Podcasters Across Borders: Bad Conference Experience

So I recently went to PAB2008, better known as Podcasters Across Borders, and my experience was less than stellar.

The sessions I went to didn’t teach me anything new, and the whole conference seemed centered around the emotional side of podcasting rather than the business or technical side of podcasting. I think an equal mix of these three important facets should have been included.

I also felt like the conference was really geared towards a group of people that all know each other with newcomers feeling like outsiders.

Try as I did to get noticed, and use my connections with the few people I knew to meet more people, I felt getting inside the circle was a fight, rather than being a welcome addition.

The biggest issue is that the conference doesn’t pull in the outside world. Most of the sessions that did try to teach something seemed to be geared towards people just starting out, and there weren’t many people that fit that description. It was a weird event to be certain.

I do have to give a shout out to Tim Coyne and Dave Brodbeck for their sessions. While I didn’t learn anything new about podcasting from either of them, I think that they would be great at inspiring people to get into podcasting. After listening to them, and feeling their passion for the medium and its diversity, I wanted to record a podcast, right then!

I think that the Friday afternoon would be better spent with a Podcasters 101 style line-up which could hopefully bring in a larger group of people and get them interested in podcasting, or for those that are interested, help them understand how it all comes together. These conferences should be about expanding the community and teaching, not giving an update about what we did in the last year so we can get our pats on the back.

I was very sad to see that there were no sessions that covered tricks and tips to editing a good podcast from a technical side. What software should I be using? Should I put audio between topics to break things up or not? What is a good mic, and does anyone have tricks to make it sound even better? Where should I be hosting my podcast files? What’s the best way to make show notes? Where is Digg just for podcasters? There were so many very important things that weren’t brought up, and maybe because those in attendance already knew it all, but not covering the how’s and why’s made me not want to attend again next year.

I was also annoyed at how monetization was seen as a negative thing with the mention of it bringing on a massive wave of sighs and groans from the audience.

If it wasn’t for proper monetization, I wouldn’t have had the great jobs I have been able to have over the last three years. I really didn’t understand their apprehension, and I think they are all doing themselves a great disservice by not finding a way to build a business around their passion.

It was really great to see Bill Deys, John Wiseman, Chris Brogan, and Jeff Parks because otherwise the conference would have been a waste for me. Get it together Podcasters Across Borders as being an echo chamber is no way to build a community. What I experienced was a Podcasting Club, not a Podcasting Conference.

13 thoughts on “Podcasters Across Borders: Bad Conference Experience

  1. Bill Deys

    I understand your point, and I was kind of worried you felt that way from the vibe I was getting from you. I’m not the best at helping people network, I try do but I usually fail. I need to work on that.

    From knowing that group very well, “we” don’t want to make anyone feel discluded. It does happen and we all realize that, I think it’s partly the nature of most of the people there to feel uncomfortable with new people and thus congregate to who they know. For some it’s a matter of having very great friends who only get to see each other once a year.

    The monotization part comes because there are a lot of grassroots people who are doing it for love and the booing is partly a running gag because the first question from people looking to get into podcasting is always “but how can I make money?” That gets very frustrating! Some people think they can start a podcast and make a fortune, that’s very unlikely, very few are able to do that. The reality is you can use podcasting to spur interest and make money elsewhere, but likely not from the actual podcast it’s self.

    Your view on the types of sessions is very correct, it’s a higher level then Podcasting 101 because that’s not who the conference is trying to market to. It’s for people who are already podcasting. To further that note Bob and Mark don’t create the sessions, much like PodCamp they are submitted by the presenters. The guys control who presents and may give direction but for the most part it’s up to the presenters to submit their ideas.

    My friendship with Bob and Mark probably gives me a biased view, but I know I try to speak the truth.

  2. Valerie

    That’s unfortunate.

    The program for PAB, which came out June 9th, should have provided a fair amount of information to show it would not meet your particular expectations. There are more than a few other conferences (not the least of which is Podcamp Toronto) and podcasts (like the hosts’ Canadian Podcast Buffet, which has frequent technical segments) that do.

    I’m very aware of when the echo chamber thing happens, and it’s really annoying – I sometimes get it from the Buffet, but did not get it at PAB. And if folks like Bill (who even got a “vibe” from you) and Brogan couldn’t help you feel a part of the community, if you couldn’t hang out enough with Tim and Dave to feel that way, then I’m not sure it was the conference’s fault. I say that as someone anti-social at heart who has been outside the group.

