Embracing digital body language – Conference reaction

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Conference details

Jo was a keynote speaker at the E-Learning Fusion conference in Poland, she spoke about digital body language. The #ELFconf hashtag regarding her talk had some great responses!

If you want to know more about what digital body language is, Jo wrote an epic blog post all about it, ‘What is digital body language‘.

Jo’s talk was titled, ‘Embracing digital body language’ and below are some of the tweets that delegates and Jo shared.

The tweets

Early on in the talk Jo asked the below question to the delegates and got them to discuss it amongst themselves.

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Jo has found this area fascinating and has done two blogs on it.

Text Personality – People think you’ll miss out on so much by not speaking face to face or on the phone. There’s a certain amount that’s true about that, I’m not going to argue. But like any communication or detail, there’s a lot more richness you can get without realising.

Reading mood and tone of text – I’m digging in deeper to the idea of being able to read the digital, or virtual, body language of someone without seeing them face to face.

Wonderful use of artistic talents to take notes in the session, what a great way to keep it all fresh for when you look at it later.

If you are interested in the area of digital body language and virtual classroom communication, Jo has merged her knowledge on both fields into the below blog.

Face to face communication and the virtual classroom – This blog post details research about how our brains react to different types of communication and what this means for how we design and deliver virtual classroom training sessions.

Thanking you!

A big thank you to iPro e-Learning for putting on the E-Learning Fusion conference, all the people who attended the session and of course the tweeters!

Virtual classrooms are like aeroplanes…

Mark Gilroy guest blogger for Lightbulb Moment

Webinars airlines blog

The practice of facilitating in a virtual environment is unique in so many ways. When planning a piece of virtual learning, one of the key challenges is that it can appear incredibly abstract. If you’ve never designed a piece of e-learning, webinar content or other virtual learning solutions, it can be helpful to pick a meaningful analogy to make things more concrete.

In this post we’ll be using the analogy of an airline when considering the planning, design and delivery of virtual learning.

So, if you’d like to take your seats and place your luggage into the overhead compartment, we’ll get started…

Check-in

Before boarding a plane, airlines take several steps to let you know that you’re in the right place to begin, long before you arrive at the airport. Clear, concise messages are sent out to remind all passengers about the important dates, times and location to minimise confusion. When passengers arrive on the day, there’s either an automated system or an ‘in person’ check-in to welcome you to your flight.

In the same way, it’s critical for virtual learning hosts to think about this stage of the learning process:

  • Most virtual facilitation tools have automated emails that are sent out when your participants register. Are these being sent in a timely fashion to give your participants appropriate notice?
  • Check the tone and impact of these emails – do they reflect the intended experience of your session? Are they clear and easy to understand?
  • As people arrive in your virtual ‘room’, consider verbally checking-in people by name as they arrive. If there’s anything you want them to prepare or think about before you get started – usher them in the right direction.
  • Signpost clearly when things are about to start. Some facilitators like to use a musical cue to distinguish between check-in and take-off (see below).

Pre-flight checklist

As passengers arrive on a plane, the airline team are busy working through numerous checklists to make sure that they all have a safe and smooth flight. Lists are an important part of airline protocol to ensure that processes are slick, nothing essential  gets missed, and things happen in the correct order. These are often checked by multiple people to ensure accuracy.

Similarly, with webinars and other types of virtual learning environments, it can be helpful to prepare a pre-flight checklist to work through on the day of the event, to guard against the unexpected. Be cautious of facilitating long sessions by yourself, and consider recruiting a crew to support you, including a co-pilot and technical support, to help keep everything ticking along. Potential checklist items might include:

  • Ensure any computer updates are downloaded and applied several hours before take-off.
  • Have a backup computer powered-up and ready to switch to in case anything happens mid-flight.
  • Run a test to check that your microphone/headset is working. All necessary polls/breakout rooms set-up and ready to go.

Safety announcements

As a plane is about to take-off, the hosts guide the passengers through a set of safety announcements. Where the exits are, how to fasten your seatbelt, how to blow that  funny little whistle, and so on. For frequent flyers, these are often a dull and unsurprising part of the journey, but for a first-time flyer, this is essential information.

