PUFF: My guide to giving a successful talk

microphone

I’ve spent a lot of time around stages. Some of it on them; I’ve performed a few hundred shows as a musician and given professional talks a dozen or so times. But I’ve also selected and coached speakers for 5 conferences over the last 10 years. And I’ve learned a few things. Key among them is this:

smart person ≠ great speaker

Not by default, at least. But a lot of times we stick smart people on stage and expect them to blow minds and deliver great results. Which brings us to our second, perhaps more surprising point:

great speaker ≠ effective teacher

If the goal of the event is to entertain and wow people, then being a great speaker will work out fine for you. But if the goal of the event is to teach people things, then you need to be an effective teacher as well as a great speaker.

The number one complaint I’ve seen about conferences (aside from temperature) is that there weren’t enough practical talks. People will come back and buy tickets again (or buy your book, if you’re the speaker) if you teach them something. Simply wow-ing them probably isn’t enough.

Ideally, you leave people wowed, their minds expanded, and their skills improved.


 

Based on my speaking experiences and coaching around a hundred speakers, I’ve developed the following system for developing a great talk.

PUFF:

Practiced

Unflappable

Framed

Focused

We’re going to go through it backwards. (Why? Because FFUP is not nearly as good an acronym).

Focused

Focusing a camera

Have a Thesis

So you want to do a talk about marketing. Are you Gary Vaynerchuk? Or Jay Baer? No? Then why would people care to listen to your talk on marketing? Why wouldn’t they just go to a conference where Gary or Jay are speaking? Or go online and watch a talk from one of the experts?

The key to a great talk is focus. You should have a thesis. Share something that hasn’t been shared before. Share something unique. Share something personal. Share something that will catch the eye.

Look at the titles of some of the talks I’ve done:

“Everyone’s Customers Are Wrong and Their Data Is Lying”

“Community Management ROI in 20 Minutes”

“Critical Issue Escalation: Our Process”

“Cultivating Your Community Garden”

These aren’t generic. They’re focused, sometimes surprising, and generally clear about what they’re going to teach you. I’m not Gary Vaynerchuk, so I can’t just go up on stage and wax on “community”. I have to focus.

So what are you passionate about? What do you uniquely know? What topic have you not seen represented at other conferences? These questions will help you find your focus. Nobody comes to a conference for a 101 “intro to” talk – they can find those resources online. They come for your unique, well-delivered perspective.

Drop Everything Extraneous

Inevitably, you’ll be collecting thoughts and come across a great story or lesson or idea that is extraneous to your thesis. Drop it. Period.

The problem with this information is that it’s not a bonus feature. It’s a distraction. It makes people wonder how it relates to the thesis or if they’re missing something or if you are missing something. It’s not worth including.

Personally, I like to write down everything I know related to my thesis in very simple form and then cut out the things that don’t seem to fit. Recently I did this with sticky notes and it gave me an even more visual way to keep things focused.

Have Your Audience in Mind

It doesn’t matter how amazing your talk is if it isn’t helping your audience. What do you know about them? What can the event organizer tell you? What might they already know? What do they want to know? Ask all these questions as you figure out where to put your focus.

Framed

chalkboard in frame

Repeatability

A great talk isn’t worth anything if the audience can’t remember and repeat it. You are trying to make them come away feeling smarter. Your goal should be to communicate your thesis so clearly that the audience can explain it to their mom. 

This is very different from simply communicating the concept – this is about framing in a way that people can understand, repeat, and apply.

Framing Tools

Framing tools are key here; it’s hard for most of us to absorb a bunch of words. Books have chapters, titles, paragraphs, emphasis, etc so that they’re more absorbable. For your presentation, you’ll want to heavily uses frames like charts, images, acronyms (PUFF, anyone?), and the like.

Some of my favorite framing devices I encountered during my time at CMX:

The SPACE Model: Support Product Acquisition Content Engagement
SPACE is both a memorable acronym but also a descriptive one that allows for visuals to enhance your memory of it.
The CMX Community Engagement Cycle
The Community Engagement Cycle is something you can easily sketch on a piece of paper, making it an invaluable tool to walk away from a workshop with. Plus the icons help you immediately understand each phase.
The Community Commitment Curve
The Commitment Curve isn’t so much revolutionary as a great way to visualize something that you may already roughly understand. I’ve landed consulting gigs almost purely on showing them this – it makes the concept of community concrete.

