I spent this week in Hawaii at a conference I hosted called The Lobby. The idea behind The Lobby was to gather together a fantastic group of people with a shared interest in the future of media and facilitate a conversation among the participants. There were no speakers on stages, no panels addressing broad themes, no big name mucky-mucks invited to draw crowds, just a fantastically engaged and engaging group of subject-matter experts eager to connect and talk. Everyone who attended would have been those speakers, those panelists, those mucky-mucks at other conferences, but this conference wasn't about being the center of attention -- it was about participating. And man did everyone participate. From dawn to well-past dusk, the folks at The Lobby devoured the conversations. The energy was frenetic, a veritable Type A Power Plant. By the time I got on a plane to head home this morning I was literally spent. I suspect it will be weeks before I'm fully recharged. And I will take the next 12 months to follow up on everything I've learned, connect with everyone I've met, and prepare for next year's Lobby conference.
The Lobby would never have happened had it not been for the encouragement, expertise and friendship of the incredible Lia Lorenzano-Kennett. Lia is the high priestess of conference production. She was one of the first Producers of the Apple Developers Conference, ran Demo and Agenda, was the President of IDG Executive Forums, and worked with Walt and Kara to create the phenomenal All This Digital conference, of which she still is the Producer. When I first met with Lia to talk about my idea for The Lobby, she told me that she had always wondered what made a great conference -- was it the speakers or the audience? And she had always wondered what was the answer to the age old conference chicken and egg problem. Was a conference made great by the people who attended? Or did great people only attend great conferences? As The Lobby wound to a close this week, Lia turned to me and said "so now we know -- it's the chicken." And man were there some great chickens in attendance at The Lobby.
I would love to tell you more about The Lobby, but that's about all that I can say without breaching my own terms of the conference. The Lobby was from the very outset touted as an off the record conversation about the future of media. When attendees registered for the conference, they confirmed that they would not report on anything said by the other attendees. My theory was that if everyone felt comfortable that their discussions and conversations would not be reported beyond the confines of the event, people would speak more freely and we would all get a lot more out of it. I still believe that is true, although I am not certain how realistic it is to assume that in this day and age there is such a thing as off the record. It is too easy for information to be disseminated, either with attribution or anonymously. And what constitutes "off the record"? Is it still off the record if you report what was said at the event but don't attribute it to anyone in particular? Is it still off the record when you Twitter "having great conversations at The Lobby" or "Will sell bead clue for $100"? Is it still off the record when you post a public photo of the event to Flickr or Photobucket? What if that photo paints another attendee in a less than flattering light? Is it off the record if you simply report that you are attending The Lobby, even if you never mention more than the meals you had at the event? For what it is worth, my goal was to keep the content of the conversations off the record (attributed or otherwise, during sessions or at the bar, to a few or to thousands). My slogan for The Lobby was "the content is the conversation" -- off the record was about promoting open discussion, not creating a secret society. But it is a tough line to draw and I will continue to ponder these questions in anticipation of The Lobby 2. Until that time, I look forward to continuing to participate in the rapid evolution of digital media and hope that The Lobby has played some small role in that evolution.