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Moderators Matter – First, why conferences matter

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The following post is an excerpt from the introduction of the book I’m writing — Moderator’s Matter: How to have conference sessions that don’t suck. The book is still in the works, but I thought I would share some of the sections as they are in progress. Before detailing why moderators matter, it is important to go over why conferences matter.

1401380_345802582265330_4259989527037390321_oSummits — meetings — conferences — assemblies — conventions — briefings — training — events — even a congress — we have many terms for these moments in time when people come together.

Conferences should be truly magical places. In these days of increased competition and near constant demand for innovation, conference harkens back to the age of Socratic debates. These gatherings are supposed to be a special place where different viewpoints from a variety of people come together in a true form of democratic ideas where each person is made better through conversations with others.

Too often, the reality is, unfortunately, starkly different. In many cases, conferences are more about a party — and the sessions too often are filler. Inevitably, in post-event comment forms, attendees will say how valuable the networking is — yet they often discount the actual conference content, if they acknowledge it at all.

Even worse are the sessions where the room feels as if the energy is being soaked up by a Black Hole. It almost feels as if one of Harry Potter’s infamous Dementors — those dark, malevolent prison guards — may well be is actually sucking all life and joy out of the barely lit room.

Anybody who has attended a conference has had this all too familiar feeling: You are in this cavernous hall, many often underground. There are no windows — and seemly no doors, although paradoxically there is the sound of an occasional door slamming closed when a person (or people) leave the room. Typically there is a stage — generally raised above the rest of the crowd — that sits awash in light, while the audience sits in the dark. That would seem to be a metaphor. Too often that metaphor seems lost. There is a panel of people — too often lacking much diversity — and then, there is a moderator.

Too often the moderator tells the audience that it will be an “interactive discussion” on this important topic — and yet, more often than not, there is a talking head followed by another talking head — and maybe a few more talking heads — inevitably leaving time for a question or two at the very end. We have also had to live through the sessions where a speaker literally reads the text on a series of PowerPoint slides.

“A badly run conference is not only a lost opportunity, but is a waste of money and time,” Duncan Green wrote in The Guardian in June 2016. “How did something as truly awful as panel discussions become the default format? They end up being a parade of people reading out papers, or they include terrible PowerPoints crammed with too many words and illegible graphics.”

Too often panel moderators are an afterthought. Too often it is a post given to a sponsor to give them some visibility with little or no training in either moderating or public speaking or, in some dismal instances, even in the subject matter. Too often we treat the moderators as a role that doesn’t matter.

But… moderators do matter.

I have been working on a book titled Moderators Matter that is dedicated to how to be the best moderator you can be. But even before we discuss why moderators matter, it is important to discuss why conferences matter.

WHY CONFERENCES MATTER

2018-10-18 11.13.10It is all too easy to think of conferences as dinosaurs whose age has passed — to think of them as old school — a model where there is largely one-way communication in an era that is increasingly collaborative. But I believe conferences matter — and that moderators are an essential part of making them matter.

No matter what business or industry you are in today, your world is changing — and it is changing faster than ever before. There are plenty of organizations that didn’t foresee the coming changes and quickly found themselves a historical footnote. When was the last time you went to a Blockbuster? (How much did we spend on those late fees, for goodness sake?) Or do you even remember MySpace or Friendster — two early social media pioneers that were quickly overtaken by Facebook. And the list goes on — Blackberry… Eastman Kodak… Sears… Sony… and there are others. The Harvard Business Review notes that it took decades for the telephone to reach 50 percent of households, beginning before 1900. By contrast, with the cellphone, it took five years or less to accomplish the same penetration in 1990.

The purpose of a conference is to bring together people with different ideas, different thoughts, different viewpoints, and out of those differences, our own ideas get fertilized and, when a session really works well, they become even better. Just about anything you read about innovation, they talk about the importance of serendipity: That moment that you talk to somebody unexpected, somebody who you may have never known about… or somebody who is tackling a similar challenge but in a different way… it is that moment that turns into something valuable. Steve Jobs literally built serendipity into design. At the Pixar and Apple offices, rather than putting bathrooms and mailboxes and cafes off to the side, Jobs put them in the center of the space.