 

Shiramyd
My friend Shira Levine’s “Shiramyd” is super-goofy, but you ain’t gonna forget it.
The Community Strategy Canvas
The canvas here is probably the weakest image in this batch; it doesn’t have an acronym or a visual analogy. But it’s still more useful than a bunch of bullet points – it gives shape to a concept.

Although some framing tools can be more effective than others, any sort of frame will be better than simply explaining the concept.

Exercises

The best way to ensure your audience is actually retaining the knowledge you’re sharing is by leading exercises. This might not always be completely possible in a conference setting, but there are a lot of ways you can handle this (in order of increasing complexity);

  • Asking the audience to repeat a concept you shared (“So, what is PUFF again?”)
  • Asking an audience member to answer a question using what you just taught them (“Choosing your thesis is part of which section of PUFF?”)
  • Asking the audience for examples (“What are some examples of framing devices you’ve seen used in a talk?”)
  • Splitting the audience into groups and having them do the first step of the lesson you’re teaching them (“Take this concept and develop a frame for it”)

It’s important for these sort of projects that you don’t try to have them complete every step of your program/concept – give them an initial step that helps them understand and feel confident about the subject.

Unflappable

confident dog

Physically Prepared

Presenting can be nerve-wracking. I’ve been on stage many, many times and I can still get nervous. The first step to avoiding this is preparing your body.

One way to do this is develop a ritual that helps you feel more confident. For some people this might be blasting a Beyoncé song. For others it might be doing some jumping jacks. For others it might be deep breaths.

That said, it’s important to remember that stress is actually good for you. It’s your body preparing for action, so don’t stress out when you feel your heart rate increase. It’ll pass once you’re in the groove, so just thank your body and let the adrenaline flow.

Mentally Prepared

Unflappable doesn’t mean inflexible. So you need to be prepared for curveballs, because they will come. And there’s nothing worse than delivering a great talk and then getting skewered in the Q&A. (It’s definitely happened to me!)

Do your presentation for coworkers. Do it for friends. Do it for your mom. Then see what questions they have. You have the Curse of Knowledge. They don’t know what you know, so they’ll undoubtably show you where the gaps in your presentation are or what questions you need to be prepared to answer during Q&A.

Still nervous? Picture the experience. The most nerve-wracking thing is something unexpected, so look at pictures of the stage, find out where the screen is going to be, find out if there’s a slide remote (and get one if they don’t have one) – eliminate all the unknowns you can.

Starting Strong

All the prep in the world won’t help if you start your presentation badly. So prepare yourself for a strong start.

The way you present yourself before you share any information will color how people accept that information. You don’t want to wander on to the stage, staring at the ground, loudly clearing your throat and shuffling through messy handheld notes, and then dive into your presentation without saying hello.

Be confident, whatever that means to you. It might be impossible for you to bound onstage with smiles and handshakes like some speakers. If that’s not you, don’t do it. I like to throw out a goofy joke (something self-deprecating or ridiculous). For you, maybe it’s actually nervous excitement – channeling this into an intentional style is better than awkwardly fighting it. I love Liz Milch’s fun, goofy intro in this CMX Summit talk.

Context is crucial. You need to ensure that your audience understands exactly what it is you’re going to be teaching them. Otherwise, the experience will be like wandering into a biology class in college halfway into the lecture: confusing and pointless.

Stick with that old gem: tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, then tell them what you told them. Just like in advertising, the more you repeat, the more likely they’ll remember it.

Set the stage for why people should be listening to you. This doesn’t mean 5 minutes of your bio (please don’t do that), but means touching on your relevant experience and perspective. That latter point is important. Unless you have a really impressive resume, you need to convince them that you are going to be relevant to speak about this topic. So that might be “I’ve been fascinated by this topic and taking notes on it for years” or “I had this special opportunity to discover this unique take”.

You can also drop examples from your work into the lessons you’re teaching, further emphasizing that you actually know this stuff and aren’t making it up.

