There was more passion from the speakers and less from the audience compared to the EMEA version, that was my overriding impression. I expected more whooping but instead found a very reserved audience.
So I missed the first day, by all accounts a roller coaster of a day where the economists depressed everyone and Ted Turner inspired everyone. I arrived in time for dinner and Cirque de Soleil. I was surprised how little enthusiasm there was for the show, people were clapping politely when they should have been going crazy, the Europeans were far more excitable, I thought it was meant to be the other way round! That theme of restraint continued into the next day except for Geoffrey Canada – anyone heard of this guy? No probably not in EMEA, he is a US inspiration, he is a social activist and educator who campaigns for better education for the ethnic minorities with a focus on Harlem.
Geoffrey was one of the best speakers, most entertaining, intelligent and passionate speakers I have seen for some time. I have been to 5 zeitgeist and it was the first time there was a standing ovation, it felt strange for me, a bit like the judges getting up and down for X factor but he deserved it, look him up, there are not many presenters like him.
The crowd did not ask questions, there were limited interactions, in europe they are queuing up, to be fair mainly spanish, Italian opinionated people happy to tackle anything, perhaps the Americans are more respectful and don’t want to challenge everything, the Europeans love it! This was what surprised me the most.
Geoffrey was great. Later in the day Lance Armstrong was on stage, he clearly is an inspiration, I found him a little dull if I am honest, he sparked up when he talked about cycling, part from that it all felt a little emotionless for me, it’s a personal thing but I can’t help but feel when i see famous sportsmen that i want to hear about amazing anecdotes about their sport not their website, albeit a worthy cause. By the way he reconfirmed that he never took performance enhancing drugs, I believe him.
One man who was very impressive was the CEO of Verizon. He runs a company of 120billion dollars and employs 220k people! That is a staggering number of people to be responsible for, he was impressive, very impressive. The shame of the session was he was subjected to banal questions that came from a very subjective perspective. One man stood up and recounted how his wife waded through bills and would it not be easier to simplify the process? To be fair to him, he answered diligently. He was clearly a man who ran a serious business, he joked with Eric Schmidt of Google with a kind of ‘ I know you are big and powerful and Google, but my company is big stuff even against your operation, kind of way.’ That session ended with one man banging on about his contract and how T-mobile did it differently. At last his patience ran out and he tersely replied – we are not T-mobile and shut him down like the annoying man that he was. There is only so much of that shit you need to listen to. I was amazed at how low level, subjective, experience led the questions were, there was not a single weighty question asked of him..strange. By the way 4g is coming in a serious way for Verizon by end of year.
Will.I.am was brilliant. Simply brilliant, these musicians are now so talented in so many other ways, business people, innovators, entrepreneurs. He was very funny, but clearly was leading the way in how to change the music industry. This is a guy who would be happy to shut out the music label industry. He was joined on stage by the CMO from coke which made it feel a little more dirty to me, he was talking a very purist story, it felt diluted by her intervention.
I have gone on for a while now. I want to end on a more serious note. The CEO of Canter Fitzgerald, Howard Lutnick was invited to talk about he coped with 9/11 and the impact it had on his business. Let’s hear the facts. Honestly I can’t remember them all it was too shocking but roughly it was something like this..650 of 900 members of his team were killed. Because he had always encouraged family and friends to be employed by existing employees it was something like 17 sets of brothers and sisters were killed, he lost his own brother..9 years after the event he was still struggling to deliver his speech without tears. The story was unbelievable, his clients rallied to them, the LA office gave up profits to pay for the families of the dead, he ran the business at cost and gave the rest to the families of the dead. It brought tears to everyone’s eyes, it was incredible. I am glad I was there just for that. Read more here
There were no questions after that session.
I found the content and speakers far more inspirational and interesting than the UK this year, they appeared to come with more passion than in the UK and I found myself addicted to what was going on, the only thing that let things down was the audience.
Finally I found the relentless and ruthless networking quite distasteful, the thousand mile stare as they try to see your badge and decide if you are important or not. One thing you realise is just say you have a UK or EMEA role and they switch off, oh, that little island , no, you are not worth anything to me..it’s painfully transparent.