    If you feel so much needs to be discussed to bring new people into podcasting, if you feel you know so much about podcasting that you didn’t learn anything from anyone at PAB, and if you feel you know the definition of a “conference” (as opposed to a “club”), then maybe you are about ready to start your own conference. Honestly. We look foreward to it.

  3. Mark Blevis

    I’m sorry we didn’t get a chance to connect during the weekend. As an organizer, I was pushed and pulled in many directions and it was hard for me to make sure everyone felt welcome. I know that a good number of veteran PABsters made an effort to make newcomers feel a part of the group and have seen a few posts about those experiences.

    I appreciate your points on editing and technology. They were decidedly absent this year and that is likely because of three things. First, those topics were well covered in previous years so we weren’t specifically looking for, nor was the community actively submitting sessions that focussed on those areas (audio of those sessions is available on the Canadian Podcast Buffet. Second, the PodCamp conferences have covered those subjects well over the last year. Third, PAB has become something of a second-tier conference for those that are established in social media. In that respect, PAB featured sessions that were intended to challenge the community to rethink what it’s already doing. It’s easy to become rhythmic in production and consumption. The sessions this year did a great job motivating everyone to shake things up a bit by understanding the underlying elements of what makes compelling and engaging productions. I know that, as a veteran in this community, it is exciting, refreshing and inspiring to rethink what I do and how I do it.

    Bill hit the nail on the head on your ‘monetization’ concerns. The PAB community represents a large group of people that have been active podcasters since the very early days of the movement. Many people in the room make money from podcasting (one has even bought a house from the money made from podcasting), many don’t. PAB is about producing great content. If you can do that, the money will follow. Too many people think that they can grab a mic, some audio editing software and a website and charge for the first thing that comes out of their mouth. The PAB community understands that.

    I’m very glad you posted your comments. It’s through feedback that we can improve the conference. I hope you’ll consider submitting a speaking or workshop proposal for PAB2009 so that the community can benefit from your experience and knowlege. Also, I encourage you to remain engaged in this dialog so that we can find a way to address as many of your concerns as possible. I believe that every comment represents a view shared but not voiced by another 10% of the community.

    Feel free to call me if you want to talk more about this. My cell number is 613.762.9704.

  4. David Peralty Post author

    Hey everyone. Thanks for the great comments.

    I don’t think I am alone in how I felt about the conference, though I do hope I am the minority.

    My thoughts are really just in comparing this conference to others I have been to, and I hope that some of the suggestions I have put forth will help, as I think conferences shouldn’t be for community leaders, but instead for the community as a whole.

    I, as well as a few others, represent a group of novice podcasters who don’t go to the various Barcamp events.

    Yes, I did read the overview of the sessions, but I still assumed some more technical aspects would be mentioned. Someone did talk a bit about having good audio quality, but how to achieve good quality was left out.

    I think some suggestions I have seen being tossed around by PAB attendees on creating group activities, and better socialization are a great start, and I think my Podcasting 101 Friday evening track might be a great way to expand the conference year after year.

    As for starting my own event to fill the gap, I don’t think I have the expertise in the subject to really do that. I think that the logistics were handled VERY WELL at PAB, and was really excited that there was only one track, and thus, I wasn’t missing out on anything.

    I also agree with Chris Brogan that for what amounts to two full days of conference that it is under priced (though on the flip side, I think for a newer group exploring podcasting, the price might be perfect)

    Mark – RE Technology: Find a way to bring it into each session. I know the presenters really take control of what they will be talking about, but if you made a cool addition to their session, asking each presenter to list their three favourite software or hardware choices with a short explanation of why, I think that could have really helped some people, and got some good conversations going there.

    Or maybe some fun interactive surveys to help people get to know each other. Get all the Audacity and other software users on one side of the room and all of the Garageband users on the other. It could make for some great pictures and still bring the software/hardware into the limelight.

    RE Inspiration: I definitely don’t want to take too much away from the sessions. I think some were VERY motivational, but I still believe that there was room for some instructional.

    I think too much time was spent on what seemed like congratulating peers at the event and there were MANY insider jokes that left me feeling very detached from the group.

    I have done over fifty podcast episodes on a variety of topics, and still felt like I had a sign on my head saying outsider.

