This article first appeared on PostDesk - http://www.postdesk.com/tech-events-networking-uk-broken
“Inspiring young people to do brilliant things with technology”, for anyone that knows me, is my current mantra. It’s another quote of mine that will no doubt make it into Sam England’s “Book of Leydon”. It’s my prerogative of the moment and the driving force behind Tomorrow’s Web.
Tomorrow’s Web is a meetup that’s held every few months with a view to inspire young creatives to get involved in technology and achieve wonderful things with it. The first event took place on February 4th and was met with an unexpected amount of high praise and acclaim. I’m shocked, I know that I wanted to inspire young people but I had no idea that they actually wanted to be inspired themselves.
There’s a fundamental flaw with most current conferences and meetups, it’s that they’re either way too patronising for their attendees / target market, or they’re incredibly pretentious and lacking in substance. Tomorrow’s Web was born out of frustration. Over the past year I’ve been attending more and more tech events that claim that they want to inspire people and educate them, but if anything they appear to do the complete opposite. Instead of feeling inspired at these events I spend most of my time outside with the smokers drinking myself into oblivion, chatting complete bollocks that’s very reminiscent of Chris Morris’ “Nathan Barley”.
Quite often I either don’t care for the speakers / presentations at the event, they’re too patronising or it’s way over my level of understanding and consequently loses my interest (sometimes even all three). Perhaps this issue is solely mine, but judging by the ever increasing amount of people joining me and the smokers outside, without a cigarette in their hand, I’d say that it’s a shared sentiment. Most events are boring and becoming dominated by corporate shills. They’ve lost their innocence.
At events like Future of Web Apps (FOWA), where you’d used to have Mark Zuckerberg, Kevin Rose and Ryan Carson on the same bill, giving talks about their companies, the ones that they were running, had started and were innovating with; you now have representatives from Company X and Company Y, people who are as much removed from what makes a startup tick as you are. FOWA has fast become a shadow of its former self.
Meetups around the Silicon Roundabout [circle-jerk] are now swimming with recruiters and PR representatives. The same familiar faces all doing nothing but relentlessly and aimlessly chatting bullshit with each other. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. The whole scene now feels more like high tea after cricket, rather than the pirates and pioneers buzzing to get back to their desks and change the world. The community has become less about building awesome things and instead chatting about the size of one’s virtual penis. “We’ve raised X million in VC Funding”, “We’ve appeared on TechCrunch 27 times and the front page of Hacker News”, “We’ve got 11 billion users”, all equate to “Look at my gigantic penis. It’s so much bigger than yours that it’ll tear a hole right through you so I can start screwing the person in front!”. Pathetic.
I’m making an appeal to all of the event organisers in London, it’s time to make a change and become genuine again. Get speakers in who have actually achieved something worth discussing. (Not just ‘professional networkers‘) Someone with an interesting story. Don’t get Imran Ghory in to speak about “Terrible Pitching”, a topic he so ironically doesn’t get that his presentation in itself is a bad pitch… very meta. Don’t put on the people who beg to speak at your events, they’re just looking to plug their next project. Get someone who will inspire your attendees. Someone who will make them eager to leave early, not because they can’t stand the visual and audial assault on their poor minds anymore, but because they want to go back home and start work on something truly fantastic.
Pick more stimulating venues, presentation is key. Make your event as chic as possible with as much polish as you can. (and no, Buckingham Palace is absolutely not the right idea, Tech City/UKTI) It gets your attendees excited to be there and creates a buzzing atmosphere. Hire a decent video production company to film your events, don’t just stick a handycam at the back of the room and hope for the best. Build as much brand around your event as you can. It attracts the high quality speakers and attendees. Being genuine and creating integrity at an event doesn’t stop at the venue and speakers either – it includes the sponsors too. Choose sponsors that your attendees can truly relate to.
Let’s go grassroots on this, back to basics. Right now I’m on a high and an egotrip, but that’s because I just pulled off an event that I wanted to attend. An event that has had an overwhelmingly positive response. An event, to directly quote James Gill (from GoSquared), that felt very genuine.
Tech events need to stop being about how big Ted Nash’s penis is and about inspiring people to do wonderful and amazingly fantastic things with technology.