this lunacy was my idea, was fully funded by Airborne Entertainment, and was in no way sanctioned by Billboard or CTIA...as if!), which were shared by audience members brave enough to take us up on our offer of "Free Beer!"
And once the ice was broken by a question from the audience, the session became a rollicking free-for-all where people shouted, argued, pointed fingers at each other, laughed, challenged us, fought with and supported one another. They even gave broke into a spontaneous applause break when an audience member--Maggie Roswell, a vocal actor who does voices for The Simpsons--was challenged to do said voices, and rattled off about 15 well-recognized characters in a breathless minute (including the infamous Shary Bobbins, shown at right).
Meanwhile, up on stage, myself and three compadres needled, interrupted, ganged up on, and occasionally agreed with, each other. At the end of the session, which went over its time limit by 15 minutes and would've kept going had we not stopped it, WE got out of our seats and gave the audience a standing ovation for being such spirited and hearty participants in this most unique of conference experiences.
What a blast! And what buzz when it was all over.
While smaller than some of the keynote sessions that dominated the day, EVERYONE at this free-form experiment was engaged in the conversation or debate.
Compare this to what I witnessed throughout the day, where the audience paid WAY more attention to their BlackBerries or laptops (or to the buffet table, as was embarrassingly the case when Quincy Jones was being interviewed) than to what was going on onstage.
This is the difference between "Talk With You" and "Talk At You." Who wants to merely listen when you can actively participate?
And while this took guts to try, it's gonna take even more guts to continue.
To be continued...I hope.