What can event organizers learn from a man with cool glasses eating a Goo Goo Cluster?

Quite a bit, I’d wager.

Niche Digital Conference trailer

Carl Landau, Niche Digital, eats a Nashville specialty.

Happy Change of Venue Friday. That off-kilter thought occurred when a conference notification arrived in my email. I will read most all copy (words) that come my way, but typically I am loath to click through to time-sucking video content. And yet there he was, this guy, about to eat a Nashville confectionary delicacy. Click.

What I got was a charming and idiosyncratic view into the Niche Media Conference. Its annual event was in Tempe this past year, and it’s good stuff. (Yes, Arizona Attorney Magazine is niche media, and proudly so. That makes all you legal eagles “niche readers.” Congratulations!)

How do you get people to use their scarce resources—time, money, attention—to travel across country to attend an educational conference? If you’re like most organizations, you inundate prospects with emails and printed materials, flooding their minds and short patience with all of the content content content that will be available, but only if you REGISTER NOW.

Niche Media logoWe’ve all been on the receiving end of those pitches.

Well, if you’re Carl Landau with Niche Media, you try something else. You recognize that people attend events for all kinds of reasons, not all easily categorized and put in a formal box. You decide to try to connect to viewers on a deeper level. You realize that people do want content (yes, indeed), but what they yearn for is a genuine transformative experience. They want to arrive in a place whose guides (some organizations call them “presenters” or “PowerPoint drones”) will challenge them in fun and innovative ways. It’s at places like that, people think, that they will learn the most cutting-edge industry strategies.

And they may even want some local color. That’s where the Goo Goo Clusters come in.

I was at a great Nashville conference a few years ago, and I cannot say enough about that wondrous creation. I even waxed poetic about it (and its Moon Pie partner) on my Tumblr stream.

Two great tastes taste good together: Nashville specialties Goo Goo Cluster and Mini Moon Pie.

Two great tastes taste good together: Nashville specialties Goo Goo Cluster and Mini Moon Pie.

So enjoy Carl’s video introduction to the conference; it is embedded down below. The conference may be one you’ll never attend. But the video may provide you ideas about how to make your own events and content come alive, and how to get your viewers or other audience members firing on all cylinders.

For myself, I plan to steal shamelessly from the approaches Carl uses so well. (And I love that long closing tracking shot! Am I crazy, or did I see that used in Alfred Hitchcock’s TV show, when he sat in a high-backed chair far away from us in a looooong room, as the camera crept closer and closer, all while Al told us what we were about to see? Hitchcock fans, let me know!)

And I’d suggest the State Bar of Arizona might want to try an evocative video like his. But until they do, be sure to view what’s coming up at the Bar’s own June convention.

Here’s Carl. Have a great—and Cluster-filled—weekend.

Nashville, a city for music and creativity

When was the last time you wrote a song? And when was the last time you had a truly fine educational experience?

For me, the answer to both questions is “Last week.” And, yes, they were related.

Happy Change of Venue Friday. I wrote before about attending an annual workshop in Nashville, where communicators from bars across the country gathered to share ideas, trends—and the odd song or two.

If you have ever sat through a continuing legal education seminar—or any educational seminar—the prospect of days of them can give you pause. For although a large number of them are well done and conveyed in a compelling way, a substantial portion of them may be, let’s just say, lackluster.

And is a little luster too much to ask for, I wonder? Am I shooting for the moon to expect that a subject-matter expert might lend a moment or two’s thought to the manner of presentation?

I say that is not shooting for the moon, and that we should expect nothing less.

Well, I am pleased to report that the seminars were pretty uniformly stellar. They engaged me and others, and they delivered important material without any of the drip drip drip of the educational I.V., draining a pedagogical bag while doing the same to attendees’ spirits.

Dan Wise, New Hampshire Bar Association

Of course, these presenters are communicators. Our jobs require that we focus not just on content, but also on presentation (like how I did that, how I shoehorned my own non-presenting self last week into the ranks of those who actually performed? Pretty good, eh? That’s what communicators do!).

But amidst all the good programs, let me explain how a few truly captivated attendees, not through a bludgeon or a tantalizing promise of a pee break. No, they did it by engaging people on a deep level.

I have to remind readers that I did not attend all the seminars offered, because the two tracks competed for attendees’ time. So these stories are examples, not a complete picture. But each of these developed a strategy that put the listener first, rather than subjected them to the grandeur and majesty of the material.

One of the most appealing was titled “The Title Fight: Print vs. Digital.” Audience members likely arrived expecting a mildly rousing rendition of some of the trends facing publications today.

What we got was quite a bit more. In the 10 minutes between sessions, panelists dervished through the hotel conference room, lofting chairs up, down and into a huge semi-circle. Perspiration on brows, they raised an old-time prizefight microphone. And then, in a moment of genius, a bowtie was affixed to the collar of the event’s moderator–referee, Dan Wise of the New Hampshire Bar Association. Stunned and surprised, I failed to snap a picture of the redoubtable Dan—my last disappointment of the day.