    I asked questions of panelists. I tried to sit next to different people all the time, and introduced myself to a great number of people between sessions. I even joined in conversations where I knew absolutely no one and still found it difficult. I couldn’t imagine what people that aren’t comfortable with trying to push themselves into the inner circles feel like.

    RE Monetization: I think Chris Brogan said it best, and going back, I wish his Jolt had been an entire session, with examples, and more information.

    I think many of the people at the event were fairly veteran and are at the point now where they should be trying to find ways to leverage the brands they have built. I am not talking about Joe Schmo picking up a mic and trying to find sponsors for episode 2. I am talking about people who have done hundreds of episodes and still aren’t paying for their own hosting thanks to their efforts.

    Lastly, I don’t think PAB is a second-tier event by any means. Just look at some of the A-List attendees you had. I think that you aren’t seeing how important it has become as a center point between Ottawa and Toronto as well as being fairly close to our US cousins. 🙂 It is time for PAB to grow up and realize its potential.

    I would love to come again next year providing you continue to draw some great A-List personalities, and some effort was made to go outside the normal niche, closed group of people.

    Imagine if PAB inspired new people to create wonderful podcasts, rather than reminding those already podcasting to keep up the good work? Or if PAB became a place of collaboration, where people came together to find others with similar interests to go home and build projects together.

    Anyways, I think I have ranted on this long enough, and I am sure that there will be many people with contrary opinions. 🙂

  5. John Leschinski

    That’s unfortunate. I think some people don’t like money sullying their hobby, yet many of the best and most popular podcasts are heavily monetized.

    The idea that great product = money isn’t necessarily true either. You have plenty of products that are crap but have a good stratagy, and you have great products with no stratagy that never go anywhere.

  6. Dave Brodbeck

    I have, myself, actually at times felt the way you did this year. Like there are cool kids and not cool kids or whatever. That sucks. That said, I felt that this year that sort of thing was gone. I ‘know’ most of these folks virtually, and not so much face to face, as I live so damned far away from TO or MTL. So I do not get to go to meetups, podcamps et al. I have in previous PABs felt that way some, but like I said, not this year.

    I am not in this to make money, and yeah that is a running joke, really in some respects it is a running joke in podcasting it seems.

    Check out those older tech sessions from the last couple of years, and of course the Buffet is good.

    Finally, thanks for the kind words. I did have a good time doing my talk, that is for sure.

  7. David Peralty Post author

    Dave – Thanks for commenting. I think your ability to connect with people might have been in part because you were speaking, and that is a real conversation starter right there. Maybe that is something I should look into next year if I want to get the most out of PAB (nothing wrong with participating to feel like being inside the group, right?)

    I think also it helps to have come back around, year after year, but that isn’t really a great way to build a more diverse group, as having a “hazing” phase will only keep most newcomers away.

    As for your session, it definitely opened my eyes to Podcasting being more than just entertainment, but also crossing boundaries into teaching and all that comes with it. People are hungry for knowledge, and seek passionate people to convey that knowledge to them, and that’s why your work is so successful, despite your humorous attitude towards the contrary. 🙂

  8. Dave Brodbeck

    For me, the big change this year was not so much that I spoke (though that probably helped some, but I was on a panel last year) but it was well, it was two things. Man I am a lousy writer, it is amazing any of my work ever gets published… Anyway, the room config was awesome. It helped people to get up close if they wanted and to be away if they wanted, so any side convos did not distract form the speaking. The second thing was the 10 min breaks, they helped a lot too, then I got to talk to folks etc.

  9. Mark Blevis

    Bob and I have already started bouncing around ideas to improve the PAB2009 experience for newcomers. Most of the ideas we’re discussion have come to us through feedback. Keep the conversation going — it’s our best resource to help improve the conference.

    Shouldn’t I be drinking daiquiris and spacing out right now?

  10. Tim Coyne

    David,

    Hello. First, thanks for your kind comments about my presentation.

    Second. Your post was a great eye opener for me.

    I loved the conference but that’s because I’ve been podcasting since March ’05 and all I really want to do is meet new people, connect with those I only know from on-line, and hopefully pick up a helpful hint or two.

    PAB ’08 gave me all of that and more.

    BUT

    You’re right. There has to be a balance and maybe there does need to be a more tangible take-away for people new to podcasting – editing, interviewing, storytelling, microphones, etc. This stuff is really intimidating and tricky. I’m still learning every day. Just yesterday I had to call a professional mixer buddy of mine to ask some audio questions.

