When the mighty Alex Rodriguez watched the final strike whiz by him it was a fitting end to a pathetic performance by the most successful franchise in the history of professional sports. The unheralded Texas Rangers had not just beaten the Yankees, they had demolished them on every front, a fact that made me exceedingly cranky while attending several recent social media conferences.
Stewing in defeat as a sub-par speaker droned on, my mind drifted back to the Rangers, wondering how this particular collection of players managed to out-hit, out-steal, out-field, out-pitch and even out-fun the nearly immortal Yanks. It didn’t take long to conclude once again that payroll alone does not determine outcome, that coaching, chemistry and clutch performances by both stars and unheralded newbies carry the day whether you’re on the field or at the podium.
Conference Organizers Must Coach the Presenters
In their series against the Yanks, the Rangers manager played “small ball” to perfection, stealing and bunting runners into scoring position at every opportunity. This was undoubtedly the result of careful coaching long before the big games. Conference organizers take note. If you aren’t holding highly structured advanced calls with your panelists and speakers, the quality of the output will suffer dramatically.
Speakers need to be coached, given tight limits on the quantity of slides and told in advance the kinds of questions they might be asked by the moderator. Importantly, there needs to be a moderator, who can cut off the windbags before they ruin it for the rest, keeping the conversation moving and summarizing the results at the end of the panel. Without these things the audience will drift away, checking email or worse yet complaining to others via their Twitter feeds.
In their victorious 2009 season, the Yanks were all giggles, with AJ Burnett using whipped cream to douse the daily hero. This year it was the Rangers who had all the fun, making a goofy antler sign with two fingers after each of their nine stolen bases. Their chemistry was particularly apparent in the dugout during the games and in their on-field victory celebration, when they sprayed each other with ginger ale not champagne out of respect for Josh Hamilton and his past struggles with alcoholism.
Some of the panel discussions I saw recently struck out, challenging drying paint as a major league soporific. The panelists seemed completely content to agree with each other and the overall energy was just plain foul. And while an enthusiastic moderator can liven things up, the organizers really needed to think through the topics of discussion, seeking opposing views as well as differing personality types to keep everyone including the audience on their toes.
Clutch Performances Carry the Day
In the recent American League Championship Series, the Texas Rangers out-hit the Yankees on all measures, scoring twice as many runs with a team batting average that was 103 points higher than vaunted Bronx Bombers. As expected superstar center fielder Josh Hamilton came through in the clutch as did many of his lesser-known teammates, including a rookie shortstop named Elvis who managed to get a hit in all six games.
At the recent Pivot Conference in New York City, clutch performances by a range of presenters from the always stunning Arianna Huffington to the erudite Doug Rushkoff, from the scholarly Kit Yarrow to a rookie named Alexa Scordato, carried the event over the top, distinguishing it from a host of also-rans. These presenters commanded your attention with both style and substance that entertained and enlightened, making one’s decision to leave the office a clear victory for all concerned.
Final note: Despite losing to the Giants in the World Series, they Rangers have left a mark on baseball, playing the roll of David to the Yankee Goliath. Bitter as I was, I couldn’t help be touched when the series MVB Josh Hamilton admitted shedding a tear of pure joy after the final out. To push this analogy just one step further, I only wish all conference organizers had this kind of heart, striving for the extraordinary even in the face of limited resources, doubling up on prep time long before the game’s afoot, insuring all attendees head home happy.