A spirited seminar led by Dan Wise, referee

So before even one word had been uttered about pages or bytes, the panel had already busted their you-know-whats to serve the audience.

Their delivery was just as impressive. Staccato yet substantive, Wise and his cornermen (and -women) launched us through multiple rounds of challenging topics. Speaker lectures and audience questions could not drag on, for a ringside bell (via an iPhone) would signal a new topic. It may have been a prize fight, but audience members were the winners.

A second notable event was a seminar titled “The Un-Conference.” There, the Tennessee Bar Association’s CLE Director, Mindy Thomas-Fulks, led attendees to the water of conference alternatives, and encouraged us to drink.

Now, I don’t put on too many conferences, but I was interested in how to increase reader engagement, which is a similar topic. How do we encourage participation and make people feel at home in our pages or our conference rooms?

Mindy Thomas-Fulks, Tennessee Bar Association

A few of the topics Fulks covered included opportunities for hands-on learning, more audience involvement, even changing how we create nametags and handle registration. Each of those steps in the conference process, Fulks pointed out, is a chance to engage attendees and lead them to adopt the meeting as their own.

Could we create alt-conferences for every single portion of our meetings? Probably not, Fulks said. But altering even part of the experience may lead to more involved and attentive attendees.

Fulks did not just talk to us about these topics. She encouraged us to interact with each other and develop our own ideas. Despite my more solitary inclination, I have to admit that it was, well, fun.

The last example from Nashville also has to do with sharing ideas—and songwriting.

Gary Burr

The “Songwriter Session” was led by four noted (you guessed it) songwriters. They divided the attendees into two groups, and we brainstormed and wrote a song.

Sounds easy, doesn’t it? Well, it wasn’t that, but it was certainly enjoyable. The session opened with audience members offering song titles that would anchor our efforts. The winning idea was “I Drink Because,” served up by Stacy King of the Federal Bar Association. Now that’s a federal mandate we can live with.

Our group’s assigned songwriters were Gary Burr and Jim Photoglo, accomplished industry professionals both (go ahead, click their sites and even Google ’em). They exemplified the creative process for us communications folks, and they did it with humor and talent. At the end of 40 minutes or so, we all had collaborated to pen a hilarious rendition.

Jim Photoglo

I’ll see if I can post some audio from the song. In the meantime, though, here’s what I took away:

Creativity requires engagement. Engagement must be encouraged. Encouragement requires creativity.

Congratulations to those who put together a successful workshop. Now let’s see how much creative encouragement we can muster in our own shops.

Have a great—and creative—weekend.

 

I flew down to Nashville this week—and boy, are my arms tired.

OK, that’s a pretty tired line. But welcome to Change of Venue Friday, this week coming to you from the Music City, where I’m attending a great communications conference.

Because it’s Nashville, I point you to a few brief items with Music City roots.

First, I posted a few random photos on Tumblr. That fall into the category of my tumblog as “law-ish things.”

Second, here is a Nashville story about a unique approach to homelessness—essentially, lock ’em up.

Richard Stewart, who was arrested 47 times in 2010, recently spent 20 days in jail for trespassing and littering. Stewart, No. 4 on the Metro Police chronic offender list, has been arrested 274 times since 1998. / JOHN PARTIPILO / THE TENNESSEAN

Here’s the lede:

“A controversial police program aimed at reducing crimes by homeless people has saved taxpayers money since it was launched this year, but it also has drawn pointed criticism that it violates due process rights and does little to curb quality-of-life offenses in the downtown area.

“The program focuses on people like Richard Stewart, who last week completed a 20-day jail sentence. Stewart’s crime? He was found seeking shelter under the loading dock behind the downtown Sheraton during a thunderstorm, and arrested on charges of criminal trespassing and littering.”

Anyone who lives in a mid-sized or large city is faced with homeless people every day. What do you think of Nashville’s response? Send your thoughts to me at arizona.attorney@azbar.org.

The last item isn’t so much a story as a website. If you’ve tracked law school news over the past year, you’ve probably heard about the Law School Transparency Project—an effort to make available more accurate information about law schools. And this Project is not shy about calling foul when they spot facts and figures that they claim the schools have fudged.

What I had never noticed about the Project is that its home is Nashville. Founded by a Vanderbilt grad, it has made quite a few waves, maybe even in a law school near you. And they have not left the ABA alone, which it has faulted for allowing the law school industry to put out questionable numbers that take applicants down a garden path.

Just today, the ABA released a response to criticism on the topic from Sen. Barbara Boxer—criticism that arose largely due to facts and figures the Project provided. Here is the ABA’s response.

In speaking with many lawyers and law students about this, it seems to me that your own law school experience—narrow though it may be in the big scheme of things—colors your response to those questions. Of course, you may have a feeling about the Project independent of your own school experience—everyone’s mileage may differ.

So how has the Project done? Go to their site and review the large amount of information they’ve gathered.

Do you think they provide a valuable service, or have their claims of widespread misrepresentation in schools gone too far?

Have a great weekend. I’ll be back in Arizona and its “unseasonably warm weather” (ha!) this weekend.