“Although some were more than a little annoyed to have to traipse to the lobby every time they needed the loo — something remarkable started to happen,” writes The Independent’s Archie Bland. “Pixar’s employees started to bump into each other. They shot the breeze. Sometimes, the chatter would yield something useful, and one of the participants would head back to her desk with a new idea.”

This should — and can — and has been the role of the conference.

And it is easy to underestimate the power of ideas — and the power that comes from these kinds of gatherings. Tony Rogers, who has literally written the book on conferences and conventions, notes that some of the most significant moments in world history were decided not on the battlefield, but in conference halls. And Rogers quotes a 2010 article in Conference and Meetings World magazine that sites a number of history changing conferences:

  • The first Continental Congress, held in September and October 1774 in Philadelphia, which was held to protest the “Intolerable Acts,” passed by the British government in response to the Boston Tea Party of 1774;
  • The Quebec Conference, held in Quebec City, Canada in October 1864, which lead to the creation of the Dominion of Canada;
  • The Paris meeting, held at the Palace of Versailles, France i January 1919 to January 2020, which led to the Treaty of Versailles and defined the structure of post-war Europe;
  • The Yalta Conference held in Livadia, Ukraine in February 1945, which was the second of two major wartime meetings between the leaders of Great Britain, Winston Churchill, the United States, Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Russia, Joseph Stalin. The Yalda Conference followed the Tehran Conference of 1943.

Your events may not feel as weighty as the ones I mention here, but I humbling argue that conferences — the important meeting of the minds — are essential in this time of change.

WHAT CAN YOU DO

Unfortunately, there are too many conferences with sessions that do not live up to these collaborative bastions of innovation. But you, the conference attendee, can make a difference. A few suggestions:

  • Be choosy: Time matters — and where you spend your time says almost as much about you as anything else. So make sure you spend your time with conference organizers who value your time. Look at the agenda to see if it is addressing the issues that matter, and if it isn’t, suggest to the conference organizations some that might. (I can generally tell how much conference organizers value content by how they select their moderators. Too often, they are selected because they are sponsors and not because of their skill.)
  • Speak up: Fill out evaluation forms whenever you can. If the conference content was weak, say so — and let them know that it matters.
  • Offer suggestions. What would make the event more impactful, interesting or educational? Even if it is a crazy idea, offer it up. You might spur some other idea that you didn’t anticipate.

The short version: Don’t miss opportunities; don’t waste time. In short — care.

Next time: Why moderators matter.

Written by cdorobek

October 20, 2018 at 7:48 AM

DorobekINSIDER: Looking at mobility as a service

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These days we hearing about many things being delivered “as a service.”  Recently, I got to moderate two days of discussions about something called mobility as a service [MaaS].
Sometimes called transportation as a service, the concept is an interesting one — as its core, it would reorient transportation around getting people from place to place, but opens up other modes of transportation above and beyond the car. Transportation consultant Jack Opiola had the best definition that I heard: “Mobility as a Service (MaaS) is the seamless, infinitely adaptable delivery of mobility, together with associated travel information, necessary ticketing and payment services, across all modes of transport.”
The Mobility as a Service conference, organized and sponsored by ITS International, was the first of its kind conference in the United States. (By way of transparency, I was paid to moderate; I was not paid nor asked to write anything.)
Why it matters: If you live anyplace where people want to live, transportation is difficult at best, and that’s on a good day. We are all impacted by it… and talk about it… and grouse about it. But it is such a unique eco-structure — EVERYBODY has an opinion on it… it is very political… and there is a ton of ‘why don’t they just…’ Furthermore, government is only one player among many players. But there are also broader impacts — on the Earth… on our bodies as we spend hours sitting in vehicles.
Some take-aways from the MaaS conference:
  • Transportation isn’t easy — This was my digest take away — transportation is just SO complex. One of the biggest challenges is… well, us… us and our cars. We love them. And we seem to be addicted to them… and sitting alone in them, seemingly regardless of how long it takes. It is the primary ways most people in the US get from point A to point B. But there are all other kinds of modes of transportation — bicycles, ride sharing/taxi hailing apps, scooters, pedestrians, transit like bus and rail. There are multitudes of options, but in the end, government organizations only control a portion of those methods. Therefore there is a real need for different organizations to work together.
  • MaaS - car - bus - bike - 60 people

