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May 14, 2007
Blog Post

Events 2.0 - When the Audience Becomes the Speaker

SUMMARY: No summary available.
By Anne Holland, President

It was so funny -- there we were last week at our Selling Subscriptions Summit in New York talking about "Web 2.0," the new Internet where visitors create and organize content as much as professional publishers do.

We had Case Studies on how to market subscriptions via blogs, etc.

But what struck me, and some of our Summit attendees as well, was the fact that this was an "old-style" Summit. Speakers spoke and attendees listened.

OK, we tried to make it 2.0ish and interactive. Speakers and topics were nominated by our readers beforehand, so the programming was, in effect, done by the attendees themselves. And there was Q&A after every speech. Plus, we built in lots of networking -- breakfasts, lunches and a cocktail party.

But it wasn't enough to serve folks' true needs. One attendee came up to me in the hallway to voice her frustration. "I came to the Summit to get a specific question answered, and with 220 attendees and speakers I know someone here can help me. But I don't know who specifically to ask or how to meet that one perfect person."

Her idea, why not add a session where we opened the floor up to questions from the audience and then asked the audience themselves to answer them?

I thought it was a brilliant idea, so I ran backstage to coordinate with Summit staff. That night while attendees enjoyed themselves at the cocktail party, Sherpa staffers revised the next day's agenda to fit another session into the schedule. Then they printed up a new agenda and slipped it onto every attendee's seat for the morning.

At 4:15 p.m., I stepped on stage to lead this new session. I was a bit nervous, and, I think, so was the audience. "OK, who has a burning question they came to this Summit to get answered?" I asked. For what seemed like an eon, everyone just sat there silently, waiting for someone, anyone, to be the first to volunteer.

Then, thank heavens, a brave soul raised his hand, and we were off!

At first, it was a little weird to moderate. I'm perhaps a bit too used to being the expert on the stage answering questions myself. So, it felt strange to get a question and, instead of answering it myself, to call out, "Who in the audience would like to answer this?"

The answers were *amazing*. Our Summit attendees were definitely as expert as anyone on stage had been (which makes sense, because it's a peer-driven event).

I noticed several times that the person asking a question and the person who volunteered to answer it were sitting very close to each other in the audience. In one instance, they were sitting beside each other! It looked a bit odd to see them speaking into microphones so the whole room could hear as they talked face to face.

To my mind, this was the most wonderful aspect of the whole 2.0-type session. Here were people who had been sitting next to each other for two days of Case Studies and networking, who until that minute hadn't guessed they could solve each other's biggest questions.

In the future, we'll definitely add this type of 2.0 session to all MarketingSherpa Summits. If your organization runs events, such as user conferences, networking gatherings or trade shows, I strongly suggest you test a similar idea.

In the meantime, if you'd like to learn what sorts of questions came up at our 2.0 session and how they were answered, a transcript of our entire Selling Online Subscriptions Summit is available here:

See Also:

Comments about this Blog Entry

May 17, 2007 - Scott Schablow of Luckie Interactive says:
Anne, What a great idea, especially when you have attendees with experience. My biggest fear would be that no one would ask the first question. That could be averted by having at least one person committed to going first with a prepared question. I'm going to request a session like this at the next conference I attend.

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