Lastly, don’t let this section scare you! Screw-ups are ok, and they happen to everyone. Most speakers are nervous. It’s how you handle nervousness, or errors, or unexpected curveballs. If you screw up, move on very quickly or laugh at yourself. Don’t apologize – you’re just making an awkward moment more awkward. If you’re not super-confident onstage, don’t try to overdo it – just make your flaws an endearing part of your presentation. If something breaks, don’t complain about it or point it out, just roll with it.

Practiced

swimmer in a lake

Actual Practice

“Duh, Evan. Of course I need to practice.”

Sure, but there’s practice and then there’s actual practice. Mouthing your talk while flipping through slides on the train is not actual practice.

Instead, you should stand up, speak loudly, hide your speaker notes, and practice as if you were on stage. Then record video of it, and watch it. Then do it again. Yep, it’s gonna be painful.

When you actually practice you’ll suddenly realize sections you added are way too wordy. You’ll realize you don’t know what to do with your hands. Or that you’re staring at the floor. Or that your talk is 10 minutes longer or shorter than it needs to be!

Memorize Beats, Not Lines

One of my favorite speaking tips comes from The Moth. It’s pretty simple: if you memorize (or worse yet, read) lines on stage, you’ll have very little energy and won’t connect with the audience. In a professional setting, it also comes across as a lack of knowledge about the subject. (If you know it, why do you have to memorize the exact lines or read off a piece of paper?) Instead, memorize the beats.

This has an added advantage if you run into any issues. If technical issues crop up, you can continue without your slides. If something unexpected happens (someone drops something loud in the back of the room, you drop the mic, etc), you don’t have to remember exactly what line you were on.

I have a painful, distinct memory of a talk a number of years ago where the presentation computer kept auto-advancing my slides. In fact, you can watch it. I am incredibly awkward until, finally, they just turn off the slides. And then? Suddenly, I’m confident and knowledgable. I had memorized the beats…I was just relying too much on the slides. Your slides should supplement the beats that you know by heart.


 

Most people think they can’t speak professionally. They have a lot of arguments: I’m not as knowledgable as those people on stage, I’m not as charismatic, I’m not experienced in teaching, I don’t have fancy graphs, etc.

This is all surmountable.

You have some unique thesis that nobody else can present as well as you.

You have your own style you can embrace and polish.

You can frame your learnings with something as simple as an acronym.

You can become a great presenter. You just have to work hard, believe in yourself, and PUFF.

 

Leadership is letting your team fail (safely)

“This is a bad post. Let’s delete it.”

My brain wasn’t wrong. It didn’t seem like a great post to me, based on my years of experience with content. But I kept my mouth shut. I let the post stay up. And, unsurprisingly, it failed.

Why did I do this? Because it’s way more convincing to learn from mistakes than from decrees.

Failure is Part of Learning

Think about your adolescence. Did you believe everything adults said, without question? No. You tried things on your own. You had crushing failures and exhilarating successes. You learned what did and didn’t work. You realized the world is relative and that you had to build your own system for navigating it. And hopefully your parents emphasized the right advice and rules: the ones that kept you alive while still allowing you to build your own personal spectrum of successes and failures. Too many rules leave you oppressed; too few leave you dead.

Failure is Part of Innovation

The professional world is no different. There are some hard lines, but not as many as you think; many of the major successes of the last few generations were due to bucking the status quo. It’s hard to argue with an employee that success is following the rules when Zuckerberg didn’t and is now worth 50 billion.

So how does one manage the business equivalent of a rebellious teenager? By letting them fail safely.

Too Much Freedom

I was managing a team of relative newbies, and our new project was content creation. They were fantastic at support, incredibly smart, and very empathetic – but they didn’t have a deep background in engaging content. I wanted to be the “cool boss” without too many rules, so I simply said: “Be creative.”

I told them to “think outside of the box.” I told them “there are no bad ideas.”

They came back with nothing.

Too Little Freedom

So I gave them more structure. I gave them brand guidelines and lots of examples. And they started to deliver! They had a direction to aim for, and so they moved.

