#NTCFail: When Things Don't Go as Planned (or Your Plan Stinks)

Submitted by Holly on Sat, 04/21/2012 - 10:13pm

We're big on values around here. We like to live by ours, which include being accountable to you, and being open and transparent. We also believe that talking about failure openly is the only way to learn and move forward. So in that spirit, I want to share some of just a few of our #NTCFail moments, and what we think we learned.

#NTCFail 1: Cultural References. The NTC is an event largely attended by Americans (and our gentle neighbors to the North). That said, we do have a fair number of attendees who are not native English speakers, and who probably don't watch Mad Men. That said, I personally oversaw one session where Mad Men could have been the topic it was mentioned so much. And not everyone got it. The points of that blog post are well taken. We did not prepare speakers to address a diverse audience, and it brings up the larger need to spend more time preparing speakers in general. If we can provide more support, we can expect better - and more accessible - sessions.

#NTCFail 2: Name Badges. This is the second year in a row that we were missing a bunch of name badges. We print them back at the office and ship them to the hotel. It's kind of hard to know if you're missing 100 name badges out of 2,000, so we clearly need a new system. In addition, even when we have a name badge for you, sometimes you want to change the information. Next year, we need a system where you can view your badge, make edits, and then get it printed right there on site.

#NTCFail 3: Day of Service. We had a lackluster year, with fewer projects and volunteers than ever before. This is probably because we never really made up our minds about how to approach it this year, so we changed course several times. We're still not sure what the right way forward is - more straight up service projects, back to the one on one consults? What we WILL do is make this an issue we can discuss as a community when NTC planning picks up this summer.

#NTCFail 4: Online agenda. We know - it was REALLY HARD to navigate. We have over 100 sessions across 6 tracks at the NTC, so it's really hard to find ANY application that can display all that data in a meaningful but user-friendly way. Got suggestions? We want to hear them! It's honestly the very first thing we're working on for #13NTC.

#NTCFail 5: Curse words on stage! When the expletives started flying at the last plenary session, I started sweating. A LOT. We don't want to offend people, and I know that kind of language is offensive. Interestingly though, it DID ignite a firestorm of social commentary. The Twitter steam had been steady but manageable, but after the first curse, things went haywire. Lesson learned - 2 second delay on anything involving Brian Reich or Beth Kanter. 10 second delay if they are in the same room.

#NTCFail 6: Session types and levels. We spent HOURS struggling with how we should describe the various types of sessions we wanted to present, as well as the difficulty levels. One of the most common complaints on session evaluations is that the session was to basic or too complicated, or that they came prepared for a lecture, but got a discussion. Based on the evals I've seen so far, I am not sure we made things better. Is this a communications challenge, or something we'll never get all the attendees to agree on? We don't know but we'll be digging deeper.

#NTCFail 7: Silos. NTEN has grown a lot in the last couple of years, and for the first time, we had different departments working on different aspects of the conference. Anna did a great job trying to cut across those silos, holding weekly project meetings, pulling staff together for smaller consultations, using collaborative docs and projects plans, etc. But at the end of the day, some folks knew some things that others didn't. And that made some aspects of the show very hard. We did our best to identify those rough spots in our post-show staff debrief, but I suspect we'll be working on this for years.

#NTCFail 8: Missing Staff. This year, for the first time, we weren't at the NTC in full force. Brendan missed the whole show and Annaliese had to head home early, both to take care of family members in adverse circumstances. It was really hard to focus completely on the show with both of them on our minds, but I was so impressed with the way that our team pulled together to fill the gaps and make things work so that their coworkers could focus on what really mattered.

This is not an exhaustive list (we have an exhaustive list, rest assured), but these are some of the things that really stood out to staff. I doubt we'll ever pull off a completely fail-free NTC, but we can keep trying!