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Of conferences, keynotes and discussion

November 6, 2012

It's KM Asia 2012 and I am a keynote, as I have for every occurrence of this event I think.  Its a much smaller event that KM World, in part because it restricts its agenda to knowledge management.   Its not (as the web site claims) The world's most prestigious annual knowledge management event.  Sorry guys I love you and all that, but its just not true and its on the brochure right over my recommendation note so I want to make it clear that is separate!

This time I am opening keynote on both days and running a half day workshop on day three.  I think this is a lot, but OK money is tight and speakers are limited in number so work what you have.   A few days before the event I got a note from my old friend David Gurteen suggesting that all speakers should restrict themselves to 20 minutes, then he would mediate 20 minutes of discussion.  To be more precise the conference attendees were told this would be the case.   Now I waxed indignant at this.  I think that format works if you allocate 90 minute slots overall, but not otherwise.  

I slept on it, fitfully with an eight hour time difference and decided I would be good an honour it in part for my first keynote which had a fairly simple team.  So I left about 15 minutes for the tables to talk and ask questions and that worked well.  All the speakers who came after me, despite having agreed (I was the sole dissenter) then proceeded to take up their full forty minutes plus in some cases.  Ironic really but educational.  

I always think you need a balance in a conference.  I find those people who advocate no keynotes all discussion tend (and this is just my experience but so far no exceptions have been found) tend to be consultants and the like who tried to make it to keynote but couldn't hack it.  Its also the case that keynotes should provide substantial and provocative comment, its what people pay for and its stimulating.  When I listened to John Seely Brown and David Weinberger at KM World I wanted to listen to a full presentation, not something half backed followed by a low level discussion.  But then they are original thinkers and quality speakers.

At the same time I like interaction.  Small panels work and one on event (The SOL conference in Vienna some years back) I gave two 40 minute keynotes separated by and exercise and discussion and followed up by an open table session.  What we really need is less, but higher quality presentations and more structured conversations and debate.   The problem is that conference organisers need to stack the event with multiple “names” to help people justify the cost of attending.   Its all a pain really.

This evening Patrick Lambe, David Gurteen and Ron Young had a meal on Clark Quay and talked about that problem and we agreed to support a new initiative by Ron here.  More when its public.  Also expect an announcement soon of the first ever Cognitive Edge gathering in Wales next year – and you can hold me to my comments above when that happens!

More on KM and the event tomorrow; the hash tag is #kmasia12 for those interested and I will podcast my second keynote tomorrow.  I forgot my iPhone today.

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