Not all of it was good, of course. Some, to my trained eye, simply weren’t going to perform. At first, I said no to that content. But I immediately saw morale drop. They wanted to be creative – hell, that’s what I had asked of them – but I wasn’t letting them take risks. They trusted me, but they weren’t learning anything aside from my opinions. And it’s hard to get excited when you’re not learning.

Just Right

So I started saying yes. But I approved a lot of content I knew wasn’t going to perform. And? Most of the time, it didn’t perform. But the team was still excited and motivated.

Here’s the difference: They had been given the chance to experiment and see the actual result. They were much less likely to choose similar content again, because they knew firsthand what would happen. And they continued to be creative, because I gave them the freedom to.

By the end of my tenure, they were a content creation machine and could spot a high-quality piece of content from a mile away. Only occasionally did I have to weigh in, and often I was wrong!


As managers, it’s tempting to enforce rules and try to control people. We want a result, and the only way we know how to get it is by being in control. But this neither creates engaged employees nor scales.

Good managers give their team enough rules to avoid disaster and enough room to try, fail, and learn.

Two Causes of Toxic Online Spaces (and some solutions)

This is adapted from my talk at Bridge Keepers.

speeding cars

Have you ever gone over the speed limit?

Probably. In an observational study, 7 out of 10 drivers sped in an urban area. At some point, you were likely part of that 7.

Have you heard of how toxic the community for the game League of Legends is? Legendary. (Pun intended.) And you would expect that this is mainly generated by a bunch of bad actors. But it turns out only about 5% of negativity came from trolls – the rest came from normal folks “having a bad day”.

So what is it that causes relatively normal people to behave so badly?

I think there are two major things at play: Normalization and Lack of Punishment.

Normalization

We like to think that we are individuals, unaffected by others. But it’s just not true.

The amazing researcher Dan Ariely (author of one of my favorite books) did a study in which he found that people would change their choice of beer at a brewery based on what the person before them ordered. If that person ordered what they were planning on ordering, they changed their order.

That’s kind of insane. If you want one type of beer, why order a different type? Well, because there’s a norm at play that we should achieve variety to better know what options we have, and our brain automatically kicks in. Even though, as found in the study, people who make these group-motivated choices are generally unhappier with the result.

What I’m saying is: Observing others’ behavior actually changes ours.

Which means if we see someone tweet something this horrible…

Tweet from Milo Yiannopoulos offensive tweet: There's a new feminist Barbie. When you pull the string it says "Math is hard, let's lie about rape."

…then we think this tweet must be acceptable, because at least it’s a joke! Right? Right??

Offensive tweet: A lesbian, an alcoholic, and a heavily sedated woman walks into a bar. The bartender asks, "What'll you have, Hillary?"

Types of Norms

There are two types of norms.

 Injunctive norms are basically rules.

 Descriptive norms are the norms we understand from our interactions with others or the actual reality we see in the world around us.

Going back to the speeding example: We all know that speeding is illegal. And we know what the rules are. But the descriptive norm is “eh, it’s ok to speed a little bit”. So we do it without thinking of ourselves as criminals.

ivy covering a building

The problem with this is that norms are like ivy. Once they’re firmly rooted, they’re very hard to change.

So, how do we create positive norms?

Clear Guidelines

Obvious, but bears repeating. Your community needs to have guidelines, and they should be:

1. Simple. If they’re complex, nobody will bother reading them.

2. In-line. Nobody is going out of their way to find your rules. Put them in-line where possible. Many subreddits do a great job of this:

Screen Shot 2017-01-17 at 8.29.09 PM

3. General. If your rules are too specific people won’t bother spending the time understanding what they can and can’t do. (And bad actors may try to find a way to technically obey the rules while causing trouble.)

Consistently Applied Guidelines

Studies show that people are much more likely to obey the rules if they’re consistently applied. This means:

1. Train, train, train your team. Being consistent is hard. You should drill, review past moderations together, do flashcards, whatever you need to do to get consistent across your whole org.

2. Create awareness of implicit bias. None of us wants to think we’re biased, but as shown in the beer experiment above, we often are without even realizing it. And when we are rule enforcers, this can be really problematic. There’s immense evidence that police are biased, and that’s something that has very serious consequences. Are these police racist? No, they’re just operating off biases they may not realize they have. There are plenty of great orgs that help teams work on realizing what implicit biases they have. (A few that have been recommended to me: Paradigm, Project Include, Women’s Leadership Institute.)

