ad:tech 2011 The Lean Back Conference Attended By (Mostly) Lean Forward Types

15 04 2011

Something new I’m starting: Event Reviews of things I attend. Here’s my first for  ad:tech 2011  in San Francisco and what I’ve decided to name it:

The Lean Back Conference Attended By (Mostly) Lean Forward Types


ad:tech 2011  – San Francisco, CA – Moscone Center West

Held by: ad:tech/DMG World Media

Date: April 11-13, 2011

Business reason for attending:

Networking, reconnecting and visibility at the only west coast location of this international conference series attended by mostly industry decision makers.

Notes: This conference was structured as what I’d call a “lean back” event, but was mainly attended by “lean forward” types that quickly disengage and revert to their own personal screens (mobile, iPad, laptop, etc) if the interaction levels or focus required aren’t there. An example of a lean forward event would be an unconference, freeform conference or something-camp. This chart illustrates the lean back vs lean forward concept:

(Source of table:

This phenomenon is highly relevant to this ad:tech event because it also impacted most of typical informal opportunities for networking. I can explain this best by describing connecting scenarios that were typically always available and recommended in the past:

  1. Waiting in line to check into the conference
  2. Being seated in the room before a session begins and chatting up your nearby neighbors
  3. Sitting in a lounge area while folks are checking vmails between sessions
  4. Waiting in line to chat with one of the presenters or panel hosts
  5. Waiting in line for the restroom (usually only applies to women since there always seems to be a line) or coat check
  6. Attended and working the room at the end of day networking activities

In all of the above scenarios the typical modus operandi for most was to lean forward into a screen to: text, check email, look at Facebook (chat with friends there), check in on Foursquare (that could produce some occasional connecting but most folks are lurkers there at events like this), scan a Twitter stream, check out the site(s) of the presenters you just saw, check in w/the office, etc. You get the idea.

Even during the breaks there would be 7  or so people around a round table all sitting together and no one was speaking to each other — they were all leaning forward into a screen. What’s interesting/odd is that there was only one single instance where the host/event facilitator asked the keynote attendees to remember that networking was a big reason we were all there and to find a stranger around your seat and introduce yourself to them.

I could go on about this, and what I would have done differently if I were hosting, but I won’t b/c it wasn’t my event and I did my best to make the most of the opportunity in spite of the challenges. I definitely believe this was still a good use of my first week/time because I was able to spend a few hours intermittently with an industry association board president, and über-connected all around good guy who made a point of introducing me to everyone that stopped or approached him whenever we reconnected at the conference. I also met and chatted with quite a few of his other board members and we are now already linked via LinkedIn.

And, yes, there were a few standout presentations from Guy Kawasaki, Jeffrey Cole ( – a think tank), Arianna Huffington (she kept saying “loca” for “local” which most women in the audience with even a basic understanding of Spanish chuckling), and the champion for “digital fitness,” Bonin Bough, the head of digital and social media for Pepsico. He was smart, funny and very “lean forwardy.”



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