Planning is in hand for IQPC’s May 2010 E-Disclosure conference. Good conferences like this provide elements which other forms of information delivery lack, not least the opportunity to interact with those whose data we write and talk about.
Having got shot of my last urgent deadline a few minutes before midnight on Monday, you would think I deserved a day or two in peace to catch up, but no – duty calls. Just to show how tough life is here, I was forced to spend part of yesterday in a smart restaurant in South Kensington with three agreeable young ladies.
The ladies in question were the team from IQPC responsible for planning IQPC’s Information Retention and E-Disclosure Management Conference for next May – Vanessa Lovatt, Katie Judd and Sarah Johnson. I enjoyed all the conferences I did last year (yes, I have lost count, too) but IQPC was simultaneously the most important and the most enjoyable. It is the biggest one on home territory, it attracts a corporate audience and, last year, it was the venue for the UK-US judicial panel with Guidance Software (since repeated in Washington), and for the performance of the mock e-Disclosure application which I wrote. I am on its advisory board and so get involved in its forward planning – we actually started this at IQPC’s Brussels conference in October but, since that was at 2.30 in the morning and none of us took any notes, it seemed prudent to have a slightly more formal session.
What are these conferences for? It is worth posing the question from time to time, because it is occasionally suggested that their time has passed and / or that they have become “too commercial”, whatever that means. The first point, I think, springs from the idea that we can now get all the information we need in written form over the web, with web sites and blogs increasingly supplemented by direct interchange of ideas via social media such as Twitter. I am an advocate both of that and of multimedia methods of carrying messages such as podcasts and video which, although a one-way form of communication, add a useful dimension to the written words. I do not think they can stand alone, however.
It is great to be able to exchange twenty ideas a day over Twitter and it suits very well the too-busy-to-think generation. Twitter and all the other forms of electronic sources of information have put me in touch with many people whom I do not know and whose contributions I can evaluate for myself. What underpins it as a trusted resource, however, is that I have met many of those who do the writing, and the opportunity for that has been at conferences.
There is no substitute either for actually meeting the people responsible for looking after the data within companies and their lawyers. Conferences are an opportunity to hear from, as well as to speak to, some of the people whose problems we are all trying to address. It is necessary constantly to gauge the level at which we pitch information. If the vast majority are still in the foothills, there are many others who want a higher level, not just of knowledge thrown at them but of discussion with their peers. One of my constant requests to organisers over the last couple of years has been for more white space between sessions for precisely this reason, and most have provided this.
There is also opportunity at conferences to make the weather as well as merely to report on it. The most obvious example of this is where a judge indicates a change in direction or an altered level of expectation, but it can come also when someone responsible for information management in a company is willing to share ideas which have been found to work.
Lastly, the bigger conferences, with more time and resources to play with, can afford to take the occasional risk and try something which departs from the conventional lecture or panel, introducing a format or a subject which is not a retread from previous years or other conferences.
As to the suggestion that conferences have become over commercialised, I am not sure either what the objection amounts to or what the alternatives are. Assuming that one accepts that conferences are useful (and it will be clear from what I say above that I do), they require two components – the physical infrastructure of premises, equipment and catering, and an immense amount of organisation – all of which has to be funded from somewhere. The suppliers who sponsor these events bring more than their cash – many of the best speakers come from the supplier side and their stands are places where interested delegates can set eyes on applications without the formality of an appointment. I have only heard one supplier-speaker in the last 12 months (not in the UK) whose presentation was indistinguishable from a sales pitch – and was received accordingly by the audience.
Managing the financial and logistical relationship between sponsors, speakers and delegates is non-trivial. We need to keep freshening up the concept, with new sponsors, new ideas and fresh faces in the audience. I am not going to tell you what we discussed at our lunch, but I came away confident that we will have a first-rate programme with a mixture of the conventional and the different. IQPC have absorbed the (very good) feedback from last year, but if you have anything new to suggest, whatever your role, do contact Sarah Johnson at IQPC. The main conference days are 18 and 19 May, with workshops on 17 May.
Meanwhile, I collected two new deadlines on my way home. I am beginning to think that legal technology PR consultant Sarah Levick spies on me: I reported once before that a request from her reached me as I put my key in the door after a long trip abroad; this time her message implied that she knew that I had just got rid of other deadlines: “I’m sensing you’re static for a bit…”, she said, as if my sloping off to lunch was a dereliction of duty, before asking for an article. It is just as well she asks so nicely and besides, it was she who masterminded the series of podcasts which I did with Legal Inc, the fourth of which went live today – as Sarah informed us via Twitter. So, blogs, podcasts, Twitter all have their place in the information flow – and so do conferences.