“Are you going to the President’s Conference?” she asked me.
She was, of course, referring to the Israeli President’s Conference which kicks off this Tuesday night in Jerusalem.
The way she asked me it was a foregone conclusion.
Can anyone say “No” to freebie entry to the ritziest who’s-who event of the Jewish year?
Can an ordinary person like me turn down an exclusive opportunity to rub shoulders with world-famous personalities with Bill Clinton, Mikhail Gorbachev and Barbra Streisand?
Of course, I’m thrilled to be invited. I consider it a privilege.
So yes, I’m going to the President’s Conference
And yes, you are correct if you are reading between the lines that my feelings are just a bit mixed.
I’ve noticed that I’m not the only one who feels ambivalent about going this year.
I guess we’re all hoping that this event is not going to be just another conference, like any other.
They headline with big-name speakers that entice you to take a day out of your busy schedule. You put on your name tag and then sit quietly like kids in school assembly for most of the day.
By the time the whole thing is over, it begins to dawn on you that throughout all that attentive sitting, you’ve managed to consume 2-3 enlightening factoids and 2-3 danishes.
That took all day?
We Want the President’s Conference to be Different
Everyone knows the real reason we just have to go to conferences, and the President’s Conference in particular, is to see and be seen.
It’s because of the networking.
This conference is one of the Jewish world’s ultimate venues for making important new contacts through face-to-face meetings.
So whether or not we actually manage to squeeze my way into the halls to hear what the spectacular line-up of VIPs and speakers have to say on the theme of “Tomorrow,” that’s the real reason we all feel we just can’t miss the President’s Conference.
But since everyone agrees that the networking is the main thing, it bothers me that it’s treated as an afterthought by the organizers. The networking is given only a perfunctory nod in the program and scarce encouragement from the organizers.
It is supposed to just happen all by itself, when thousands of people suddenly pour out of their sessions at the same time. It is relegated to the hallways and the line for the bathroom or refreshments during the short minute breaks between the jam-packed schedule of the “real program.”
The problem is that, for most mortals, networking does just spontaneously happen, without any nudging along.
I Remember Last Year’s President’s Conference
I took a deep breath and I reminded myself that I’m no longer a shy, gangling 13-year-old.
I put a smile on my face, and turned around said “hello” to whoever was seated near me in the sessions.
I said “shalom” to whoever was standing behind me in the bathroom line. I asked them about themselves and what brought them here. Business cards were exchanged.
Sometimes we almost got a conversation going before the lights dimmed and we were hushed. Or the next session was announced and it was time to rush and find a place.
The real VIPs then rose on the podium to talk of matters of true importance.
So much for “the networking.”
Of course, this double-think about networking is not unique to the President’s Conference. It’s the same story at most conferences.
But the President’s Conference could be so different.
The President’s Conference has been really successful in establishing itself as a “must-go” event for the doers of the Jewish world. It attracts thousands of high-quality individuals who each have so much to give and share.
If we could actually network effectively, the results would be phenomenal.
Perhaps things would happen that would really have an impact on “Tomorrow.”
Yet last year, in spite of my outgoing approach, I can honestly say that I came away from an entire day at the President’s Conference having connected meaningfully with six people.
Out of 4,000 who attended!
I can network more efficiently on Facebook any day of the week.
So let’s get this straight.
I feel excited to be going to the President’s Conference.
But I’m not going so that I can meet Bill or Mikhael or Barbra (no offense, guys).
I’m going so I can meet Josh and Aviva and Shneur Zalman and other awesome-yet-regular people involved in great projects.
Thank you, President’s Conference, for bringing us all together to the same geographic location.
Now please get out of our way so that we can brainstorm together about how we can make Tomorrow better.
My Dream for the President’s Conference of Tomorrow
Facilitating networking in this hi-tech social era is not rocket surgery.
Conference networking apps, like Bizzabo, make it so easy to help attendees learn about each other and meet.
Usually apps need to be launched and promoted way ahead of the event if you want to achieve reasonable adoption rates.
But better late than never…
So tell us, Pres Conf people. What will be the networking app?
Networking groups on Facebook could be set up and promoted to allow participants to meet and share – before, during and after the event.
It’s also kinda late for that, but still…
Twitter hashtags were used last year with some effectiveness, but we can tweet each other any day. The amazing thing about the President’s Conference is that we can Tweet and Meet right now!
So why not some sort of facilitated face-to-face networking at the event itself?
OK. I know none of this is likely to happen at this point.
What I still think we need to help the organizers of this conference understand.
No one wants to be a passive spectator any more – and certainly not the leaders and doers who attend the President’s Conference.
We are not faceless, docile crowds sitting there while the “real VIPs” talk in the spotlight.
And the President’s Conference is not school assembly.
It’s Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn live. It’s a live social network in every sense.
We want to meet and connect and share with other like-minded folks.
That’s why I can’t wait to go to the President’s Conference on Wednesday morning.
If it’s awesome, I’ll go back on Thursday.
If I meet lots of amazing people working on projects of significance, I’ll call it awesome.
So if you’re going to the President’s Conference, please come over and make my day!