It was a Shakespeare-heavy weekend in the Angel household beginning on Friday with my daughter's camp presentation of Much Ado About Nothing. On Saturday, we enjoyed Shakespeare under the stars with an opening performance of Midsummer Night's Dream. There was even a brief Kenneth Branagh reading during the Olympic's Opening Ceremony.
I had not my fill, for I would have liked a bit more of the spoken word at the Opening Ceremony. The transformation of the stadium from pastoral to industrial England? That was stunning. But somehow the show lost narrative focus after that and became, like Beijing, mostly circus and spectacle. We got the quintessential Englishness of great children's literature, of 4 decades of great pop music, of great winged dove cyclists...Okay, I'm lost here.
I see little hope (and less point) of topping Beijing for spectacle when it comes to these events. Daring as it might be, I'd love to see some future director seek resonance from narrative. A kind of vast stage play with the stadium for canvas might be a truly new art form: a participatory combination of theatre and the movies. Daring because a story is far harder (e.g. "Lost my phone") than circus; meaning more demanding that spectacle.
It's the challenge of meaning that faces any kind of event - Conferences like our own X Change included. Spectacle is easy (if expensive), meaning is hard.
Like every Conference, we have our share of spectacle. The setting, the hotel, the events. I won't deny we try hard to deliver on pure and enjoyable spectacle. Sometimes it even works. One of the highlights for me in Berlin was sitting atop the boat gliding under Berlin's many bridges and chatting amiably (daughter included) about accidentally "killing" phones, German cinema, and other such nonsense as the sky darkened above us and the city lights grew crisp and bright. I still remember the dinner at the Monterey Bay Aquarium from two years ago. I'm sure lovely Terranea has much to offer as well.
But like I say, that's the easy part. Getting meaning out of content - that's the real challenge.
It's a challenge X Change was uniquely created to meet. TED is proof that presentation based Conferences can deliver the goods by delivering extremely high-quality content. But the success of TED hinges on unusual (and unusually interesting) breadth not depth. The consumers of the content at TED aren't expert in the disciplines represented - indeed, that's the whole point. Inside an industry it's a little different. Effective learning for experts in an industry simply isn't a function of canned presentations however sound or rich. Experts learn from each other, in conversation. It's that simple. And that's the whole point behind X Change - bringing practitioners together to talk, to discuss, and to learn from each other.
Bringing practitioners together to talk is no guarantee of meaning. Over the years, I've sat in Huddle sessions that worked and ones that simply didn't. It's a never-ending battle to figure out ways to raise the bar on those conversations and find ways to consistently deliver meaning. We haven't found one magic bullet, but we have found one overwhelmingly important factor. No surprise, it's the participants. Even with the best participants, not every conversation will take off. But given the parameters at X Change - controlled deep-dives into topics of shared interest - it's a pretty good bet that if you have 10 to 15 participants with deep experience and interesting opinions, you're going to have one heck of a conversation.
Which is the long way around to saying that if you're doing interesting work in Web analytics, then like the U.S. Government in time of war, "I want you!" In this case, I want as many of the most interesting, most opinionated, most experienced digital measurement folks in the U.S. to come to X Change. We're hitting that time when the Conference is filling up fast - when it's peak season for planning to attend. If you've thought about coming in years past. If the idea of Conference all about conversation with fellow professionals appeals to you. If you're doing genuinely innovative, interesting or challenging work in digital measurement. If you're dealing with particularly difficult challenges. If you know you've got a lot to add. Then you're the kind of person who will not only make the Conference better, but will get the most out of the format.
Shakespeare still sings to us, even after 400 years, because he found ways to deliver meaning within spectacle. Sure, Shakespeare is high-art as we think of it today. But it's high-art loaded with puns, innuendo, farce, physical humor and downright silliness. Perhaps it's just as true to say of a play like Midsummer Night's Dream or Much Ado About Nothing, that it's the meaning that takes us by surprise. We are caught, off-guard amid the story and the fun, by the sudden revelation of meaning.
Good conversation is like that as well. It's the unexpected point of view, the sudden twist in topic, the challenge to something once held sure, that illuminates understanding and creates real meaning. Come to challenge and be challenged. To learn and to teach. To discover and reveal. Come to enjoy by all means - for the setting is lovely, the food ecstatic, the company pleasing - but come most of all for the conversation.
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