Hands-on training makes conferences worthwhile

Annual conferences, particularly those bearing the stuffy "leadership" title, don't usually make journalists gush, but gush they did over the recent Four A's conference held in Southern California

Annual conferences, particularly those bearing the stuffy "leadership" title, don't usually make journalists gush, but gush they did over the recent Four A's conference held in Southern California.

Advertising Age admired the "diverse list of speakers [execs from Google and Yahoo, among others] who addressed the change sweeping the marketing world." Both The New York Times and BusinessWeek excerpted portions of these speeches. The Silicon Valley leaders, though, weren't there just for display. They brought with them years of experience in the technology and digital sphere and an enthusiasm to bring the association's membership into their world.

The American Association of Advertising Agencies' leadership, chairman Tom Carroll and new CEO Nancy Hill, scrapped old favorites - golf and more leisure time - for hands-on training in the digital sector, including a hallway display featuring more than 100 tutorials on Flickr and YouTube, presentations starring the iPhone, and Twittering aplenty. Interactive labs allowed attendees to put the lectures, such as, "There Are No Excuses for NOT Understanding the Digital Future," into practice. The conference "geeked out," in AdAge's terms.

Unfortunately, most marketing conferences are known for PowerPoint presentations, long-winded and uninteresting speakers, and so-called experts who are well versed on topics that don't affect - or grab the attention of - most people in the audience. The combination usually leaves attendees reaching for cups of coffee or daydreaming about meeting business acquaintances at the nearest watering hole.

PR pros could take a lesson or two from their counterparts at the Four A's when planning events. Less corporate-speak and more action will make a difference not only in buzz factor, but also by becoming truly relevant.

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