Monday, July 9, 2012

Thoughts on the 2012 NIRI National Conference

It is a well-known axiom among educators that different people learn in different ways. That’s why when you put together a program, you include a variety of different types of learning mechanisms. Alas, this is not a lesson that has been learned by the National Investor Relations Institute.
Last month I journeyed to Seattle to attend the NIRI Annual Conference. I had not attended the annual conference in several years and was hoping to get updated on the latest developments in the profession. What I was treated to was two and one half days of unremitting panel discussions. Not only that, but most of the panel discussions featured speakers that were subject matter experts in fields other than investor relations, so that we were hearing from them about specialized topics as they might relate to IR. The amount of coordination and preparation by and among the panelists appeared to be patchy at best. There may have been good information in there, but after the first couple of panel discussions I had gone numb.
Contrast this with TED Talks ( If you’ve ever seen a speaker at TED, you know a.) They are passionate about their subject, and b.) They are committed to giving the talk of their lives in 18 minutes or less. The result is consistently fascinating information delivered in a riveting fashion. Why can’t NIRI, an organization of professional communicators, come up with a way to be as interesting? For communicators, a conference full of panel discussions is the equivalent of going to a decorators’ convention and seeing everything painted white.
So here’s a modest suggestion for the NIRI national conference: Put out a call to members of the profession for presentations, no more than 15 minutes in length, about something they do that is unique, different or best in class related to IR. The best presentations would then be featured at the NIRI National conference in front of their peers. Talk about a chance to shine and be recognized as one of the best in your profession. At the same time best practices would be shared in an entertaining format.
But it’s not just about sitting passively and listening to people talk. People learn by doing as well. Interactive learning through case studies is a great way for people to work with concepts in real life situations. The Houston NIRI chapter has successfully used case studies at the last two Southwest regional conferences they’ve organized and even received awards from NIRI for them. So when the Houston chapter offered to put on a case study at this year’s national conference, you would have thought that NIRI would feature it as a great change of pace and a different way to impart information. Instead, NIRI put the case study as an optional workshop after the main conference had ended. I was participating in the case study and even I was ready to go home by the time the case study started. As a result of the scheduling, only 30 people out of the 1,300 that attended the conference stayed around for the case study. Talk about the waste of a learning opportunity.
I have been making presentations for more than 30 years and have taught in business school for 5 years, and one thing I’ve learned is that people will remember things if you make it interesting and memorable. I hope that NIRI learns the same lesson before the next annual conference.