Conferize’s “Speak the Future” series features speakers who are currently changing the conference world.
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Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and professional background?
My name is Luis Suarez and I work as an independent Social Business & Digital Transformation adviser. I focus on helping organizations understand the new dynamics (and modus operandi) of networks and social technologies in the workplace in order to help them transform the way they communicate, collaborate and get work done more effectively, whether internally or externally with their customers. I worked at IBM for 17 years focusing on Knowledge Management, collaboration, learning, cultivating online communities and social networking for business. I have always been interested in the areas of open knowledge sharing and collaboration as an opportunity to help define how organizations manage themselves and operate and with the emergence of these social tools I think we have a pretty good opportunity to change the nature of work without having to wait for the future to arrive, but creating it today.
When and how did you begin public speaking?
I think my first public speaking opportunities started to happen when I moved into the field of Knowledge Management around 2001 and was first involved in international KM conferences and I figured the topic was going to be something I’d be rather interested in pursuing over the course of time and public speaking just gave me the perfect opportunity: exposure. It was also the time when I first bumped into social software (i.e. blogs and wikis) and I knew they would be changing the game completely in terms of how people communicate and collaborate with one another, so I decided to take the opportunity to do public speaking to help spread the word around the huge potential impact of social tools in our day to day personal and work lives. I haven’t walked back ever since.
What topics do you generally speak about?
At this present time most of the topics I speak about at conference events are around Social Business & Adaptation Strategies; Digital Transformation; Open Leadership in a Networked World; Online Community Building; Informal Learning; and, finally, ‘Life Without eMail’ (a movement I started off back in February 2008 with the aim to challenge and rethink the status quo of email as a communication and collaboration tool in favour of social technologies).
What are some of the conferences you have spoken at? Do you have a favorite?
I have spoken at numerous conference events over the course of the years, some of them no longer taking place, like the Web 2.0 Expo in Berlin or the #e2conf conference in Boston, Massachusetts for instance. However, there are plenty of others still taking place on a regular basis that I have spoken at over the years like the Digital Enterprise Summit in Paris, the Social Business Forum in Milan, J.Boye in Aarhus (DK), Next (DE) and a few others. To pick up some of my favourite ones is a rather tough, since there have been too many, but here are some of the ones I have enjoyed tremendously over the last 2 to 3 years: Meaning Conference (UK), Social Now (PT & NL), IntraTeam (DK), Social Connections (both Europe & US), Engage (Benelux), IBM Connect (i.e. former Lotusphere, in Orlando, FL), EBE (ES), etc. etc.
Do you have any advice for aspiring public speakers?
Well, there are tons of advice and tips I could share, for sure, as plenty of other folks have done in the past all over the Internet sharing their top-notch good practices on what makes a great presentation and / or speaker, but if I were to highlight a couple of tips about what ticks for me I would share the following: come up with an (innovative) idea that can change the world and build a story around it! Time and time again I keep bumping into some really great ideas that don’t have a story built around them. There is no connection, no opportunity to learn about it through a story, no engagement, no excitement, no thrill, no passion and, eventually, you find out that a great idea is only a great one as long as the story is there. Build the story, bring on a great idea, and you will become a terrific speaker. Oh, and in the meantime, practice makes perfection, so rehearse, rehearse, rehearse and, if you can, in front of your audience. That’s the best way to learn to become a great speaker! Right at the heart of the action: iteration after iteration. Time after time! (To be continued … )
Do you attend conferences regularly? If yes, why?
Yes, I do, I have a tendency to attend multiple conferences throughout the year and for a simple reason: networking! Having a superb lineup of speakers is the icing on the cake, for sure, but it’s the networking, the getting together, the face to face interactions, in between breaks, lunches & dinners, networking opportunities, that keep dragging me into conferences time and time again. It’s one of the most self-empowering opportunities to help you contribute to a community of fellow practitioners while we are all on learning mode about a common topic we are all truly passionate about. It’s like feeding a beast with all of our shared knowledge and collective wisdom over a short period of time with the end result we are all going to benefit from such knowledge sharing experiences over time. Conferences were born to help facilitate people getting together and network with one another; learn plenty more about a common topic and then let serendipity do its magic nurturing those (old and new) connections. That’s by far the thing I love the most from attending conferences: talk to people in real life and learn with them along the way on what drives and motivates us, regardless of the topic.
How have you seen conferences change over the past few years?
I am afraid I haven’t and it’s a real pity, indeed, that we have seen little progress in terms of how conferences are run. A good friend of mine, Jay Cross, who, very very sadly, is no longer with us and who contributed tremendously into this space, as well as the Learning community, amongst several other fields, shared this absolutely stunning article on ‘Rethinking Conferences’ … putting together lots of the things that are currently broken around running a conference event. Now, that article is from February 2009 and 7 years later very little, if at all, progress has been made around conferences and somehow I still think he was spot on in terms of describing what a conference should be like for everyone’s benefit. I’m hoping that, at some point, we would be able to make things tick and bring back a new wave of conference events, like Jay envisioned back in the day, as a massive opportunity to learn something new and share it with others. What do you love about conferences? Why should people attend them? Similar response to the one I shared above: the networking! It’s my favourite activity from every conference I attend and participate in. It’s all about the overall experience, about helping amplify how people learn, share and connect with one another, on a limited period of time, indeed, but with the great opportunity of changing people’s lives after attending and participating in one. That’s the main premise of a conference that I keep reminding myself over and over time: change people’s (work) lives! Don’t make it a routine, because at that point you have already stopped learning!
Did we miss anything?
Well, maybe re-think how we do conferences. I think the time is right to start thinking differently about them, how they are organized, how people participate in them and what we all get out of them. 7 years ago Jay was spot on on the changes he wanted to see for conference events to make them a win-win for everyone involved in them. I guess we just need to make it happen! It’s about time!
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