Speak the Future: Interview with Stowe Boyd, Web Anthropologist


Conferize’s “Speak the Future” series features speakers who are currently changing the conference world. For more info check out our “Speak the Future” Manifesto.

Can you tell us a little about yourself? What is your favorite area of expertise to discuss as a speaker?

My research is social tools and the future of work, principally, so there’s a great deal in there. I gave a keynote last week in Portugal on ‘The Future Of Work In A Social World’, for example. Last year I gave a talk several times called ‘What Will Matter In The Future’.

How did you begin your career in public speaking? What were some key conferences for you?

I started in grad school studying computer science. My first talk was at Usenix to 1,500 people. The moderator read my whole bio, it was like seven paragraphs and it seemed to go on forever. People started shuffling their feet it was so long. I walked up and said ‘Thanks for that but you left one thing out: twelve arrests, no convictions’. The audience laughed out loud and I thought, ‘Hey, I can do this’.

Why are conferences important today?

The key skill in a digital world is to learn faster and conferences are one of the most potent ways to concentrate deep understanding into a small package.

Why have you chosen to become a speaker?

I was unsuited for real work. No, seriously, it helps my research and writing. Sometimes I discover ideas in my presentations not obvious elsewhere. Sometimes I go to a conference to learn what I have to say on a subject.

Have you noticed any significant trends in the meetings industry in the wake of digital/mobile developments? How would you like to see conferences change more in the future?

It’s fascinating how little conferences have changed. The hardware and software for presentations is basically the same as 10 years ago. Innovations like projecting the back channel have had largely bizarro consequences. I guess the biggest breakthrough has been live streaming, but it is all pretty modest, really.

As a speaker, what do you feel you need right now to strengthen your profile in the conference world? Tools, technology, network etc.?

A book. I am writing one, on business in the social age, called Socialogy. Coming soon to a bookstore near you.

Best & worst conference experience?

Best: the six consecutive years I attended Reboot in Copenhagen. A great sense of community, great speakers, great locale, deep and lasting relationships.

Worst: Comdex. A pulsing sea of humanity, moving in giant waves, moving so deliberately I could hardly make a turn when I wanted. More like running with the bulls than attending a conference.

Any advice to aspiring speakers?

Keep your day job. No, seriously, I think most good speakers are excellent writers first. So sharpen your pencil, and write regularly for a few years.