Maybe TEDConnect could save the stupidest part of conferences


Interesting fact: TED2015 starts next week in Vancouver (Larry Page spoke last year and said some interesting things) while SXSW is going on right now in Austin. So, those events overlap. (They quite possibly always do; I’m unclear on that.) The interesting thing about those two events going head-to-head is it’s kind of microcosm of the yin and yang of American business: SXSW is fun and innovative, but also extremely vendor-heavy and corporations flock there to attempt to sell things; TED is more of a thought leadership conference designed at challenging assumptions and resetting contexts.┬áSo, down in Austin you’ve got the sellers, and up in Vancouver you’ve got the thinkers. Kinda interesting, if flawed, way to look at it (I’m sure many sales get launched at TED, and many ideas get put forth at SXSW.)

I’m not a very important business-type person, so admittedly I haven’t been to a ton of conferences/trade shows. (I’ve been to a few, though.) One of the things I always think is hard at those events is how to do the actual networking. Think about it like this: 1,000+ people flew in for some conference, and theoretically, they’re all in the same industry/field or have similar interests. So you have all the sessions, and often you have passing time between the sessions, and organic conversations spring up there, sure. But usually there’s 1-2 networking events, and those are where you’re supposed to go chase the people you want to talk to. That’s kind of dumb IMHO, because (a) it doesn’t favor introverts at all, and (b) usually the top speakers or productivity guys are swarmed at those things by all the glad-handers.

So if you’re an average person — not a Type-A hard-charger — you often leave conferences with a few good notes from sessions, a couple of tweets you sent out that got retweeted, maybe a few new followers, and a handful of business cards. That’s all well and good, but is that actual connection? Not really.

But conferences have been run that way for decades. Could TED change it?

Maybe, as detailed in this article.

TED is rolling out a bunch of app features that are designed to foster actual connection between attendees at events, i.e.:

  • TED Top 10: An algorithm gives you a curated list of 10 other attendees you seem to have a lot in common with, so that you can attempt to connect.
  • Messaging within the app: Logical.
  • Badge Scanner: You meet someone and want to stay in touch in real-life? Scan their badge and easily get their contact details through the app.
  • Whereabouts: You can see where any attendee is at that moment (if they chose to opt-in to that function).
  • Now: You can see everything happening at that moment in the conference.

At TEDGlobal2014, apparently 84 percent of attendees were active users of the app.

OK, so there are issues here — even though there’s opt-in features, the privacy concerns of stalking a thought leader to the bathroom is a bit much, for example, and if 1,500 people are using this during the day, the hotel/conference center WiFi is gonna be a train wreck — but in general, it’s a really good idea.

We always think about networking, especially at/around conferences and trade shows, as about quantity. In reality, it should be about quality. That’s only logical, right?

Ted Bauer

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