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I’ve been getting at least one invitation a day to speak on at a conference or on a panel. My general rule is to only say yes when it intersects with my travel, if it is for an organization I’m already involved in or a person I want to support, or if it’s in a place I’m interested in visiting. When invited, I typically end up getting asked to give a keynote, be interviewed on stage, or be part of a panel. I enjoy the first two and hate the last one.
Fred Wilson and I were both on an email thread today from a good friend of ours asking us to be on a panel with him at an event in November. Based on my rules above, I said “yes, if it’s really important to you.” Fred had a better answer:
“i have a no panels rule.
i am trying like hell to enforce it.
panels are awful and should be eliminated from planet earth.”
Fred is so correct on this. Whenever I’m in the audience listening to a panel, I’m almost always bored. Every now and then someone on the panel captivates me, but the vast majority are dull, vapid, generic, stupid, non-controversial, politically correct, or just plain boring. And a conference of panels? “E#kl;asdfpoi#0c90k;@$Q”.
When I give a keynote, I usually do a 15 minute rant on whatever topic I think is relevant to the audience and then do Q&A for whatever my allotted time is. I’ve generally stopped “telling my story” since I find myself incredibly boring to listen to when I’m recounting my history. Every now and then I fall into this trap of an extended introduction and always am annoyed with myself. Whenever I do this (and I did it a few weeks ago in front a class of undergrads) I hit myself in the forehead afterwards and say out loud “don’t do that again.”
I’ve never been a particularly obedient panelist. I’ve been told numerous times that my body language gives away my response to whomever is talking, especially if I don’t agree with them or think what they are saying is wrong. While I try to let people finish their thoughts, I’m not bashful about cutting in and I’d guess that I usually end up taking more than my calculated ratio of air time (e.g. if four panelist, I talk more than 25% of the time.)
While I’m not going to adopt Fred’s no panel rule, I’ve decided that I’m going to have a much higher bar going forward for agreeing to be on panels. And, when I do, the panel inviter should beware that I’m going to be even more assertive about my perspective, especially if I’m bored while sitting on the panel. Maybe that’ll filter out all the panel inviters that want a nice peaceful panel.
And – if you are a conference organizer, consider eliminating the panels altogether. As Fred says, “panels are awful and should be eliminated from planet earth.”
If you are an entrepreneur working on something HCI related, you are also missing out if you don’t come to Blur. I’ll be there as will my three partners at Foundry Group. We will be fully engaged for two days in one of our favorite themes that has spawned investments like Oblong, Fitbit, Organic Motion, Sifteo and Orbotix.
In case you wonder how a conference like Blur can impact the trajectory of a young company, just take a look at the backstory of how we (Foundry Group) ended up meeting and investing in Gist. TA McCann, Gist’s CEO, came to Defrag (another conference like Blur that Eric Norlin runs and we participate in), hunted me down, and took me for a few runs. TA got me hooked on the product and a few months later we lead the Series A financing with Vulcan. This particular story has a very happy ending as RIM acquired Gist yesterday for an amount that put big smiles on everyone’s faces.
The agenda at Blur is awesome. Eric Norlin is an absolute master at putting on highly relevant conferences around a theme (his other two are Defrag and Glue.) Once again my friends at the Kauffman Foundation have provided some great scholarships for Blur and – like all of Eric’s conferences – there will be lots of time for people to spent together talking about and playing with the great stuff they are working on.
Oh – and for anyone tired of winter, it’s in Orlando. Sign up and come hang out with me, my partners, and a bunch of amazing HCI stuff for two days next week.
The next Eric Norlin conference is Blur and is happening in Orlando, Florida (yay – warm) on February 22 and 23. I’ll be there along with my three Foundry Group partners Seth, Ryan, and Jason exploring the future of human computer interaction.
If you are a entrepreneur working in the area of HCI, this inaugural Blur Conference will be a special event. Eric has done an amazing job of curating two other conferences: Defrag (just finished its fourth year) and Glue (about to have its third year). I’ve been to every one and they are amazing experiences.
While the full conference price is $1,495, early bird registration lasts through February 4th and is $995. Plus Eric just gave me a 10% off discount code – if you are a reader of this blog use “brad12″ to get another 10% off. And, if you are student or in a Pre-Series A startup, there are still a few Kauffman Scholarships for Blur left.
Finally, since I’ll be there with Seth, Ryan, and Jason and all four of us will be fully engaged the whole time, it’s a perfect chance to pull us into a corner somewhere and show us your latest HCI ideas.
After a two-fer of deeply annoying arrogance demonstrated by two different VCs on the first business day of 2011 that I’m still pondering (a mix of conflict avoidance behavior and passive aggressive behavior) I’m really looking forward to CES.
Several years ago, my partners and I started going to CES together. Jason and Ryan had being going for a while. I’m not a trade show guy although I diligently went to Comdex for several years in the 1990′s as part of Softbank (which owned Comdex at the time.) Generally, I’m completely overwhelmed by the people and the stuff and the idea of spending a few days in Las Vegas playing trade show monkey makes me tired just thinking about it.
But there’s something deliciously seductive to me about CES. When combined with an attitude change (rather than fighting the crowds, I just roll with it and pretend like I’m in the ocean, swimming around, not really noticing all the dirt and animals), I’m really enamored with wandering around, looking at, and playing with all the new stuff on display. Rather than target specific stuff, I just spend two days looking at everything.
It helps that we have two really fun dinners with a bunch of friends (it’s my year to organize – actually, that means Kelly has done all the work – thanks Kelly). An early morning run, followed by eight hours of walking around playing with technology, followed by three hours hanging out with good friends and colleagues at a great Las Vegas restaurant. Ok – that’s a good day.
In the past we’ve discovered new investments (such as Cloud Engines) and seen lots of companies we are investors in make good progress (e.g. this year I expect both Sifteo and Orbotix to get a lot of airplay based on what they are announcing.)
I’m heading out a day early for a BigDoor board meeting. It seems appropriate that we’d kick of our 2011 gamification of the universe with a meeting in Las Vegas. So make that three great dinners with friends.
As 2011 kicks off, I think we are in for a ton of innovative software and Internet stuff this year. Yeah, some of it will be “just like everything else but different.” However, of the areas we invest heavily in – human computer interaction – has an incredible amount of activity going on. I’ll be at CES in Las Vegas this week so I expect to have a dose of nerd-eye-candy (e.g. the latest TV sets) along with a bunch of cool / amazing / clever / intriguing new HCI things.
I expect CES will be a classic case of “a mile wide and an inch deep.” If you want to go really deep with HCI, consider joining me at the Blur Conference in Orlando on 2/22 and 2/23 especially if any of the following topics appeal to you.
- markerless motion capture
- phone controlled robotic gaming devices
- augmented reality apps
- alternative input mechanisms
- neuro-physiological measurements
- all kinds of Kinect hacks
- 3D/digital sculptures
- social robotics
- multi-touch interfaces
- speech recognition
- human instrumentation
- natural user interfaces
I’ve accepted the reality that the computers are going to take over during my lifetime. I just want to help be involved in writing some of the code to hedge my bets. Register now to come join me in my quest.