1) Telematics Detroit's main value is in networking. For industry old timers like me, it's always like a big reunion party. It was great to see old friends from jobs long ago, friends who have done business with QNX for many years, and friends who have never done business with QNX but love us all the same. It was great to build on our existing partner relationships, and to work on blossoming new ones. It's great to catch up with people, building up your own business-card sized slice into their personal career trajectory
More than ever, it's clear that the car app has finally taken hold. I talked to many mobile developers who are targeting the car; we're helping them figure out how to bridge the mobile-car gap.
An anecdote shows how important networking is to this event. The Telematics Update party sponsored by Slacker had two live bands, an open bar, and cheerleaders milling through the crowd. Telematics and Tonics (the event brought to life by my good friend and former boss John Correia, and sponsored by QNX, Agero, and Tweddle) was held at the same time across the street. We didn’t have a live band, an open bar, or cheerleaders, but people still found our party a great place to mix and mingle.
2) I think that the sessions at many auto events need a face lift. This isn't just about Telematics Update—it's a reflection of many shows I've been to lately. I heard from a few people that they had walked out of talks after the first couple minutes, or that they generally thought the content of the sessions or the panels was not as valuable as they could be. Having done panels (yes, I did one this time) and speaking engagements (no, I didn't do one this time) at many shows, I think I can shed some light on why this is.
Every show has to organize months in advance, so abstracts are created months earlier, which allows them to schedule and print show guides, etc. With this model, you're planning for what's going to be discussed several months ahead of time. Is this time lag critical? Sometimes it can be—if you're working in a fast paced industry, it may mean you're not going to be able to talk about something brand new.
There’s a bigger problem: the people you invite to speak are industry experts. And experts are in high demand. Which means that they're multi-tasking and being pulled in many different directions all the time. The show content they need to deliver is just a small fraction of what they need to output each and every day. As it's so far in the future, it often gets prioritized low on the list, often only getting completed days (or hours) before the show. Old material is often recycled, the presentation may be unpolished, and the slides may be uninteresting. This lack of ability to put quality time into creating a clear and concise message and refining it generally leads to presentations that are difficult to follow, or that add little value.
What would help? I can think of a couple things that could be tried:
- Don't use printed guides at all, and leave the content and abstracts flexible until days before the show. Also, keep the content automatically updated on a web site—why kill trees for no reason? Not committing to a specific topic months in advance means the material can be fresh and relevant to that very week.
- Except for the keynote, make the session rooms smaller and more intimate, and instead of having a one-way presentation that turns into a core dump, create open Q&A sessions around areas of expertise. This approach can encourage an interactive conversation that grows in the direction of audience interest, instead of potentially boring the audience or, even worse, going over their heads. The speaker is an expert—they don't have to prepare anything, except be prepared to talk. A panel session isn't exactly what I have in mind—even a panel is a little prescriptive and doesn't dig down into the details that can really engage the audience
- Create and enforce use of a standardized presentation template. SAE does it. As a content creator, I have often cursed SAE’s policy, but it definitely drives consistency. SAE's template was less than attractive in years past, but this year it was actually decent. A standardized template has many advantages: it helps limit the number of slides and the amount of text on each slide; it also enforces appropriate image/diagram usage. If done right, it can help presenters create something that works well for the size and expectations of the audience.