Self-Moderation

I think this is one of the most criminally underrated set of tools for driving specific behavior.

1. Display true norm rates. People adjust their habits when they see how others behave (like these college students that drank less once they saw the average number of drinks their peers were drinking).

2. Prime people. Putting people in the right mindset can be incredibly effective. League of Legends found that simply displaying messages before a game (like “Players perform better if you give them constructive feedback after a mistake”) they decreased bad behavior by 11%.

3. Add friction. We are obsessed in the tech world with “frictionless” experiences. But if someone’s action may negative affect dozens, hundreds, millions of people? A little friction can be good. Nextdoor added some additional steps you have to take before posting about suspicious people on their platform, and racial profiling dropped by 75%.

Bad news, though…Guidelines backfire if behavior doesn’t match.

coffee-987119_1920 (1)

The more litter we see? The more likely we are to litter.

The more we see rule breakers unpunished? The more likely we are to break rules.

Rules are not effective if they’re not enforced.

Especially if there’s a big benefit to breaking the rules. After all, if:

  • Attention is the goal

  • And negativity generates attention

  • And punishment is rare…

…why would you stop? Especially if you can get a book deal from being horrible?

This is the Tragedy of the Commons.

We all know the world would be better if we all obey the rules. But if you personally gain benefit from you personally breaking the rules, you may do it at the expense of others.

Certainty of Punishment

So how do you make these guidelines affective? Create certainty of punishment. If punishment is unlikely, you will continue offending.

The death penalty? Doesn’t look like it actually decreases crimes. Because even though it’s a severe punishment, you’re unlikely to get caught and unlikely to be given this sentence.

Blood alcohol checkpoints? Very effective at decreasing drinking and driving. Because you’re very likely to be caught and punished.

So, how do we create certainty of punishment?

Automation

This is the baseline stuff you should be doing.

1. Blacklist words. Anyone using unacceptable words should automatically be penalized.

2. Spot suspicious behavior. Multiple posts in a short period of time? Similar posts across sub-forums? Shut it down automatically.

Flagging

User flagging is a key tool in the fight against negative behavior. Your users are on the front line and they will always be faster than your team.

1. Make it prevalent. This functionality should be really easy to find, always.

2. Create specific flows. People often struggle with flagging because so many things get flagged that they get overwhelmed. Consider more complex flows depending on what flag was thrown. Marked as annoying? Deprioritize? Marked as racist? Prioritize. Marked as “bugs me”? Implement a clever self-resolution flow like Greater Good and Facebook did.

Reputation Systems

Treat repeat offenders differently. Go pick up Building Web Reputation Systems and figure out what’s best for you.

1. Create visibility thresholds. Have repeat offenders’ posts be less visible to others (which really hurts their desire for attention). Or require people to get special flags to show up to general audiences, like Kinja did.

2. Have reputation affect flag weight. If a repeat offender’s post gets a single flag, weigh that more heavily than a single flag on a good actor’s post.

The punchline: Investing in moderation now saves money later.

I know it’s hard to prioritize spending for moderation, especially when you’re starting out. But “we’ll deal with that issue if it comes up” and “I’m sure people will behave” clearly don’t bear out. And if you wait until you have truly toxic norms and lack of certainty of punishment, it’s going to be way more costly.

Let’s go back to that ivy example. Have you seen what walls look like after you laboriously remove the ivy?

ivy suckers left on wall

You have to sand those suckers off and repaint.

The equivalent for communities? A whole lot of messaging, a whole lot of banning, and a whole lot of complaints until a new norm is established. Just ask Reddit.


 

A few notes…

Much of the research here is taking from the hard-to-read but incredibly valuable “Building Successful Online Communities”.

Although I have 10 years of experience in the world of community, I am not an expert at moderation or trust & safety. I’m sure I missed things or mischaracterized things. I would love to hear your insights in the comments!

 

Always a CMXer

Earlier this year, I got to do something I’ve always wanted to do. I got to join a company I love and admire and work with friends.