Virtual training rooms can be a confusing and frustrating place for the uninitiated. Even for the seasoned virtual learner, different platforms can have slightly different rules and features, so ensure that some time is spent before take-off answering the following questions:

  • How do you want your passengers to interact?
  • What can people expect to see/hear during the course of this session?
  • How can people offer feedback during/after the event?
  • What are the ‘controls’ that participants can use, and how do they work?

Take-off

The doors are closed, the plane has taxied to the runway, and the flight is ready to begin. Suddenly the engines fire-up and you’re in the skies. Most of the time, this is such a smooth process that passengers rarely even notice the series of complex steps that allow this to take place.

The official start of a webinar can be a make or break situation for both the hosts and the passengers. How are you going to make it as smooth as possible to let your passengers know they’ve made the right decision to fly with you?

  • If you’re the type of facilitator who prefers a flexible, unscripted approach, consider scripting the first two to three minutes of your session. This has two positive effects: it’ll leave you feeling confident as a presenter in knowing what’s about to come next without having to wonder what to say/ask, and also will give your participants confidence that you are in control.
  • Consider recording a ‘dummy run’ and listening back to the first section of your virtual learning event. Notice, and capture, the things that work well which can be repeated in the real thing. Equally, notice the things that don’t work, so that you can try and avoid them next time round.
  • I remember after hearing myself back for the first time presenting virtually, I was struck by how the noticeable and numerous my use of words such as “um”, “right”, and “OK” were. In an audio-only broadcast these conversational ‘fillers’ really stood-out and I still work hard to try and minimise them, without sounding too robotic.
  • Occasionally, things will not go to plan on take-off. Passengers may be late, your presentation slides might appear in the wrong order, or (worse case scenario) your internet connection might cut out. Practice and plan for the eventualities that you can control, so that you can avoid panic in the heat of the moment.

In-flight entertainment

The flight has taken-off smoothly, your passengers are in their seats and engaged by everything they’ve seen and heard so far. Now, it’s time to keep them there. For short flights, a timely snack or drink help to keep everyone refreshed. For long-haul journeys, a varied selection of films, TV boxsets, and music is available, to enable passengers to entertain themselves and avoid boredom.

We’ve all sat in on webinars that are ‘broadcast only’. It’s a dull experience that invites distraction. Virtual learning is unique in that it usually takes place via a medium (your laptop, desktop, or mobile device) that is already screaming distractions at you in the shape of new emails, notifications and vibrations.

  • You may find that there is a balance to be achieved between your content and inviting learners to input their own. This will very much depend on the context of your virtual learning session, but I would suggest it’s highly unlikely that your content should take-up 100% of the airspace. Hint: if you think it should, do yourself a favour and record a video/screencast – you’ll be saving everyone a lot of time!
  • At the other end of the scale, running a live poll or Q&A session every two minutes can slow things down and create a list of questions that might never be answered in the time you have together.
  • Consider variety in your in-flight entertainment. Become familiar with the tools at your disposal so that you can select them when necessary: live chat, polling, breakout groups, whiteboards, and video feeds are just some of the popular ones. Is there anything physical and/or tactile that you can have people working on to avoid boredom with a screen?
  • Attend other people’s sessions to keep your toolkit fresh. It’s just as important to practice being a passenger as it is being the pilot.

Landing

The journey has nearly finished – it’s been a safe flight, passengers are feeling nourished with snacks and drinks, and appropriately entertained. Now, for the finale. Statistically, the most likely time for something unexpected to happen: landing the plane at your destination.

The end of a webinar is a great opportunity to re-engage and revisit the highlights of the session. A space to recap, ask questions, and share reflections before everyone goes their separate ways. An equally useful time to thank people for joining you, and to consider using some of their ‘loyalty points’ towards a future event.

  • What is the last thing you want people to be thinking/feeling/doing as their final impression of this piece of virtual learning?
  • Are any calls to action made clear?
  • Do you want to encourage people to fly with you again? Is there an opportunity to showcase a benefit of upcoming events that people may be interested in?
  • Consider scripting the final few minutes of your event so that you can ensure all bases are covered.

There we have it – a handful of parallels between running an airline and being a successful virtual facilitation ‘pilot’. There are many other areas that I haven’t included here: refuelling (managing your energy when presenting), navigation (letting passengers know where you’re headed, and how far they’ve travelled so far), baggage (ensuring the ‘journey’ isn’t weighed down with too much non-essential content). Mark GilroyPerhaps you can think of others – please do feel free to post them in the comments below.