    I’m really glad you had the courage to start the conversation. I know Bob and Mark take your comments seriously.

    Hope to see you at PAB ’09.

    Tim

  11. Tamurile from godboxcafe

    Wow ! I didn’t know a single soul at this conference and by the time i left i had met at least 85% of the participants and presenters, many of whom approached me to introduce themselves and assure me that i was NOT alone – so yours is a surprising summary from my perspective as a first-timer to PAB.

    Perhaps it’s because i walked in without expectations and absorbed everything that was being offered, knowing how much time and preparation goes into organizing such an event.

    I too suggested a “podcasting clinic” to address issues any novice podcasters might have to spare them the grief I went through by sheer trial and error – yes, i bought “Podcasting for Dummies” in 2006 .

    Though i’ve worked in the film/TV industry over 16 years, this is not the same discipline, and the learning curve was tantamount to climbing a steep cliff without a safety harness.

    However, this gathering did not smack of cliquefest to me – as is the case in any group dynamic people will acknowledge those who are familiar to them first but at no time did i feel like i was on the outside looking in.

    Chris Brogan’s Jolt covered monetizing from a constructive and horizon broadening perspective and was enjoyed by all in attendance – no one booed him off the podium. Perhaps resistance to commercialization is a knee-jerk reaction to our being bombarded with advertising everywhere else and our being told what to do, who to be, how to be, in order to achieve success, fame, fortune, status blah blah blah

    By my count, you were in a room full of mavericks who were proud and willing to share their creative (mis)adventures from every angle – emotion may not be valued in our society as a tradeworthy commodity, or something that can spank up your resume, but it’s what defines us as human beings and what makes outstanding podcasts – this was no ordinary conference where you exchange facts, figures, and hop on a plane home.

    I may not have left PAB 08 a “better” podcaster, but I left knowing WHY i started, why i keep doing it, and finally, that I am not the only one who does this without expectation of remuneration or guarantee of an audience. I found a tribe of kindred spirits and i sing their praises.

  12. Chris Brogan...

    Hi David–

    I’ll address this in a slightly different way that might make sense, once you think about it: even though we do something called “social” media, a whole huge contingent of those people who do this aren’t exactly the most social creatures. They’re shy. Flat out shy. And the problem with shy is that it looks like snobby to lots of folks.

    When five shy people know each other at an event, they cling to each other like survivors to a raft. To the outside, that looks a lot like a clique.

    I can almost promise you (almost) that most of the folks at PAB were thrilled that they knew each other, but weren’t necessarily not interested in being your friend.

    Maybe it’s something we can address much more next year. Let the gregarious amongst us shake everyone together. : )

    Hell, even I didn’t get much time to talk with you. But we’ll fix that. : )

  13. Paul Lyzun

    Fie on you David, Fie on your comments. I’m in the process of finishing my latest show, a review of my experience at PAB, and I read this comment, which gets me thinking all kinds of thoughts and compels me, COMPELS ME, to write this comment and post it on your site, instead of taking care of my own. This social media stuff is getting in the way of my complacent selfishness.

    But first I have to thank you for your post, it’s so refreshing to read something critical of PAB. In reading the various posts it does all sound very self congratulatory. And please feel free to disregard everything that follows if you don’t agree with it.

    I don’t think it is all about back slapping, I think of it as affirmation and being supportive. In the post modern world we live in, I find that it’s difficult to accept encouragement at face value, without irony. All the same, I believe it’s genuine.

    While I disagree with you as far as how well the event serves the community, I can certainly empathize with you, being a first time attendee myself. I also felt like an outsider and it was hard to engage other people who were strangers to me. The fact is that even podcasters have difficulty meeting new people too. Even experienced veterans. I think Bob Goyetche’s comments on the last Canadian Podcast Buffet was accurate, that many podcasters are introverts. I certainly fit that category. It’s always an effort to put myself out there. All the same, it’s my responsibility to do that. All the open arms at PAB won’t do me any good if I don’t persist in overcoming my own inhibitions.

    But I don’t want you to think I’m ragging on you. I think your comments are valid and a necessary part of the back and forth that is shaping this developing medium. Perhaps the real problem is that the call to action at a social media event is to meet and connect, but the very people drawn, like moths to fire, are the least suited to the task. (Wait, I see you mentioned that you’re not unfamiliar with the meet and greet process, so maybe I’m talking about me. Maybe you’re talking about me. Talking to complete strangers is like walking on hot coals. Setting up interviews, making phone calls, it all makes me sweat inside.)

