FedTalks 2010 – A Speaker’s Perspective

A lot of news gets made about an event like the one that just happened yesterday in the Sidney Harmon Theater downtown DC. FedTalks by FedScoop featured some really high power speakers like Craig Newmark from Craig’s List, Arianna Huffington from the Huffington Post, Congressman Jim Moran, and others.

The subject for the event “How Technology Can Change Government” was well received. As several people said to me, there is a lot of good stuff going on that doesn’t get enough attention. Just about everyone is targeting the power of Web 2.0 in the government space. Subjects like overcoming security challenges, transparency, value creation showed up over and over again in speaker’s material.

There’s an aspect of this event which hasn’t gotten nearly enough play. As a speaker at this event myself, (see articles about my speech in the New York Times, CIO Magazine, Yahoo News, ITBusinessEdge, milBlogging, and PC World Magazine) what I am about to tell you about is something that I experienced first hand – and it is every bit as important as the speakers and the subject.

I’m talking about the event organizers. The ones who bust their butt for months leading up to these events, quietly celebrate every gain in value for their audience, run themselves ragged to make sure we don’t notice any hiccups (and there ARE hiccups), and do their best to line up the best talent and subject material they can.

These events are catalysts. They bring us together and lift our heads up from our day to day work. They help us to realize that we’re not alone in our quest for better government. They help us to form friendships that make great things happen.

The people who make these events happen are largely unknown, and from what I saw yesterday – definitely under appreciated. These people have cool stories, an incredible amount of patience and professionalism, and a special skill for bring out the best in people. Without that skill, these events would be duds.

My experience was a ride. My boss found this event and asked my opinion one day. I told him I thought it was a great opportunity, and he should consider speaking at it. Later, we both realized he was going to be on vacation. I was “elected” to fill in. I did not want to go, but I knew we had a great message, and it looked bad telling him he should go if I wasn’t wiling to go myself, so I stepped up.

I had a bad experience a few years prior – in front of a few hundred Naval officers (many of whom were my friends) in uniform whites. It was easily the worst performance I had ever delivered, and frankly, I was nervous about getting back on that public speaking horse. If you’ve ever been “thrown,” you know what I mean. That stage frightened me.

Enter: Goldy Kamali and my personal “handler” as I called her, Danielle Verbin. My first exposure was to Goldy. This woman has a way of just cutting through fear and from the onset and infecting people with her enthusiasm. She made me feel comfortable and a little excited. I knew I had the skills (somewhere in memory) to deliver well, and I had a message worth delivering. She saw both right away and encouraged me to jump in. She treated me with respect and familiarity, and never once made me feel like I was not worthy to be sharing the stage with a lineup like the ones on the agenda (see www.fedtalks.com).

Goldy invited me to a VIP reception prior to the event that was way outside of my comfort zone. She treated me well and made me feel at home with the crowd. This is where I met my “handler” as well – and this sealed the deal.

A “handler’s” job, I presume is to pair up with a speaker, guide them throughout the process, make them feel as comfortable and confident as possible, harass them to turn in their briefing materials, bio, and other needed materials, and generally make sure that their needs are met.

I am a special needs kind of guy. That is to say that I have to get my head in the right place in order to step on stage in front of 500-800 people (the number I was told would be at Fedtalks this year). I’m not difficult, but it takes real work for me to get into the right frame of mind. Danielle transformed herself into exactly what I needed her to be – AND went on to handle announcements, other guests, speakers, and logistics.

Other “handlers” at the event were everywhere. No matter where I turned, someone was smiling at me, pointing me in the right direction, taking my bag, showing me where I needed to be. In short – absorbing the stress and making the entire experience a pleasurable one. Dannia Hakki, the Co-founder and Principal for Mokimedia (the company that FedScoop hired to handle PR for this event) parked herself front and center for my presentation – and plastered a smile on her face through my entire speaking slot. Clearly, this team had my mental well being in mind.

I can not understate the impact that these people – behind the scenes – have on bringing quality people and quality messages together. I can say with confidence, that if it weren’t for these professionals, my message would not have been heard. And I suspect the quality of the messages that get delivered at events like these would not be anywhere near what it is today.

I sincerely appreciate these folks, the experience I had, and the fact that there are some really good things going on that doesn’t get enough attention.

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Agreed. As someone who hasn’t thrown an event until this year, I’m amazed how much work they take and give mad props to folks like Goldy that throw a great one.

Kathleen Smith

And Dave did a great job being flexible with all the time changes and technological difficulties. I appreciate his appreciation of the event sloggers. As someone who will put on close to 30 events this year between those of ClearedJobs.Net, military support groups, recruiters events and 14 for a nonprofit I can tell you alot goes on behind the scenes that not many people know about.

And Goldy is a a master at putting on a first class event!