About our guest blogger

Mark Gilroy is Managing Director of TMS Development International Ltd, a leading global provider of psychometric development tools designed to create, nurture and sustain high performing teams. Mark has a background in psychology and has been working in the L&D arena as an executive coach and team development facilitator for over a decade.

Crash course in flexible working from home

All my adult life I have worked in “normal” employment. When I was younger often this was part time, sometimes split or strange working shifts. As I got older this changed to full time, 9-5 or a variation of it. This had been the norm for a long time and then it all changed.

I changed jobs and started to work from home!

Shock to the system

I awoke on the first day of my new job, I put on some jeans and a t-shirt, went into my kitchen for tea and breakfast, I then went back to my room and sat down at my desk for work… It was bizarre and felt alien to me.

Environment

Due to having lodgers I couldn’t dedicate a room in my house to be an office. The desk in my bedroom was where I would be working from.

However my bedroom is the place where I escaped from a long day at work: it is my Netflix cave; my gym; it has my computer and I have escaped reality for many an hour in a computer game or watching so many YouTube videos you wonder how on earth you got to watching a about a cow singing the national anthem. This was rarely a place for focusing my mind on business and work issues.

This was the first big hurdle I felt I had to deal with. I got a new desk, larger and less cluttered. I made space for work items and decluttered all non-work items so that they were out of sight whilst I was “at work”. I made a new user profile on my PC for work and spent some time pinning programs, getting shortcuts setup and making my PC more like the computer I had in my previous work place.

Work environment

When working ‘normally’, many people don’t think about the full social construct of what it means to be “at” work. You are hard wired to be in work mode: with work colleagues and expected to be professional. In my case I would be wearing business clothes and using a computer just for work. I acted differently around my work colleagues and had a different mindset.

Colleagues might chat away about non-work items but not to an extreme amount. Most of the time I was ready for a business conversation or meetings. I was at work and in work mode.

The ring of Gyges

If you want to become invisible and effectively do anything you want without being caught then the ring of Gyges is the tool for that job! Plato the Greek philosopher used the story of the ring to ask about human nature.

Generally we are good people and do good things, or at least not bad things. Do we do this just because people can see us and will judge us? If we could do whatever we want and not get caught, would our actions be the same or somewhat more nefarious, as the story suggests?

This is how I felt when I first started working from home. I had the ring on! I had given myself tasks that needed to be completed but nobody was going to look disapprovingly if I picked up my phone and went on Facebook; ask me to turn off the sound on a YouTube video; or complain that my lunch break, instead of being 60 minutes, had started to become two or three Netflix episodes long (don’t watch Breaking Bad on your lunch break when you work from home…).

If you have never worked from home or for yourself before then try and imagine the next time you are in the office, what you would be doing if you had the ring of Gyges on? Would you look at those funny Facebook notifications more often? When you felt a bit distracted would you just go do something else for a bit? Would you turn up at work at all?

Motivation and drive

If I was lying I would say it took me a week to get over the ring of Gyges issue. More truthful would be two weeks and more accurately would likely be three weeks!

I am not trying to scare anyone thinking of doing what I have done but I am giving an account of how I felt and the mindset I needed to change and overcome to be productive. You might be very different to myself and on day one might be there, I am suggesting it might take some time to settle into this.

It took me three weeks to realise there was no ring of Gyges, it was just me, I was stopping myself from working. Perhaps I just needed the novelty of my Breaking Bad siesta sessions to get old but it is something to consider and delve into your own personality and traits.

Work when you want and how you want

Now the good bits! For example, I decided to do this blog at about four in the afternoon – I thought about it a bit but couldn’t really start it.

My creative brain had switched off and so I decided to switch off, I went out for a walk, saw a friend, had dinner and then returned home. I would have loved to see my old bosses if I walked out of work over an hour early and just said, “going home, not feeling creative”.

I got home at about 7.45pm and sat back at my desk, spent some time going through my emails and then had some ideas for this blog and others. I got an outline for a few of them ready and 9.15 came round so I decided to call it, I know I am more creative in the morning and would use the outline I had done to work from when I got up.

