The Face-to-Face Effect

Kathy Sierra has been attending conferences for 20 years, but speaking at them only for the past few.
In the following passage from her blog, she describes why so many of us climb aboard cramped airplanes for hours on end to gather in a central real-life place.

The most underrated benefit of the face-to-face effect of conferences is INSPIRATION.
For me, the single biggest reason to attend an event like SXSW is the feeling of motivation and–as David Seah so aptly put it — “Rededication”. Almost everyone I talked with at SXSW said they were newly inspired. Was it from the ideas they were hearing in the sessions? Some of it, sure. But again, those same ideas are going out to everyone with a browser. No, there’s more to it. There’s mirror neurons, for one thing, and the effect of emotional contagion that happens when you’re around a pile of people who share the same interest and enthusiasm. Everyone comes out re-energized. And you don’t need to go to SXSW to get that benefit! Simply attending any live event–from the three-person lunch meetup to the 100-person local user group can give you the most positive effect of being at an event like SXSW.

I was thinking these same thoughts on the plane home yesterday, but I was less convinced that everyone at SXSW actually benefitted from human contact.
Here’s a poem I scribbled out en route to DFW:
Running On Batteries
At the great gathering of minds
Eyes all around me are downcast
Lost in the electronic maze of Xs and Os.
Fingers fly over QWERTY keys
Making meaning inside the ubiquitous machine.
Is this what we came all this way for?
Is this the new “conversation”
The Technorati loves to trumpet?
Here in the Austin Convention Center
There is no distance between souls.
No bridges need to be built.
Everyone is within earshot.
We can talk.
But to talk means unplugging from the machine
That forvever demands to be fed.
I dare you, brave communicator
To walk these halls with no handheld friend.
I challenge you to sit still
And listen. You can type later.
Now is the time to connect,
To smell,
To taste,
To feel.



About David Burn

I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. Today—after working for seven agencies in five states—I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.