Whenever I stroll the toothpaste aisle or the peanut butter aisle in the local mega-supermarket I often think we have too many choices (at least in North America). That doesn’t apply to Presidential candidates, of course, when we are given 2.1 candidates to choose from and we end up with walnut brains like our current nutjob, even though we technically didn’t even give him the most votes. But when I was reading Choice, Seth Godin’s short but sweet commentary on the difference between “then” and “now”, I had to agree that choice is where it’s at.
I’m not sure if we need a hundred toothpastes, or a thousand flavors of high-fructose corn syrup, but we do enjoy having choice. The need for choice is obvious in the changes in web marketing. Gone are the days where a flash-based website did all the driving. Now users demand small bites of web content in easy to browse arrangements, even though they increasingly need a crowd of content raters helping them make their choices.
But, oddly, the age of choice hasn’t caught up with events. Exhibitions – yes. But try to find the elements of choice in a user conference or sales meeting. Here it’s still about sit back and be spoken to. You can choose your sessions. You can choose your muffin. But you sit and watch a general session. For how much longer, I wonder?
The nearest equivalent I can think of is movies. They’re about the same length as a general session. You sit and you watch. And with increasing numbers, people are choosing to have a remote control in their hands instead of a frighteningly over-priced bag of artificially buttered popcorn. At home, we control our pace, our volume, our seating position, our food choices, and our breaks.
While the movie industry scrambles to keep people in the theaters, will we have to do the same in live events? Maybe not to the same extent, but we will do well to understand those issues and respond to them with choices.
The choice to sit through some or all of a session.
The choice to watch some or all of it online later, or on my phone, PDA, PSP, or PMP.
The choice to listen as part of a crowd or speak as part of a conversation.
The choice to hear about a solution or to be part of the solution.
The choice to present another PowerPoint slide show full of words or make a lasting visual impression