I have started to realise when I work best and when I don’t, when I can be productive in different situations and work around that. This is something in “normal” work that can be very hard or impossible to achieve.

To take the plunge or not?

I can’t answer that question for you, the only person who can is you and even then, you might not be able to answer until you are in the position and see how you react to it.

I can honestly say after a shaky start and, I will be honest – a few days, *ahem* weeks – where it can slip and be hard to motivate yourself, in the long run I would never go back. I can now balance my life and work how I see fit within reason. Of course there are busy times but you know you can take time elsewhere when it becomes available.

When you get into the zone and work your socks off, it’s for you and by you. It’s not because some overlord has told you to do so.

If you are thinking of taking the plunge, I wish you well. If you aren’t in that position perhaps you can take some comfort that you might still be in the best place for you.

Free online courses – actual content or blatant sales?

ecommerce-2140604_960_720I recently signed up for a live online webinar-based free course. It’s delivered over twelve sessions and boasted plenty of interaction. It states that you would walk away an expert after finishing. I’m not going to name and shame here, but I do want to walk you through the experience I had and some of the learning points with regards offering free content marketing.

I have completed the first session and the divide between content and sales was shocking!

Shameless plug webinar?

If a company or anyone is doing something for “free”, there is likely some motive behind it. That is obvious and I was expecting some parts of this course to do just that. I was interested to see how it would be done, some presenters and webinars are more sophisticated than others.

I’m perhaps the type of person who would look a gift horse in the mouth and wonder what the real motives are. Others might have a more optimistic view of these things than I do – after signing up they would see more positively the information in the emails that the course will be focused on learning, content with high interaction and that you will get great value from it.

Timings and breakdown

A webinar or live online session is often planned and created like writing a story. You need to split it into different areas of focus: welcome; introduction and expectations; learning content one then discussion; learning content two then discussion – as an example.

From being a producer on webinars and courses I am normally the one keeping a close eye on the time and ready to let the host or facilitator know to speed up or slow down. It’s now a curse that when I attend a session I am time focused and trying to reverse engineer the timings and layout the host has in their mind! This is what I did for this first session.

The sessions are one hour long, which I know from experience is tight for time when delivering great content and having quality interaction. Of course with my pessimistic view I knew there would need to be some time for a sales plug or direction towards some form of marketing outlet, it is a free course after all!

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Bait and hook

Warning signs right from the start! There was a twenty second introduction from the presenter, then over nine and half minutes devoted to try and bait you into sticking around for the rest of the course: “On session X you get a chance at winning course books, on session Y you get a chance at winning a premium course.”

There was also a mention along the lines of: “Sessions eight, nine and ten are amazing and we really made sure these session names had all the buzz words and the main part of your reason for signing up for this course.”

The way I approach content design and delivery is to captivate people from the first few minutes with the content and experience that they want and have signed up for. If you are having to wave the carrot at such an early stage I would question how pedagogically sound this really is.

The free webinar sessions that we offer at Lightbulb Moment… shameless plug I know, but…  We always focus on the compelling content and quality interaction. As I said before, when something is free there’s always a reason for it and we’re honest, it’s our marketing. But we try to take the approach of marketing the very same quality you’ll get in the paid-for product.

Where has the interaction gone?

After putting up with being told what I could win just by sticking around it got to the part which was the reason I was there, the content!

The presenter said she had crammed a ton of content into each session so that we could get real value from it. Session one had four main areas to go over and each area was quite a large discussion point. There were 50 minutes left and, factoring in interaction, meant this was going to surely be tight?

The “interaction” as they called it was the fact you could post a question to the presenter and they could respond. You could not see anyone else in the session or the questions they asked as there was no attendee chat available, a shame as I feel open chat normally makes for a better experience. Jo has blogged about it here.

The Q&A system was very rarely used to answer a question about the content. Instead it was used as a way to get people to agree with yes statements, using the “Yes Set Close” sales technique.

“Do you want a chance to get a course for free?” the presenter would ask. She would then mention names from the people who used the Q&A pod, “I can see Bob, Jane, Steve, Alice oh wow your all saying yes!” This was building up hype and getting people in the habit of saying “yes”. It’s a technique I have seen used often on free webinars.

