I have been to six Wine Bloggers Conferences (WBC) and each are uniquely different and often highlighting the region where it is visiting. Given all of the WBC all of them have had a central hotel and the conference was at the hotel. Lodi, the host region for WBC, had a conference centre far from the “official hotels.” This WBC was quite different in terms of energy and connection and networking opportunities than any of the conferences I have visited before.
I traditionally like the networking opportunities–they are rich, needed and necessary, and good old fashion fun. What I traditionally don’t like about WBC is the content and the speed tastings. Because of the non-proximate location of the conference centre to the Hampton Inn and the Holiday Inn Express getting connected was quite difficult. I stayed at the Holiday Inn Express is some place: I had never stayed at this chain of hotels before. I thought the other official hotel was an easy walk away but that was not true–at least not a place you want to traverse in the dark–not a sidewalk to walk on and not a particularly active part of Lodi.
On Sunday of WBC I ran into a friend that I hadn’t seen all the days before at the conference–I thought perhaps she did not come to the conference but the truth of distant of conference hotels was evident and unfortunate. I was also surprised that there seemed to be a lot less presence of sponsors or at least number of sponsors. My evidence point was the final evening’s “Wines of the World” reception where there were only two sponsors pouring their wines. The evening was quite warm and the wine ran out quickly not due to heat but due to not enough sponsors to pour more wines.
Consistently over time the content is rather weak. Putting this in the following framework: if you are traveling large distances and paying one’s own way the expectation is that it is not just good it is great and it helpful to move one’s wine blog needle.
I think the content and delivery has often been disappointing because the bar is often set low. From a conference management perspective there should be a set of requirements for content and expectation of superb delivery.
I’ll use myself as an example–when I have been invited to speak I have given a topic and which I accompany with an outline. I do this in case I need to hone in specifically to the need of event and audience and I give my outline before I step on speaking platform. As a speaker I want to manage and meet expectation or organiser and attendee. I always want to give the best I can give.
I felt many speakers did not rehearse or perhaps don’t speak that often. The PowerPoint presentations were less than satisfactory. I think it is essential to given an agenda or list of topics to be covered. I think you have to manage the audience insofar as letting people know when you will take questions or asking questions of the audience–rhetorical or even from a polling perspective–audience engagement is essential.
Nothing loses an audience faster than if everything fails, slides don’t advance, too difficult to read as the front is too small, too much text, no overall theme or sense of direction. I was in one talk where the presenter seemed frustrated that the material was not advancing correctly. I like anyone else is there to hear about an experience, a best practice, industry information etc. and not feeling stuck with the presenter. I think a take away is important e.g. my slide deck is available on Slidenet, a worksheet or questionnaire as an example. I don’t mind if person doesn’t have an answer but asks if someone might know or the old fashion “I’ll get back to you.”
It is not just the presentation style that is the only thing–it is the content itself. I think the organizing committee could be more helpful by giving a guidance to presenters–e.g. An emerging topic may need some very foundational information, if it is a well known topic than a specific issue or piece can be highlighted. I always ask if I am going to speak–and I ask many questions ranging from duration of talk to audience to goal or aim of conference or topic presented.
I have felt that I have not received value over the years with WBC’s weak content–If I am traveling to New York, Virginia or Canada it is much more expensive than going to Lodi. Regardless even short distance travel has it’s expenses. And conversely someone traveli from East Coast or abroad has to endure a large expense. I need to maximize the value of what I spend in both time and money and I know I am not the only one that has felt this way.
I proposed content with a focus on video in this WBC. I think video is essential and I think what I proposed would have been a perspective that is lacking from past WBCs. My topic was rejected and I don’t know the criteria for acceptance or rejection. I use to have a lobby meet up about video but I also felt strongly that this should not be a clandestine topic. I would have been out of luck this year as the hotel settings were not strong to support a meet up like event. Even if there was one hotel I would not have done a video meet up–I just don’t feel this topic needs to be presented only in a lobby and not a conference setting. I am not an unknown quantity in the blogging community or the video community or even wine community as I have never been invited to be part of a formal team presenting or a panelist. I know that I will not submit for another presentation slot at WBC because I know it will be rejected.
So there was so highlights that I greatly appreciated:
- Discovery Session: Wine Educator Deborah Parker Wong, DWSET presents From Prosecco to Amarone – 12-August-2016 Deborah presented this tasting experiencing through the WSET methodology of Italian wines. Deborah framed the tasting so well and made this tasting experience a welcoming and inclusive one. Her touch with the audience was superb and I truly enjoyed the experience.
- From Passion to Pro – Getting Paid to Write About Wine with Randy Caparoso (moderator), Deborah Parker Wong, Jameson Fink and Debra Meiburg – 13-August-2016 Each panelist and moderator talked about their lifeline and how they go where they are today–each of them said something unique and important. Deborah Parker Wong talked about her journey and it wasn’t an easy one and I took particular attention. Her comments resonated not just at the conference and are still with me in terms of “turning over many rocks” for opportunities.
- Increase Your Audience & Engagement 14-August-2016 – Mary Cressler and Sean Martin of Vindulge – a husband and wife team from Portland; Sean is a barbecue expert and Mary is a sommelier. I almost missed this presentation because I was skeptical of Sunday or last day material. I went to see a few people before I left–I ducked into this presentation on accident. This fantastic duo gave valuable insights, experience and great ideas so social media sites and other ways to increase traffic. The level of presentation was excellent and I appreciated the way it was delivered and I walked away with things I can do in the future.
While I attend and I may tweet but I don’t like this approach. I think the notion that everyone wants to quickly gulp or taste and spit wine and tweet about it isn’t helpful for anyone. I don’t look to the conference screen and see if my name appears on the screen. I stopped writing pithy notes to tweet out. I do want to meet winemaker and producer representatives but doing so more thoughtfully. I also find that the speed of getting each tasting session a massive rush–not a lot of fun and I would say unnecessary. This element needs to change and become relevant.
I tasted some Lodi wines but much fewer than I expected. I hope there would have been more opportunities to taste. I thought that LoCA would have a table there throughout the conference and would have participated in the wines of the world. There were plenty of opportunities but they never materialised. I think it was a missed opportunity.
I missed events that were held at venues off site–it was not easy to get from one event in the evening to the next and hence was a delimiter to get to a large number of events.
I was disappointed in there was no survey on the event to give feedback to the organizer-Zephyr Adventures . I got a survey request from the hotel where I stayed a few days after my stay. I think it is a key function and even expectation of participant and it is norm of business and customer service. I don’t want to just “give” my feedback here as that was not my intent.
In spite of several levels of disappointment of WBC16, I was delighted to see many people I know near and far. I loved seeing my many friends and I did see many people late at the event but it was better to see late than not at all. I also enjoyed many new friends as well.
Will I go to WBC17? Yes I will. Will the content be upgraded? Probably not. I will go to make what I can from it–at least next year it will be in Fall time in Autumn and I think there may be fewer people since it will be in November but hope I will see my many friends and again meet new friends. I am hoping for a better WBC in 2017.
James the Wine Guy
Demystifying Wine…One Bottle at a Time from all wine regions around the world.
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