    One of the images used by transportation experts (h/t Robin Chase)

    The challenges are real — One of the main discussion topics in any urban area is the commute. Roads are congested. This is particularly true in cities. While there is general agreement that new roads simply don’t solve transportation problems, for cities, in many cases, building new roads isn’t an option. Cities are also constrained because there simply isn’t space to construct new roads. Beyond that, the car has been detrimental to our health (Forget sitting at your desk — what about sitting in your car?) Not to mention the health of the planet… and all that wasted productivity. (Robin Chase, one of the founders of ZipCar, said, “The car dominated city as reached its zenith.”)

  • The government is part of the mix, but there are a lot of players — a lot of transit is governed by a government organization, but there are so many players — drivers, bikers, engineers, politicians. (There was much discussion of European models where there is a goal — spoken or unspoken — of eliminating the need for cars. Call me skeptical but it is hard for me to imagine that in the US… Worth watching — Atlanta has created a regional transportation authority — ATL — that is meant to pull the desperate government pieces together. There will definitely be lessons from the ATL experience.)
  • The opportunities feel real — There does feel like an alignment of planets where changes can happen. And you are seeing it happen already around the world — even here in the US where there are people who are shifting to cities because they don’t want to own a car — and these days, they have options… many options. And we have seen change coming faster than we ever imagined. Who would have guessed the spread of “ride sharing” or taxi hailing apps like Uber and Lyft would become so ubiquitous so quickly — and so utterly disrupt the taxi industry? Jack Opiola, Transportation Consultant noted the idea seemed unthinkable not long ago, but times have changed.
  • Driverless cars could be heaven – or hell   — Everybody is watching what comes of driverless cards. Among these transportation experts, there was a general assumption that is will be here — and sooner than we think.
    MaaS - driverless cars

    h/t Dr. Kari Watkins

    But there is the very real possibility that, if truly driverless cars become a reality, then the roads could be packed with even more vehicles — and people who don’t care how long their commute takes because they are able to work in their self-driven car.

  • First mile – last mile — One of the real challenges is what transportation experts call the “first mile – last mile” — that is how does one get from “point A” to their transportation — and from where the transportation method drops a person off to get to “point B.”
  • MaaS - before and after

    One Asian city has been able to transform a roadway to a open area where people can visit. (h/t Robin Chase) 

    There could be unforeseen opportunities — One of the more intriguing presentations by transportation consultant Jack Opiola looked at the the electronic tolling devices used in Portugal — think of the EZpass used along most of the East Coast toll roads. The Portugal system has grown over the years to where users can use the electronic tolling device to… buy gas… pay for parking… even make purchases at McDonalds. San Francisco has a Clipper Card, which can be used across multiple modes of transportation, as detailed by Jason Weinstein, Assistant Director, Electronic Payments, Metropolitan Transportation Commission, San Francisco. But there are also real opportunities for communities to turn areas that have been dominated by cars and return them to places that are inviting for people. Some of that is already happening, even in the United States, where there is less need for parking because younger people use alternative methods to get around — Lyft, bikes… even scooters.

Bottom line: Wow! The world is changing — and fast.
Want more? Find the presentations from the MaaS mobility conference.
Presentations that I found particularly thought provoking:

Written by cdorobek

May 29, 2018 at 3:52 PM

Posted in DorobekInsider, Technology

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DorobekINSIDER: ConnellyWorks the basis of a new government PR team

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Editor’s note: Updated at 12:50p to add full press release…

Home___ConnellyWorks

ConnellyWorks, the public relations, marketing communications and events services, is merging with Yes&, a newly formed marketing agency, the DorobekINSIDER has learned.

