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Category: Technology Events

  1. Preaching to the Choir

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    By many measures the Blockchain Live conference in Olympia, London this week was a success. It was certainly busy with exhibition stands and the seven ‘theatres’ all thronged with people. I certainly learnt a great deal and heard about many exciting projects and visions for blockchain across many different industries. However, I could not shake the feeling that I was inside a quite cultish event.

    A quick, and completely unscientific, scan of people’s badges around me suggested that most delegates were from the blockchain community. They were start-ups, consultants, technologists and service providers within and for the blockchain world. There seemed relatively few from outside the industry. The language of the event reinforced this point. Most presentations and conversations required decent understanding of blockchain technologies and jargon to follow – effectively excluding those that may have come with business issues hoping to find a solution in blockchain.

    That’s not to deny that there was lots of potential, from start-ups looking to use blockchain to incentivise digital content discovery and sales (Catalyst), to cataloguing of Art (Arteia), to mobile wallets for crypto funds (ZEUX), but many of these have yet to even launch to consumers and businesses outside of the immediate blockchain environment.

    Another issue, to my mind at least, was the heavy overlap still seen between blockchain technologies and solutions and cryptocurrency. There were many presentations on the future of cryptocurrency, tokens and ICOs, not only on the Crypto stage, but also on the financial services, technology and development and investors stages. I personally believe this is one of the biggest hurdles to overcome. Whilst Blockchain is so closely associated with Bitcoin in particular, and cryptocurrencies in general, it will always have a taint of criminality to it. Indeed, one of the best attended sessions in the morning was author Misha Glenny’s presentation “What does Crypto mean for crime.” I asked him he thought that crypto could clean up its reputation. His answer struck to the heart of the problem – a catch 22. For crypto to be ‘cleaned-up’ it needs to be used by the mass market – but for the mass market to adopt it, it needs to be cleaned up.

    I don’t want to be down on the event. It was a great showcase of the potential of this exciting technology, and good to see growing interest. To continue to thrive those in the market need to start talking in language that resonates with their prospects and customers in the wider world. They need to root their technologies and solutions in the context of issues that audiences are facing now – to reverse the old marketing axiom, they need to sell more sausage and less sizzle.

    Speaking with the creative director of Vanbex, Max Tkacz at the exhibition, we agreed that blockchain projects needed to get better at talking about what the technology was achieving and the problems it was solving, rather than focus on the ‘how’ of the tech itself. I suggested, and Max agreed that it was time to talk more about the ‘cars’ of effective solutions than the ‘engines’ of blockchain.

    Next year I hope I can return to see the same enthusiasm and innovation, but with an audience drawn from wider segments of the potential customer-base so that real needs and solutions can be discussed in the language of business rather than technology.

  2. Time to prepare for Barcelona!

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    February may seem far off, but it’s time to plan for MWC19

    On 25th February 2019, the good and the great of the mobile industry will descend on Barcelona for the annual Mobile World Congress. Now one of the most important industry events in the ICT calendar it will see not only countless new product launches, but serious and important debate on the most pressing issues around connectivity and the future of technology.

    With over 2,400 exhibitors and more than 100,000 visitors standing out amidst all the noise is difficult. Having helped a range of businesses do this at the last six or seven Congresses, I’d suggest early planning.

    The most pressing issues is getting onto the agenda at the main conference. This is where the ‘c’ level decision-makers and influencers go to hear about major developments and trends in the industry. The keynotes are dominated by the rock-stars of the industry, but there are plenty of opportunities to sit on panel discussions or to participate in focused sessions, demos and workshops.

    The deadline for submitting proposals for these sessions is this Friday – but you still have time. The application/call for papers form can be found here. It is deceptively simple to complete, but to have a chance and making it through the nearly 3,000 applications expected to secure one of the few hundred slots you need to make the whole form work for you. There is excellent detailed advice on the GSMA website, which I won’t reiterate here, but I do have some further advice based on my experience and on recent conversations with Nick Spencer, head of conference research at the GSMA.

    Firstly, although it might seem counter-intuitive, don’t speak too much about yourself. Try and connect what you want to say or explore to the wider market and even social issues. The secret to real thought-leadership is to understand the concerns of those you want to influence and then use your insights and expertise to help build their understanding.

    Nick Spencer concurs, saying:

    “I think being generous and not self-promoting [is key to success], i.e. let the customer’s success speak for itself. Most of our core vendors should position themselves as the great enabler, rather than the frontman.”

    Second, tell a story. The GSMA has outlined the key themes for MWC19, clustered under the overall theme of Intelligent Connectivity, and you have to address at least one of these. But rather than touch on it, or pepper your application with key words, think about the whole story around it. What drives the plot, what creates dramatic tension, or the obstacle that must be overcome? Introduce the main characters and show how their actions or insights help resolve that issue. Above all, make sure to paint a picture of the result – how and why are things better as a result of your hero’s engagement? Make sure that it is exciting and different, a new story that the delegates will not have heard before. Spencer’s advice is: 

    “Disruption is probably the number one thing we look for. A new and better way of doing things.”

    And, be sure to have some anecdotes, facts and data – or even a demo, that backs up your story. As Spencer says;

    “The key to making this credible and stand out is stats around something that is really impactful both in the case in point, and as part of a bigger picture or trend).”

    Finally, think about who you will put up to speak. They need to be experts and to know the issue inside and out. But they also need to be good presenters. The agenda is packed, and audiences will be listening to many different speakers throughout the conference. Your representative needs to be confident and to project authority. They must know their key messages, understand how their story flows from point to point and be able to maintain engagement with the audience. Spend time deciding exactly what you want to say, create message houses, scripts and supporting anecdotes.  In panel debates and Q&A sessions they need to be ready for curve-balls so craft answers to likely (and unlikely) questions in advance.

    Most importantly, rehearse, rehearse and rehearse again. Industry best practice suggests that you should spend 10-times as much time preparing as you do actually presenting.

    While we are on the topic of who, think about better alternatives to the typical ‘male, stale and pale’ presenters. GSMA, as with many other organisations is making a concerted effort to improve the diversity of the industry and its own conference speakers. It has made some good strides with 12% of speaker applications from women this year (up from 7% the year before) – but it is keen to go much further. Suggesting women as speakers will help your chances of selection significantly.

    Mobile World Congress presents a unique opportunity for you to tell your story on a global stage. But it is busy, noisy and highly contested. To cut through you need to distil your messages into a compelling narrative that is different, but which resonates with the concerns and interests of the audience. You then need to tell it confidently and authentically in a way that captures interest and creates a memorable event. This is not easy, and it does not happen by chance. The time to start planning is now.