three commencement addresses that are worth your time

‘Tis the season for people to sit in hot black robes and listen to vague motivational pomptitude (and circumstanitude).

Out there in the cultural zeitgeist, I think there are three commencement addresses that are worth your time. These three are good; not only for recent graduates, but also for anyone who needs some business motivation.

To satisfy the Apple fanboys, I’ll list Steve Jobs’ 2005 Stanford Commencement Address first. It consists of three stories, and I like the first one best. You never know what connections from the past will come together to create new ideas. Here’s the text of the speech or you can watch it here.

Conan O’Brien’s 2000 Harvard address is mostly jokes and very funny. (naturally) But it actually contains one of the best messages that a twenty-something or anyone can learn: Failure is necessary to succeed.
The quality of the video below is poor so you’ll find the text version is better.

The odd thing about Conan’s speech is that he gave it about ten years before the Leno / Tonight Show fiasco. It’s been his only commencement speech until this year when Conan is scheduled to address the graduates of Dartmouth. It will be interesting if he expands on his theme. (UPDATE: He did.)

“Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen)” was originally a 1997 column in the Chicago Tribune, but Baz Luhrmann reworked the column as a spoken word / musical track on an album. The track became a worldwide radio hit in the summer of 1999. It became an ear rut for me that year in my radio days. The lyrics contain many truths.

One of the final verses of Sunscreen pretty much captures the essence of all commencement addresses…

Advice is a form of nostalgia, dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it’s worth.

maybe you should cancel your meeting

Here’s something that sounds weird coming from me: Most conferences and meetings are a complete waste of time/money/resources for both organizers and attendees.

I do several events a year as a marketing speaker. Since, no matter what business you’re in, everyone needs information on marketing — I get to go to meetings for a diverse range of groups and industries and be a third party fly on the wall. As I have worked at these meetings and conferences over the past several years, I have noticed a few things:

  1. Most attendees are not there for knowledge. They’re there to play golf, go to the casino, work on a tan, wine/dine, etc.
  2. If God did a session where He dispensed Perfect Knowledge, there would be at least two guys after the session talking about why His ideas won’t work in their business.
  3. During that break after God’s session? The conference organizers paid the hotel $15/person for coffee. Seems like this is where to cut the budget, not in the programming.
  4. Panel discussions and cock fighting are similar activities. Put several huge egos on a stage and see who can win with a moderator who doesn’t understand what the panelists are talking about.
  5. The amount that people corporate expense accounts pay for alcohol/food/etc increases exponentially during a conference.
  6. Instead of paying for good speakers who know the content and can be entertaining while they present it, let’s just have some executives get up and read in a monotone voice the slides that someone else prepared for them.
  7. There are hundreds of people who have mutual interests together at the meeting. Very few of them make connections with each other except for maybe a greasy business card exchange.
  8. 99.99% of presenters have no idea how/when to use a PowerPoint deck.
  9. Interesting presenters/speakers with new actionable ideas are given 10 minutes to speak. Presenters/speakers reading old information verbatim off their slides are usually given 2 hours.

There are lots more — but the biggest problem that I see over and over is this:
The entire concept behind the meeting is to get a bunch of people who think the same together and have them listen to people who also think that same way.

Mark is getting calls to come to meetings during a tough time for people in his industry and wonders why some of these gatherings aren’t just cancelled. And I agree with him. If your conference / corporate meeting will consist of the “same tired old subjects from the same tired old white guys”, then yes, you should cancel the meeting. And remember that some of those same “old subjects” include new things. If your meeting is just giving lip service to viral-marketing-facebook-web2.0-social-networking new media buzzwords, then re-write your agenda. This is not just current recession/depression/end-of-times thinking. I would say it’s an even bigger problem in boom times as more meetings attended means more missed opportunities.

Having said all this, I have been to many great meetings and conferences that were beneficial for the attendees — while they were at the conference. Even if you have a great experience at the meeting, the real danger time is the day you return to the office after the conference. The kitsch and tchotchkes that were picked up in the exhibit hall get a place on the desk, but what happens to the knowledge? Most often, it’s lost. People and companies that can implement ideas picked up at a conference or meeting are the ones that you see succeed.

I hope you don’t cancel your meeting. While everyone else is sitting on their hands waiting for the storm to pass over, I hope you use this time to put together a meeting that will cause inspiration and action — both at the meeting and when everyone gets home.

(that’s the end of the blog post — here’s the commercial)
If you’re looking for someone to present new ideas and shake up your organization’s thinking at a conference/meeting, you can find more info on how to bring me to speak to your group here.

speaking south

A few notes on upcoming speaking events:

  • (near) Birmingham, AL — On Fri Nov 14, I’ll be talking healthcare B2B marketing at the annual national meeting of the Contact Lens Manufacturers Association.
    (more info and registration)
  • Baton Rouge, LA — I will be doing my presentation, “Selling the Image: Developing a Winning Brand Strategy,” for the Advertising Federation of Baton Rouge on Fri Mar 6
    (more info)

As always, if you need a marketing speaker to deliver an entertaining and engaging presentation on branding, media, healthcare marketing, sales, or any of the other marketing topics I cover, then please contact me.

wanna see me?

A brief blogging pit stop to announce some public events I’ll be speaking at in the next few months.

April 11 (Chicago) — Inland Press Interactive Media Seminars
A big day for newspapers with lots of discussion on multimedia in journalism and what newspapers need to be doing on the web. I will be doing a session at 1030am about newspaper blogs.
(More info) (Register)

May 7 (Chicago) — Inland Press Small Newspaper Workshops
Smaller circulation newspapers need to be online too. I’ll be doing a session at 1:15 that will focus on using video, audio, rich media, and social networking to grow a newspaper site.
(Info) (Register)

May 30 (Las Vegas) — World Tea Expo
I think one of the nicest compliments I get is being asked back to an event. And this one is a great one to go back to. If you missed my marketing spiel at the World Tea Expo in Atlanta last year, please try to make it to my session in Las Vegas this year. I will be talking about Winning Brand Strategies. While I will focus on the beverage industry, any industry can apply the branding principles I will be talking about.
(Get info) (Register)

June 7 (Atlanta) — American Advertising Federation National Conference
I’m actually doing a private daylong session for the Executive Directors prior to the conference, but I will be floating around the AAF meeting. I’d love to meet you if you’re there.
(Details)

I will be off the speaking market from mid-July to mid-August, but I have a few tentatitve bookings for this fall and next year. I will post the open public ones when they are confirmed.

As always, if you would like to bring me in for a conference or a private corporate event, I’d love to work with you. Click here for possible topics, video demo, testimonials, and more.

new video digs

We just put the finishing touches on my new speaking demo tape. Thanks to Doug Marrs and the team at Studio Now for the great job. You can watch the video below.

If you need a speaker for a conference or a private business event, I would be happy to provide you a quote. For testimonials, the topics I present, and other info, you can visit my marketing speaker page.


You can also find the video on YouTube.