The formal announcement will come later today.

Yes& is building a new firm that will focus on both public and private sector markets. Yes& was created by the merger of three established communications companies – PCI Communications, LeapFrog Solutions and Carousel30. ConnellyWorks becomes the latest addition to that group.

AAEAAQAAAAAAAAMzAAAAJGRlY2I3NTVmLWJlNWMtNDdjNS04MjAzLTAzNjYwNDRiNTk5MwAs part of the agreement, ConnellyWorks will continue to maintain its office in Arlington, VA. Furthermore, Joanne Connelly, who founded ConnellyWorks, will continue to serve as president of ConnellyWorks and will be part of the Yes& executive team

I will add the formal announcement to this post when it is released.

ConnellyWorks, founded some 15 years ago by Joanne Connelly, a former editor of Federal Computer Week, has been one of the cornerstones of the government IT market with business lines including public relations, events, and events management.

UPDATE: The full press release after the break:

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Written by cdorobek

February 28, 2018 at 8:30 AM

Posted in Circuit, community, GovMedia

DorobekINSIDER: Godspeed Justice Department deputy CIO Kevin Deeley

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Kevin DeeleyUPDATED with funeral information and other coverage.

Justice Department deputy chief information officer passed away over the weekend, reportedly from a heart attack, the DorobekINSIDER has learned.

Deeley, 55, was named deputy CIO in 2012 and his work was recognized with a Fed 100 award in 2014.

In an email to the Justice Management Division staff, Assistant Attorney General Lee Lofthus said:

It is with deep sadness that I am letting you know the heartbreaking news that Kevin Deeley passed away over the weekend. Kevin’s passing is a huge loss for JMD, the Department, and the entire federal IT community.

Kevin joined the Department in 1984, first serving at the Federal Bureau of Investigation Criminal Justice Information Services Division. Kevin was a longtime colleague in JMD, and most recently was appointed as Deputy Chief Information Officer in 2012 and managed OCIO’s internal operations, including policy, process, and the successful delivery of applications, networks, security, and data center services.

Kevin’s good humor and positive outlook, and willingness to tackle any task no matter how daunting or complicated, were his hallmarks. He will be dearly missed. We will provide additional information on service arrangements as they are made available. Please keep Kevin’s family and friends in your thoughts and prayers during this time.

As we get details, we will update this post.

Of course, our thoughts are with Deeley’s family and friends. Godspeed.

UPDATE: Deeley’s obituary via The Baltimore Sun:

On February 10, 2018; KEVIN THOMAS DEELEY; beloved spouse of Albert Eminizer; cherished son of Patricia Ann and the late Walter Gerald Deeley; dear brother of Patricia Pittman, Edward Deeley, James Deeley, Brian Deeley, Kathleen Fitzpatrick, Maureen Turney, and Sean Deeley. Kevin is also survived by numerous nieces, nephews, and other family members. Family will receive friends on Wednesday, February 14 from 3-5 & 7-9PM at STERLING-ASHTON-SCHWAB-WITZKE FUNERAL HOME OF CATONSVILLE, INC., 1630 Edmondson Avenue, Catonsville, MD 21228; where a funeral service will be celebrated 1PM, Thursday, February 15. Interment in Meadowridge Memorial Park. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in his memory to BARCS, 301 Stockholm Street, Baltimore, MD 21230 (www.baltimoreanimalshelter.org) or MD SPCA, Development Office, 3300 Falls Road, Baltimore, MD 21211 (www.mdspca.org).

