This week, we’re kicking off a series of interviews with the Modern Media team. You already know that Modern Media produces top-notch conferences and events, builds websites and marketing campaigns, and develops social media strategies. But do you know the people who make it all happen? Here’s your chance to learn more about how they work: what’s their secret sauce? And is it true that Milo is really in charge?
First up is John Eckhouse. John’s at the center of the Modern Media crew when it comes to speaker recruitment and program management on any conference or awards project. Onsite, he’s the tentpole when it comes to on-stage production, armed with minute-by-minute scripts and hours of preparation. Watching the Modern team at an event is like watching a crew flawlessly navigate the whitewater of a wild & scenic river. I’ve discovered that John also really enjoys his inside view on the character of so many of the high-level business leaders featured at our clients’ conferences.
Q: Tell us about Modern Media’s conference services business. Favorite events?
Producing Programs That Bring a Brand to Life
Q: This month you’re off to London for the The Economist’s Innovation Awards Ceremony and Summit. Tell us about Modern Media’s involvement.
JE: Working on this awards program is a delight. We created the Innovation Awards with The Economist in 2002, and we’ve managed the nominations and judging every year since. It’s fascinating. The nominees are all so creative; it’s always disappointing that only one can be awarded in each category! For a media company, an awards program involves readers in a conversation. Economist readers, the panel of judges and editors all get to submit nominations. And readers voted for the first time last year for a readers’ award.
Click here to take a look and vote (until October 14, 2011) for the Anniversary prize, awarded to an Innovation Award winner from the last 10 years.
Q: You’ve just returned from the Teradata PARTNERS Users Group Conference in San Diego. Modern managed Teradata’s EPIC Awards program this year. How did that go?
JE: The ceremony went off very well. The room was packed, enthusiasm was high and both the winners and Teradata executives were happy. An awards program involves and rewards customers – brings a brand to life.
Conference Programming Secrets to Success
Q: John, I think of you as the Invisible Hand that keeps a conference’s on-stage program running on time and without mishap. What’s your secret?
JE: Stay calm. Be direct. Keep pushing.
Q: A mantra! What about the pitfalls? What are you most concerned about?
JE: Two things: That a key speaker will cancel. That the AV crew isn’t well drilled, well rehearsed and well prepared. I know that sounds redundant — but you can’t over prepare!
Q: One of your best practices is to communicate closely with speakers and panelists before an event. Any war stories illustrating the risk of not doing so?
JE: Well, I have one – I won’t tell you who it was. The speaker was backstage having his mic put on when he asked me: “Why am I here? Why did you invite me?” We often deal with “handlers,” and work hard at communications, but in this case the message had not reached the speaker. I also always make sure that a moderator talks directly to the panel beforehand, knows the importance of this preparation.
Speaker Management: Putting the Best on Stage
Q: What is the trait you most deplore in a panelist? And what trait do you most admire?
JE: Long, rambling answers can really put a room to sleep. I really admire a panelist who involves other panelists in a conversation.
Q: Speaker recruitment activity would make a great infographic, showing the slow build as it unfolds week over week to a full and perfect roster. How many invitations go out before the lineup is set for a typical conference?
Q: Sometimes you are asked to moderate one of our clients’ events. What’s your secret for starting a discussion when you’ve just met the participants?
JE: I use a “throat clearing” question like: What is the biggest issue that you are grappling with right now? Answering that question, people hear their own voice and know that they are not just part of an audience. It works. I’ve also learned that people really appreciate humor and interjection.
Q:You serve as “The Voice of God” for many of the conferences Modern Media produces. Is this something that took special training?
JE: I worked in radio in high school and college, and after that at KPFA in Berkeley – as a volunteer in the newsroom doing reporting, writing and anchoring the weekend news show.
Q: One last question, John: What’s with the Hawaiian shirts?
JE: I often work with speakers who have never met me — and they need an easy way to find me in a crowded room. In a sea of business jackets or polo shirts, what’s easier than telling them to look for the guy in the Hawaiian shirt?