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Finally some content

Each of the four main points of content could have had hour long sessions themselves, but the content section only had 30 minutes. That is seven and a bit minutes to go over large topic areas. As you can imagine, unless you had lived in a cave all your life, even the most complicated sections of content were dumbed down and it was reduced to just being made aware of their existence rather than learning anything substantial.

There was a real shameless example using a “real world” business model to help explain one of the content areas. The business they chose for this example from was their own business. It consisted of how great they are to their customers, how the customers love their “premium service” and so on.

Bits of the content briefly highlighted what you would get from the premium service, such as spending a minute explaining how a technique for doing a certain thing is great. They said that in this course it is not covered but, you guessed it, it is covered in the premium course. Some of that is fine and to be expected as you do want to promote the difference between a free option and something that people will get if they invest more.

More sales

With twenty minutes left and only half an hour of actual content, of which at least half was highlighting their premium service, it then moved on to the real sales part. They explained the premium service, signing up to the website and the like.

I felt there had been passive sales all the way through and this was now just a kick in the teeth!

Q&A… well… Q!

The last ten minutes was devoted to answering questions and the presenter said people could log off if they wanted. Not many people had questions about the actual content because it was so light – or because I could not see other people’s questions!

As I couldn’t see the questions there was an opportunity for the presenter to only answer the questions about the sales part and not content related. I did ask a genuine content question that was not answered. We were advised that, of course, anyone who still had questions as the hour was rounding out could email the sales team…

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Thoughts

I would have had less or no issues at all if the session and course had been titled correctly. It was really an “Introduction to X and what you can gain from COMPANY NAME sessions”. They marketed the course as learning events. Whilst I reiterate that I understand about using free as a marketing tool, this course is not what they promised. It’s a flashy sales brochure.

I stick with my thoughts from before: as a company if you are offering something for free there is a need to get something from it. If you are attending something for free you still want some value from it and are expecting the quid pro quo at some point.

When delivering free content, you need to deliver excellent value. Then people will believe in your approach and more likely to actually listen when you do sales and marketing that is genuine rather than based on questionable techniques.

What are your thoughts?

Conference content – how to keep your delegates enthused

I wrote a blog about a free conference I went to and how it was sales over substance. After recently attending the CIPD L&D Show in London I thought I would share my thoughts again to see what was done differently, and if it was better.

The same… but worlds apart

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Both the conferences I attended contained a similar amount of people and setup; an area for exhibitors and different areas for the seminars. This is where the similarities end.

The CIPD L&D Show was not a free conference, though there was a free-to-attend exhibition and sessions. The CIPD L&D Show also opened up the seminars to experts and professionals who had real content and the passion to deliver it, rather than in-house employees.

Nearly all of the seminars I went to I came out of them learning something or going away with a drive to focus on something in particular.

Content not sales

The speakers would of course mention where they worked and their company or institution as it’s a great opportunity to enhance profile. They might mention throughout their presentation specific points of how their company did certain things but it was never done as a sales pitch. Passion was delivered and strong content provided, people would be able to go away and start trying techniques that had been offered.

I know for myself that I followed on Twitter and on Facebook the majority of the speakers at the seminars I went to. I found websites and put them into my favourite resources to go back and reference. Will I convert into a sale? Potentially. Do I have brand awareness? Most definitely!

Separating passion and sales

The CIPD L&D Conference was a great blend of the two; the free exhibitor floor had many companies trying to raise awareness and make sales. This was expected and if you moved yourself into that environment it was the mind-set you had gone into and were ready for.

On the exhibition floor there were lots of free seminars on offer. As I spent more time in the Conference I only saw the Ignite sessions (you can watch them all on Training Journal).

The conference sessions had passion and you could tell it was mainly about people who really wanted to provide some of the knowledge they had gained on their way to becoming an expert in their field or area.

Splitting the free exhibition and the paid-for conference made the conference feel complete and adjusting mind-set depending where you were was easy to do. The previous conference I had attended missed that – there was no divide between sales and content, a constant badgering of sales with next to no worthwhile content.

Knowing what people want

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As a delegate we want to come away from the conference feeling the cost of the ticket was worth it for our own personal development and understanding. We take painstaking time to choose the sessions we want to attend because we are trying to maximise our own take away knowledge.

Delegates also understand that people and companies who have attended to exhibit have their own needs and requirements, cost to gain ratio whether that is sales or awareness for the brand.