Other reports:

  • FCW: DOJ’s Kevin Deeley passes away
    • “Deeley had a long history with the agency, first joining it in 1984, serving at the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services Division. He was named deputy CIO in 2012 and managed the CIO Office’s internal operations, including policy, process and the delivery of applications, networks, security and data center services.”
  • FedScoop: Justice Deputy CIO Kevin Deeley passes away

Written by cdorobek

February 12, 2018 at 12:13 PM

Posted in Uncategorized

DorobekINSIDER: Roger Baker to leave VA ‘in the near future’

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Roger BakerRoger Baker, the chief information officer at the Department of Veterans Affairs, is leaving that post “in the near future.”

Baker doesn’t offer a final date, but some insiders suggest it could be as soon as March 1.

In the time of transition, Baker is the latest to announce that he is leaving his post. NASA CIO Linda Cureton announced she is leaving that post at the end of the month.

At VA, Baker oversees IT for the government’s second largest agency — a $3.3 billion budget and more than 7,000 IT workers.

The VA under Baker, who was confirmed by the Senate in May, 2009, has made remarkable progress and he has won just about every award — including Federal Computer Week’s 2013 Federal 100 award.  

The VA CIO is in a unique position given that post has power over government spending. In 2010, when Baker was recognized with the GCN civilian executive of the year, he stressed the importance of having the power of the purse and his ability to use that authority to bring about change. VA’s success should be a lesson to the rest of government, he said. Because VA has a consolidated IT appropriation, it allows Baker and his staff to force changes. “Money is power in the government,” he said. “Money is love.”

“The consolidated IT appropriation is absolutely essential to driving real change in the IT results of an agency,” he noted at the time, and he future said that all federal CIOs should have authority over their IT budgets, he added. “The results at VA, the second largest federal agency, speak for themselves,” Baker said. “Empower CIOs to make real change happen.”

Read Baker’s note to staff following the break:

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Written by cdorobek

February 15, 2013 at 2:01 PM

Posted in Uncategorized

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DorobekINSIDER poll: What is the government word of the year?

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The team at the Oxford American Dictionaries have selected GIF as the 2012 word of the year.

In case you don’t know:

GIF verb to create a GIF file of (an image or video sequence, especially relating to an event): he GIFed the highlights of the debate

The GIF, a compressed file format for images that can be used to create simple, looping animations, turned 25 this year, but like so many other relics of the 80s, it has never been trendier. GIF celebrated a lexical milestone in 2012, gaining traction as a verb, not just a noun. The GIF has evolved from a medium for pop-cultural memes into a tool with serious applications including research and journalism, and its lexical identity is transforming to keep pace.

Read the full blog post on the subject, including the other words that were in competition.

I’m not sure that would be my word of the years, but…

What should be the government word of the year?

Written by cdorobek

November 13, 2012 at 11:04 PM

Posted in Circuit, community, poll

DorobekINSIDER: GSA FAS Commissioner Kempf takes medical leave; Mary Davie named acting

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Steve Kempf,  the commissioner of the General Services Administration’s Federal Acquisition Service,
is taking 60-day medical leave. In the interim, the post will be filled by Mary Davie,  GSA Federal Acquisition Service’s assistant commissioner of the Office of Integrated Technology Services.

Details are still developing. It is unclear if Kempf’s leave has anything to do with GSA’s ongoing issues. In a note to staff, Kempf confirmed that there have been questions about GSA Federal Acquisition Service’s 2010 Organizational Performance Awards event.

GSA FAS Commissioner Steve Kempf

“I truly do not want to be leaving you at this important time. However, this is necessary if I am going to continue serving our country to the best of our ability,” Kempf said in the note to GSA staff.

Kempf was appointed the FAS commissioner effective July 10, 2010. In the role, he sets strategic direction and oversees the delivery of more than $50 billion of best-value products, services and solutions to federal customers. He served as acting commissioner from April through June 2010, and was the deputy commissioner before that.

GSA has been reeling from revelations about the Public Building Service 2010 Western Region Conference and allegations of extravagant spending. The GSA inspector general report on that incident forced the resignation of former Administrator Martha Johnson and several top agency officials.

After the jump, read the full text of the note that Kempf sent to FAS staff…

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Written by cdorobek

July 27, 2012 at 4:39 PM

Posted in Uncategorized