I’m incredibly proud of my year at CMX.

When I joined, there was a legacy of great CMX Summits and CMX Series events but not a lot of process and structure. The team was expanding into new areas (like their amazing training course) and we all agreed that CMX Summit needed to become a more efficient machine and CMX Series needed an actual strategic plan.

Evan Hamilton CMX Summit

Since then I’ve run two CMX Summit conferences, greatly improved the documentation and processes around them, and added a bunch of additional creative elements I was excited about (lightning talks, spaces for introverts, more networking opportunities, tracks, improved breakout sessions, and even a marching band). I developed an in-depth plan for expanding CMX Series and helped with the process of hiring someone to run it, which is just one of the things I’m really excited to see from CMX in 2017.

I’ve accomplished the goals we set out when I joined, and it’s time to pass the torch. CMX has the pieces in place to take the company to the next level. The next step is focus. I’m really excited about the team they’ll be hiring, which will give them not just more hands on deck but deeper skills and energy in specific areas. There is so much more CMX will do, and I can’t wait to see them pull it off in 2017.

I’m wrapping up my time as an employee but I’ll always be a member of the CMX community. I’ve been to all but one CMX Summit (Someday I’ll beat your record, Tim Falls!) and been a member of the community since the beginning. Getting to be part of building CMX bigger and brighter has been a dream come true. Now I’m incredibly excited to participate in the CMX community without having to check my spreadsheets and clipboards.

What’s next for me?

I’m excited to move on to my next community adventure, and to bring with me everything I learned from being deeply involved in the hub of the industry. I’ll spend the first part of the year consulting with as many companies as possible, helping spread the gospel of community and implement all the strategies and tactics that this year has added to my playbook. Later in the year, I’d like to find my next long-term home, a company that wants to invest deeply in community and customers, where I can lead a team and generate win-wins between company, customers, and employees.

If you’re interested in working with me as a consultant, check out my new consulting page. If you have a full-time opportunity that you think might be a fit, get in touch. You can find more info about my experience on LinkedIn.

Thank you to everyone who made this a spectacular year. David and Carrie at CMX, who taught me so much. The CMX community, for your endless contributions to our cause. The CMX speakers, who generously donated their time and let me soak up their lessons. All of my friends and colleagues who helped make connections and offer advice.

I will always be a CMXer, and I can’t wait to join you in more adventures!

My month of giving back

Creating a conference means asking a lot of favors. Over this past year I’ve asked people to speak, asked people for introductions, asked people to volunteer, even asked people to join me in a crazy marching band. Thankfully, I have an amazing network of fantastic colleagues, friends, and even relative strangers who helped me create two wonderful conference experiences this year.

So now it’s time for me to give back.

Since it’s the season of giving, I’m giving you all as much of my attention as possible this month. Want to grab a coffee or hop on Google Hangouts to discuss your challenges as a community professional? Done. Want to get my advice on how to use community to drive your business to the next level? Let’s schedule some time. Need an extra hand (or a weird marching band) at your event? Sign me up.Need a connection to someone? I’ll do my best. Feeling totally burnt out and stressed and concerned about the future? I’m super-good at listening, let’s talk.

I rely on my network, so I now want to make sure I’m giving back to you. Whether we know each other well, haven’t spoken in years, or are even complete strangers, I’m here for you.

Drop me a line at evan at evanhamilton dot com and let’s connect!

My AMA with Bassey Etim, Community Desk Editor at The New York Times

Last week I had the pleasure of hosting an AMA with the very smart, very pleasant Community Desk Editor at The New York Times, Bassey Etim. Taking questions from me and the crowd, Bassey mulled on building moderation teams, the future of journalism, and getting buy-in from coworkers.

(Feel free to skip the first minute, which is mostly me getting set up in Blab and waiting for Bassey to call in.)

Bassey is speaking alongside folks from Etsy, Spark Capital, Genius, and Pure House at CMX Summit East, which I’m organizing!

My interview on Community Signal

Last month I had the great pleasure of being on Patrick O’Keefe’s Community Signal podcast. I’ve been a big fan of Patrick’s excellent blogging on community for some time, and his podcast has maintained that high level of quality.