We want the best of both worlds and can understand both sides of the coin.

Summary

I felt the balance at the CIPD L&D Show was spot on. I could flit between the two areas when I felt the urge, I could find like-minded individuals and get their opinions and network with them.

Content and passion and will always win over the hard sale and I saw a lot of passion and absorbed a great deal of superb content.

Conference content – how to drive away your delegates

A colleague and I went to a free conference that was hosted by a company in our business sector. We spend a lot of money on each year with this company, for many of our business and software solutions.

Some of what went on was good and some of it was very bad…

Hopes and expectations

In the days leading up to the conference I received various emails promoting the conference, guest speaker Blah the 1st from leading company X, guest speaker Blah the 2nd from leading body Y. I was ready to hear from these experts and gain from their knowledge and wisdom!

The itinerary detailed exciting workshops in the afternoon. I was upset that the two that sounded the most interesting were on at the same time and I had to choose between them.

The pre-event information had got me in the right mind-set and not even the train strikes, which meant I was forced to be packed in like a sardine on my way to central London, could hold back my hopes and expectations.

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A good start with good content

The morning started off well, the expert speakers were all good, engaging content and providing really useful information to take away, I was scribbling away in my notepad ready to go back to my company and revolutionise what is quite a boring and traditional business sector.

I was really impressed with the passion and delivery from most of the speakers, technology was used well by some, getting people to log in with an app and provide live polls and opinions. It was a great example of listening to the questions the sector has, and then posing those questions to the experts whom delivered great structured content to the attendees.

Downward spiral

After a nice lunch the workshops started: 40 minute seminars that attendees were able to choose out of three on at the same time. In total they would get to go three of these sessions out of the nine on offer.

I was still hyped from how good the morning was. The workshop speaker came on and it was obvious the person was some kind of middle management from the company hosting the conference.

A faltered start, low production values in the presentation and a lack of enthusiasm from the speaker: the professional air from the morning was quickly evaporating.

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Where is the content?

The workshop was titled along the lines of “how to update the marketing in your business, gain sales and not lose potential sales.” The talk started as a lot of these things do with some stats, a very blatant use of stats, “how many people view a website for a company before buying something” and “length of time someone stays on a homepage.” The stats were obvious, in your face, focusing on one aspect of marketing, (the website) all from the angle they wanted to talk about. My pen had not written anything yet.

A live poll was put out to the audience, “do you think your business needs a website?” Shockingly everyone said yes. I could see exactly where this was going: I knew the organisation running the conference had recently purchased a website design company so my mind had already finished the obvious presentation. I did still have some hope it would not go the way I thought it would.

I was naïve to think it would not turn into a sales pitch, I had to sit through some more stupid waffle about how important the internet is and websites are, my pen was in my pocket and my pad closed and on my lap as I was talked to like a five year old and spoon fed basic information.

Sales without content

About 15 minutes into this “workshop” the sales pitch hit and went on for the remaining 25 minutes. My pad was back in my bag and I suffered through a sales pitch that was lacking any enthusiasm or depth. I felt cheated and lied to!

I can survive a sales pitch at the end if I have been enlightened with good focused content and feel like I have something to take away. When it is just thrown down your throat and obvious, limited content is used to try and dupe me into a sale is a poor showing indeed.

Summary

Unfortunately the remaining two sessions I attended were exactly the same and my colleague who attended three different sessions reported the same feedback.

I understand companies need to make money, renting out a venue in central London to accommodate 200-400 people and provide lunch for everyone for free is not going to be cheap, you want a return on your investment. But it needs to be handled better than this.

Being subjected to three lacklustre sales pitches with next to no useful content did not make me feel for a single second that I should take on these extra services the company was offering. In fact it had the exact opposite affect and made me think I would look elsewhere if I needed to resolve these issues.

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Final thoughts on content marketing and conferences 

Good content is key! When it comes to these types of events or any kind of sales pitch if it is in person, a webinar or at a conference, the content will sway the person.

What was interesting in the way that they spoon-fed these basic concepts, skirting the main subject so much and providing so little content, it got to the sales pitch and I was missing a key thing to actually buy, need and want!

I wasn’t sure I had the issues they were trying to provide solutions for because they had provided basic stats, opinions and no content about it.

Free conference or not, I expect better and I hope you do also.