    Let me just add these thoughts on some of your comments.

    Monitization: [I believe] The field is too immature to direct people to successful strategies for monetization, although lots of conferences do so all the same. Yes, I realize it is possible to make money podcasting (and I certainly would like to get me some), but all the hype that has been generated on this topic takes on the appearance of some get rich quick seminar on TV at 2am. I think the reaction you heard from the audience was the result of this fatigue.

    Tech skills: There are other venues available for technical skills. If there were a separate track for newbies on tech issues PAB would not have been the same community experience, I think it would have created a division or separation between the two groups of attendees, which is antithetical to the mission of PAB.

    I like the fact that there’s only one session for everyone, I just think they need to squeeze another 10 to 15 minutes into each hour so there’s more opportunity to talk to people.

    This is a conference about the future of the media. A vision thing. The messages were about how to use your platform, how to attract people, how to develop content that fits the medium. But more through presentation, concept and intent – storytelling skills. I think storytelling in the Podcasting medium was the consistent theme.

    Todd Maffin and Tim Coyne talked about communicating on a personal level. Other speakers were directing our attention to other issues within the same context – to think about how and why we’re communicating, how are we connecting with your audience and to what end.

    Eventually lots of people will be making a living off of podcasting, but will they all end up sounding the same? If you define the means for supporting your dream, do you end up having to cut off the corners of your dream to make it fit? When they ask the question, “How can I sound authentic and unique”, we’ll be on to the next thing, because we’ve already covered that ground.

    I’m not saying give up on the tech stuff; do both at the same time.

    I see PAB as an idea conference, shaping the future. We’re lucky to have one like this handy. There are a ton of conferences on how to podcast and they will be glad to tell you how to make a living at this, though they don’t know. No-one knows, but your relationship with your audience, that’s something you can change.

    We’re living in a brief window of opportunity where we can do anything we want with a podcast and it’s okay, because the rules aren’t set yet. PAB is about keeping your mind open and NOT focusing on the same dull tired topics. (Money is dull? That’s an overstatement1)

    I like podcasting because it’s a forum for ideas, free of gatekeepers (I don’t seriously think that’s true, but it is less restrictive than most media). I think Mark reference to PAB being a Second Tier event means to be the next step, or level up from just how-to.

    It’s like Maslov’s hierarchy of needs, only this event has skipped the first steps, like how to feed yourself, be secure and support a family. That’s important, but isn’t it great that here you can jump up to meeting the bigger questions without the distractions of sloging through the mud of making a living.

    Wow, there’s an idea, PAB is like a monastic retreat!

    Of course Chris is right, monetization isn’t a dirty word. And haven’t we heard this call to arms in media countless times before. The fear is that money leads to loss of control and mediocrity – just look at it’s effect on politics. It’s a valid point. Predictably people are both right and wrong.

    It happened to software in the 70’s where computer hobbyists wanted software to be free and complained about the commercialization of software. Hard to believe. In the early 90’s the “hippies” wanted to stake out the web as a non corporate, free utopia. As if by saying it they could make it so. The money followed for software and the web , it followed for the Bloggers and it will follow for Podcasting. Someday soon people will make a living from Facebooking, or Twittering. Money always follows crowds.

    So, while all that is getting sorted out, I’m listening to the subtext of the sessions from PAB and I get that they’re talking about creating a platform for yourself that has longevity. Technical stuff is a breeze compared to telling good stories consistently.

    So Dave, thanks for hosting this comment. I hope I haven’t come off as harsh. Chalk it up to exuberance . As I look out into the distance of social media yet to be, i feel a combination of vertigo and heart-pounding anticipation and it makes me want to break out into a song. But that’s just me.

    ————————————————

    Okay, I read your About page and I understand a little better where you’re coming from. I still think the medium is too immature to consider reliable methods of making a living. I think content wins over production values.

    The advertisers are going to engage the Podcasting medium at their own speed. This isn’t like venture capitalism where people drop millions of dollars just because an idea might have legs. Advertisers are a conservative lot, and while I feel strongly that the money would be well spent, we have to overcome a lot of resistance to convince them that niche marketing is superior to the model they’ve been successfully using on TV and radio for the past 80 years.

    And while this is working itself out (and people such as yourself are helping them work it out) each of us, individually, needs to do the work of creating a reason for advertisers to invest in the content we create.

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