Patrick did excellent prep and obviously knows his stuff, so I think he really got one of the best interviews of my career out of me. We touch on retention, volunteer management, legality of community members doing free work, the reddit revolution, free speech, choosing the right company to work for, and more.

Listen to the podcast here.

I’m joining CMX!

Evan Hamilton speaking at CMX East 2015
Me speaking at CMX East 2015.

I’ve been consulting for the last couple of months, because I wanted to find the right fit for my next full-time position. I wanted to find a company that could be home, where I could feel supported but also challenged, where I could feel respected but be constantly learning, where I could care about the product, where the founders truly understood and valued community.

And so, I’m incredibly pleased to announce I’ll be joining the team over at CMX Media as Director of Community! I’ve been a huge fan of the work that David Spinks has been doing in the community space for years. I’ve been to all but one CMX Summit (and spoke in NYC last year), many of their meetups, and recently discovered I am the top contributor on their fantastic Facebook group.

Their mission of advancing the community industry is one that is very close to my heart (I’ve literally been hosting my community manager meetup for 5 years). So I was over the moon when David and Carrie asked me to join the team. I highly respect both of them and can’t wait to learn from them on an everyday basis (plus, they’re a ton of fun to be around). And I’m excited to take a break from larger startups and get my hands dirty at a small company once again.

I’ll be transitioning into this full-time role over the next few months as I wrap up my consulting contracts. My initial focus will be making CMX Summit East 2016 the best Summit yet (A tall order!), and gradually I’ll start focusing on the CMX Series events, the Facebook group, and any other way I can think of to connect those in our industry and push it forward. I’ll need your help! Either in the comments here, via email (evan at cmxhub dot com), or via Twitter/LinkedIn, let me know what you want to see from CMX. David and Carrie have created an amazing community, but all three of us have a lot more we want to do, and your voices are a crucial part of that process.

I look forward to interacting with you all even more than I do now! See you soon. :)


Notes:

Community Manager Breakfast, my newsletter, and this blog will continue operating independent of CMX.

If you were interested in working with me on a consulting basis: I will still be available for consulting alongside the super-talented CMX team, so please do still drop me a line.

Looking back on 5 years of Community Manager Breakfast

According to my records, I’ve been hosting Community Manager Breakfast for five years. Wow. That’s a long time, especially in the world of startups! With that in mind, and in honor of today’s Community Manager Appreciation Day celebration, I decided to mull over the changes I’ve seen since I first launched this little meetup back in 2011.

1) We’re less focused on social media.

That’s huge. When I first started in community management, it was clear that social media was going to be “a thing”. And we all wanted to be part of it. But it wasn’t 100% clear how it fit in with community management. For a moment, we seemed to toy with being content creators, garnering likes and retweets. We had a lot of big discussions around social media during those early breakfasts. But gradually something became clear: social media was a great tool for engaging an audience, but not always a great tool for connecting people to each other. And as many of those channels become increasingly noisy and broadcast-focused, I am glad we didn’t hitch our success to them.

2) Individual specializations are starting to develop within community management.

Five years ago, community managers did a lot of things…but not in a good way. We often were the first marketer, the website copy writer, the office manager, the customer support rep, etc. These days we’re increasingly being actually hired to do what we do: bring people together. And this means we can start to specialize within that general focus. Now we see developer evangelists, event organizers, open source facilitators, support community managers, and more. This gives our discipline more depth and more directions for practitioners to grow in.

3) We’re formalizing our practice.

While five years ago we were merely seeking to bring some sense and definition to community management, now we’re focusing on formalizing, documenting, and improving it. While it’ll forever develop and change and improve, we now are starting to see things like the commitment curve providing repeatable structures that we can build off of, rather than always starting from scratch.

4) Community managers were and are great people.

I’m so lucky to have met every single person who has come to breakfast and for all the support you’ve given me over the years. I’ve met so many of you that, to my great embarrassment, I can’t always remember everyone’s name! But please know next time you see me: I think you’re great, I thank you for coming, and remind me of your name and we’ll have an awesome conversation. :)


Here’s to another five years of breakfasts! Hope to see you at one if you’re in SF or NYC!