From the dark web to lecture halls at MIT, we look at some over-arching global trends that are challenging the way we work and conference. So how has the world changed and how do conference planners need to adapt their programs and run sheets? Also how can we leverage content beyond conference days and can technology can be seen as a friend rather than foe?
Mark Herschberg is a versatile professional who has established himself as a prominent CTO within the artificial intelligence and cybersecurity sectors. In addition to his fractional CTO work, Mark teaches professional development at MIT, is frequently invited to speak at conferences and events. He is the award-winning author of The Career Toolkit: Essential Skills for Success That No One Taught You and creator of the Brain Bump app, where content creators can repurpose highlights of their published works.
Quotes from this episode:
"The cost of filtering (information) is also becoming effectively zero."
"Conferences cannot just be about knowledge transfer. They need to be people-oriented, focusing on engaging with others and creating meaningful connections."
Mark's website and book:
The Career Toolkit: Essential Skills for Success That No One Taught You
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I've been a keynote speaker, panelist, technical speaker for decades at different conferences. And here's the sad thing I don't think it has changed that much, and that is a problem.Adelaine Ng:
Welcome to Upon Arrival, a show that uncovers stories and strategies that make up all the moving parts of business events tourism, with me, Adelaine Ng. In today's fast-paced world, events have to evolve beyond mere content delivery. Because information is so easy to get and there are a lot more Zoom meetings these days, your community needs a much bigger reason to get out of the routines of their busy schedules and even book those flights in accommodation if that's part of the deal. My guest today firmly believes that conferences must adapt to thrive, yet he says it's surprising how few companies and organizations are doing so. Mark Herschberg is a fascinating individual whose background traverses from delving into the depths of the dark web to delivering lectures at universities. He's attended numerous professional conferences and so has experienced first-hand how the entire event experience can become well predictable. In this first of a two-part episode, we'll get to know Mark's universe and how he's bringing its various parts together to enrich his understanding of the events world. He'll also share how he sees AI impacting jobs in the events industry, and we'll learn a few strategies for upleveling along the way. Mark, welcome and thank you for coming on the show.Mark Herschberg:
Thank you for having me. It's my pleasure to be here.Adelaine Ng:
Well, I'm here to pick your brain on events, but I first want to acknowledge that you seem to specialize in so many many areas at a high level. So, I guess, as a way for our listeners to get to know you, how do you go about answering the question when somebody you've just met asks you what do you do?Mark Herschberg:
I do a lot, and so it depends on who is asking me. I am known in one industry as a CTO. Particularly, I do fractional CTO work, a lot of work around artificial intelligence and cybersecurity, so that's a lot of work I've been doing for about 30 some years Now. I have also, in parallel to that, been teaching at MIT not a technical class, but a professional development class and that led to my work as an author the author of the Career Toolkit Essential Skills for Success that no One Taught you, and related to that the speaking I do at conferences and events related to professional development, although these days, the two have actually come back together. We're recording this in 2023,. Ai is all the rage, and so some people ask me to wear both hats and come in and talk about AI and the workplace and what that means for our careers or for our industry. So, depending on who's speaking to me, I'm a technical CTO, I am a professional development speaker and author, or I'm a combination of the two.Adelaine Ng:
Because when I read your bio, your life sounds like a movie, One of those double agents where you're a lecturer by day and then at night you go catch criminals on the dark web. And I was just thinking what even is the dark web? Is that where all the scammers hang out?Mark Herschberg:
Yes and no. The analogy I use is the dark web is like the dark alley. Now, the dark web, it's part of the internet that is not easily accessible. If you are doing something illegal, you're not going to be able to get a job. You're probably not going to do it in the middle of the well-lit street, you're going to do it in that dark back alley. Likewise, if you're doing something illegal on the internet, you're probably doing it on the dark web. But just like not all dark alleys are bad and not everyone in a dark alley is a bad person, there are legitimate people who are on the dark web. It's just all the nefarious stuff Generally takes place on the dark web too, and in one of my former roles I used to track Terrorists and cyber criminals on the dark web. So that that's the James Bond part of your referencing earlier, but I was not the guy in the field. I Do dance tangos, but I was not the guy in the field. I was doing it safely from New York City office.Adelaine Ng:
Sorry, did you say tango as well? Is that something? Your competitive ballroom dancer or something?Mark Herschberg:
Yes, I was a competitive ballroom dancer, one of the top ranked ones in the US back when I was competing and traveled all over the country, even internationally sometimes, for competitions and events.Adelaine Ng:
Oh my goodness, you, one of those people that you know we might not even think is human. That is so amazing. Do you get asked? I mean, since you brought up the the topic of AI as well, and you know You've got the dark web and all of that, I think the event space is pretty now looking at AI and going well, how do we use this, or do we need to be afraid of it Because this is going to take over some jobs in events? What are your thoughts on that?Mark Herschberg:
The answer to your question is yes to both parts. It will take over some jobs, but it will also Help us and create better Experiences for our customers and audiences. Don't be afraid in the long term, but there is a little short term disruption, so let me be a little more concrete about that. What we see every time with technology is it comes in and displaces jobs. I'm old enough to remember toll booth collectors and some of the audience might be as well and We'd have to drive and then slow down and wait in line and give money to the toll booth collector. Those folks got replaced by. They had these machines where you throw coins in the basket, and today we have the electronic passes. Now 99.9% of people are very happy. We have this because we don't have to slow down anymore and our commutes are faster. But there's a tiny segment of the population, namely the toll booth collectors, who are not very happy that their jobs got automated away, and this happens with every new technology. A small number of people get displaced, but a large number of people benefit. However, on the whole, it's not that well. These jobs are gone and these people are now out of luck. If you look at a larger change. Farming is the example I usually use. In the US, at the start of the 19th century, we were about 75% farmers. Now, 100 years later, 25% farmers. We don't need all the farmers anymore. And because you and I are not farmers, we can do podcasts, we can do software, we can run events, because we're not stuck on the farm picking crops, so there's enough food for everyone. So jobs will be created, opportunities will be created. By this new technology, we can get rid of some of the grunt work. We can automate that way, allowing us to focus on higher value services and the event space in particular. This is a people business. Your job isn't oh, how do I schedule this event room? If that's what you're doing with most of your job, you might be in trouble, but you're probably not adding a lot of deep value to your clients. The value you add is how do we create a great experience for you and the audience members? And that's where your human abilities are not going to be replaced by AI, but they will be supplemented. Just like spell check has made me much better because my spelling is atrocious, so will AI tools help you be more effective in your role. The only catch is the speed of change is so fast, we might have that early disruption, that loss of jobs, and that's going to hit us sooner than the new jobs show up. And this is true not just in events, but across all sorts of spaces. So there's a little risk to the labor market about temporary labor displacement. There will be more new jobs created than jobs lost, but it may not happen at the same time, and that's the big risk to us. So look at your job. Look at what is the rote automated stuff you're doing Hopefully you can get rid of that with AI and then you can say what can I do? That adds the higher value to my customer and that's where you should be focusing your career.Adelaine Ng:
What about people who, for example, copywriters, or people who work in marketing, where a lot of those parts are now being outsourced to AI? So if your job is 90% now being replaced by AI, who can often do a more reliable job, and as long as you really work on the prompts, you can get some amazing work at a much faster speed. And if you're also saying, I mean, there is that time that you need to allow to reskill or to find a new pocket within the workforce for your skills to have that value and for you to be confident with that value as well. So it's a really funny space to be in right now. What's your best advice for people who are finding themselves in that space where they do feel like my job could actually be threatened?Mark Herschberg:
There are certain jobs just like a milkman, a tow booth collector, travel agents where we saw a lot of them go away. But now let's look at this travel agent specifically Again. I'm old enough to remember when I wanted to book a flight. We would call a few airlines and ask for your prices. To do this all by phone or you call the travel agent who can do it for you. Thank God I don't have to do that anymore. I can go to the computer and it's just. I can get the information faster, more efficiently than having to call someone else. But even though we lost many of those travel agents who would say, well, here are your flight options, we still have travel agents. They're not telling me here are the flights you can choose. They're creating these higher end packages for more customized, more interesting experiences. Let's assume you're a copywriter in the event space and used to write up just standard copy about locations, about events. Yeah, that job is probably going away because 95% of it can now be done by a machine. They don't need you full time or they don't need you one instead of 20 of you. But you know what you can do and we're gonna talk a little about this during the show. You can take the content from the show because you're producing mountains of content. You have all the talks and now of course, we can get a transcription of every talk that goes on and we can create summaries of every talk and we can turn that into blog posts and social media and other content. And that can be done in ways that 20 years ago we just didn't have the capacity to do it. That would cost so much. Now that the costs have gone down, we can say well, the two copywriters who used to just do all the copy pre-event, we only need half a person. But now we can take that one and a half capacity and create post-event content or content during the event, or content in other ways, repurposing the content we create, or additional content, and we can add more value to our customers. And this is again what we always see in technology is that as certain tasks get reduced in terms of their cost, we now have extra capacity. We're no longer on the farm, so now we can post on social media, and so you can find new ways to employ your new found resources to add more value to your customers.Adelaine Ng:
Yeah, it's so interesting the untapped potential that is in repurposing content. We go to so much effort into creating the core content but there is so much more that can I mean even in the podcast interviews that I'm doing. I'm like this is gold. There is so much gold in these conversations and it's just limited to whoever's listening to the podcast for that amount of time and I'm like there's so much opportunity here to just grab things out, little snippets and things that could be turned into blog posts, even LinkedIn articles. All this stuff I'm trying to still work out because I feel like I need a few more arms and legs in order to get all of that mapped out. But the potential is there and AI is making that process so much easier now, so I can definitely see the possibilities. It's definitely an exciting time that we live in right now, but we're talking about podcasts. I found out somewhere that you've been a guest on some 300 podcasts and I also happened to know that you make yourself available till midnight your time in New York, which was great for me. But why this drive for visibility and presence in the podcast world? And also, I know you've been a guest on several events podcast as well.Mark Herschberg:
Two things motivate me. I mentioned that I have these multiple personas. There's Mark, the CTO, and I build all sorts of tech companies. Then there's Mark, the instructor at MIT, and the book I put out. Here's the thing about books. Most authors, as some of your audience may know, they don't make money from selling books. The real money comes from being a coach or consultant. I am not a coach. I do not want to coach people. I have a day job but I am very passionate about helping people with their professional efficacy and going on these podcasts. This is my hobby, this is my interest, this is my passion. A lot of my volunteer work and my teaching, and now the book and the podcasting, is how I can help people with their professional efficacy and that's really one of my missions in life. Now there is a second advantage. I am a professional speaker. Even though I don't do coaching, I do do speaking, and so I do get brought in either to companies or to conferences and events, and certainly going on the podcast. It gets the word out about me, it provides some social proof and people can listen to me and hear. Does this guy sound like a competent speaker? Is he someone I think can help educate our audience. So I do have some benefit that way. But I'd say really that first motivation, the helping people with their professional efficacy, that's what drives me more than anything else.Adelaine Ng:
And the reason why you haven't launched a podcast yourself.Mark Herschberg:
That's a very interesting question. If you look at the business models. If I was a coach, if, for example, my goal was to sell people a $5,000 coaching package, a podcast makes sense Because you buy the book, say, okay, $20, the book, yeah, this sounds interesting. Let me start listening to the guy. It's free. And after hearing someone multiple times, you start to build up the trust. You say, yeah, he's pretty good. And then, after I've had you hear me a bunch of times, I can. Now I'm ready to write the big check, but I have nothing to sell. I'm not trying to sell you that $5,000 package. I'm trying to get the word out. Here's content yes, my book has some nominal cost. Everything else I have I give away for free. There are articles on the website for free. There's a number of free resources. Here's how you can implement career development programs for free at your company. It's not. Oh, here's some lead gen. Here's how I can sell it to you. I don't even ask for your email. I also created the brain bump app, which I give away for free. So all this content I give away for free. So building my own audience. We're bill. Oh, I want to listen to Mark. I want to hear what he has to say. That's great. Subscribe, read the articles, follow the blog. But I'm not doing it to build you up for a conversion, which is what a lot of content marketing does, which is what a lot of podcasting and blogs do. I just have nothing to sell.Adelaine Ng:
It's interesting because I talked to a lot of fellow podcasters and we're all doing it for different reasons, and a lot of people also Come across this thing called pot fade, which is when you launch maybe three or four episodes and then your podcast kind of dies out because you realize this is actually work and it's also because you know we haven't mapped out some of those pieces that you've just talked about, which is, you know, how does this tie back in to my overall goals? How does this serve the destination I'm trying to reach with what I'm trying to create? It's excellent that you've actually spoke those things out and just to make us think, in this world where there is so much Overwhelming, so many moving pieces, what are the things that are going to serve me most on? I appreciate that. But let's get back to the conversation about events. This is an industry that has gone through a lot of change, especially through the pandemic. Actually, take us through the changes as you've seen it over the last decade or so, because you have been writing about this topic, you have had a very keen eye on the development of this industry. How have you seen it evolve?Mark Herschberg:
I've been a keynote speaker, a Panelist, technical speaker for decades at different conferences and here's the sad thing I don't think it has changed that much. That's the unfortunate part. Even yes, now virtual is common that never used to be and we do have hybrid events but really it has not changed much. And that is a problem and that's one of the things we would need to talk about on the show is it does need to change, because what has changed over the past 20 some years is the cost of accessing information. When I think back to the 90s, when I started my career, I I got some trade journals and when I say journals I mean physical magazines that we get mailed to me every month. There were a couple early email lists, maybe a few websites, but really it was that trade journal where I got information and you went to the conference because this is where you could hear big ideas, you could hear top people in your industry, you could learn new things. The cost of that knowledge transfer, the cost at learning, is now zero because I can listen to people on podcasts and I can read their writings and watch their videos and anything I can get from your conference I can probably get elsewhere on the web cheaper, faster I can get it when I want where I want at less cost, and by cost that includes travel, time or things, not just money. So if your conference merely says I will give you this information, your value proposition is diminishing and what we need to do is make these conferences more people oriented, and so that's what we're going to talk about. There's a couple of different things we can do, but the key takeaway conferences cannot just be here is knowledge transfer. It needs to be about engaging with other people.Adelaine Ng:
What about the argument that, hey, you know, the problem is that we do have too much information. It's all at our disposal, a lot of bits free. We can get a whole lot now on YouTube, and the reason why you would go to a conference is because we've sifted, we've done the work, we're bringing you the cream of the crop, and this is what you need to know now for the industry, so that you're in a good position to take your company to the next level or to make the right connections.Mark Herschberg:
What would you say to that argument that might work for people I'm going to say earlier in their careers, whether they are individuals who are just younger, and wow, there's so much to learn. Or maybe even business owners who are new to an industry, new to a business, where, again, wow, there's so much to learn. But mid-career professionals and senior folks, who, of course, are the ones you want at your conferences because they're decision makers and that's what gets the vendors to show up, because they can do the purchasing. Those folks we're wise enough to know what's going on, what's in the industry, what blog, what podcast, what email list is valuable and what isn't. And even if they don't know that, they can begin to do that easily. First, as you know it, AI is coming along. Ai is going to help us filter some of this and say, wow, there's 10,000 podcasts. Ai, please help me pick the ones most relevant to me. But here's something simple I can do today. I can look at your conference, I can see who are your speakers, what are the conference titles, because you've probably published your agenda to try and get me to go there. Great, I'm just going to Google these people and these topics and I'll bet I can find easily 80, 90% of all of that right now this second online for free. So the filter maybe that works for some people, but the cost of filtering is also becoming effectively zero.Adelaine Ng:
Yeah, some really sobering points there. So if we can no longer rely on just content and just the promise that, hey, we've done all the hard work and we're presenting you with the topics that you need to know right now to be current, how do our events need to change? I mean, if you're saying that we're stuck in the Stone Age almost, what are the things that you see as needing to change, and are you actually seeing attendance numbers drop off because events have not evolved as much as they should?Mark Herschberg:
It's hard to answer the latter question because we're recording this in 2023. It's post COVID. People do want to go out, but people are also saying I don't know if I want to travel and do all this. Different industries are in different places post pandemic, so I don't think I have clear enough data to say there is a clear trend. I think it's still frothy and volatile and things are going to shake out for a little while. But for a question, there are six things I recommend conferences do.Adelaine Ng:
Oh, I look forward to that which will be in part two of this interview published next week, because there's quite a lot to get through. But give us a teaser. What are the six?Mark Herschberg:
Perceptions, networking, business development, location specific activities, virtual follow-ups and professional development. These are six things you can add at little or no cost.Adelaine Ng:
We'll be going through Mark's six ideas next week that you can add to your event almost for free. Hope you'll join me then. And don't forget, if you found value in today's show, please click the follow button if you'd like to be notified when a new episode drops. And if you've ever considered launching a podcast with a strategy to land in Apple's top 200 charts in the first week, feel free to send me an email at uponarivalpodcast at gmailcom, and we'll explore how we can make that happen. Catch you next week for part two to uncover more stories and strategies for a successful future. Until then, cheers.