Tag Archives: 13ntc

My Tips For Planning Successful NTEN Tech Sessions

NTEN needs good tech sessions at the 2014 conference. Submissions are open.  Here’s a pitch for any tech-savvy NTENdees to dive in and present, followed by my lessons learned (from 20+ sessions at eight NTCs) for successfully presenting technical topics to the diverse audience that shows up at NTC.  Simply put, there are ways to do great sessions that meet the needs of staff from large and small, advanced and tech-challenged nonprofits in attendance. I’ll outline the ones that have worked for me below.

The IT Staff track is the place to submit the infrastructure-related sessions. The other tracks receive a lot more submissions than the IT Staff track (as much as five times the number!), even though 53% of the 13NTC attendees surveyed say they want more technical content.  My take on that the problem is that techies aren’t generally all that interested in standing up in front of crowds and presenting. That’s less of a problem for the Communications and Leadership tracks. All I can say to those of you who have the subject expertise but lack the desire and or confidence to present is that we all stand to gain if you will step outside of that comfort zone. NTEN will have the range of sessions that NPOs struggling with cloud, wireless, business intelligence and unified communications projects need to move forward.  You’ll add public speaking to your resume, which is a great thing to have there.  And I’ll help.

Over the last few years, I’ve presented on topics like server virtualization, VOIP, and project management.  These sessions have averaged 50-60 attendees, and every audience has ranged from complete novices to old hands at the subject matter. To my mind, the biggest (and most common) mistake that presenters make is to choose a target audience (e.g. they’re all newbies, or they’re all intermediate) and stick with that assumption. Simply put, the attendees will be forgiving if you spend some time addressing the needs of the others in the room, as long as you also address theirs.  They’ll be pissed if they spend the whole session either out of their depth or bored out of their minds.

There are two key ways that you can address a range of audiences: structure the session in beginner, intermediate and advanced topics, or break the attendees into groups by org size.  The latter will require co-presenters; the former keeps that as an option.

In 2010, Matt Eshleman and I did a session on Server Virtualization, an incredibly geeky topic, and it was the third highest rated session that year. We didn’t break up the audience into groups.  Instead, I gave about a 15 minute powerpoint that introduced the concepts, doing my best to bring anyone who didn’t know what it was up to speed.  Matt then outlined three virtualization scenarios: one for a small org; one for medium; and one for a large. We left about 30 minutes for questions, and some of those hit on the really advanced questions that the experts had.  By that point, the novices were grounded enough to not be thrown by the advanced conversation.

In 2012, I designed a session on VOIP and Videoconferencing.  Knowing that small orgs and large orgs have dramatically different needs in this area, I drafted Matt again, as well as Judi Sohn.  This time, we split the room into two groups, and had two very different conversations, both of which were quite valuable for the attendees.  I never heard how this session was rated, but I think it’s the best of the 20 or so I’ve done. My measure is: did the attendees walk out of the session with substantial, practical knowledge that they didn’t have when they walked in, that they can use to support their NPO(s)?

Two big tips:

  1. Don’t get to wonky with the slides.  IDC and Microsoft have a ton of diagrams outlining server setups that you can download, but they are not what an NTEN crowd wants to see.  Nobody wants to stare at a Visio diagram with 16 objects and 10 arrows and tiny tiny labels saying what they all mean.
  2. Mine the wisdom of the crowd.  Most people attend sessions to learn, but some attend because they love the topic and have a lot of expertise in it.  The best Q&A (which should never be less than 30 minutes) is one that the presenter facilitates, encouraging dialogue among the attendees.  As the presenter, you can reply (or weigh in), as you’ll have relevant expertise that the audience might lack, but it’s often the case that someone else in the room knows what you know, and more.

I hope this is helpful, but, even more, I hope that you’ll submit a session and make 14NTC the most rewarding yet for the IT staff that attend. It’s in my neighborhood nest year (DC), so come early and have a beer with me beforehand.

NTEN, NTC And Technology

The Nonprofit Technology Conference was held in snowy Minneapolis this year and, as usual, a good time was had by all, despite some painful plane delays and dramatic turnover in the NTEN staff. The choice of Dan Palotta as keynoter was, in many ways, a great one, not because he had much to say to the nptech community in particular, but because what he has to say is thought-provoking and controversial. At a time when NTEN, itself, is going through a big period of change, it was appropriate to take on the dialogue about the nonprofit sector as a whole.

From my less-trendy-social-media,-more-tech perspective, the conference had some high points. Matt Eshleman led a very practical and informative session on IT governance , taking a wonky topic and bringing it down to earth. And I sat on a fairly heated panel debating the role of IT, where the four of us mostly agreed that the chief technologist needs to be at the management level, but had a variety of ideas about what the role entailed. The conversation got a bit wild when we got to IT compensation, with all four panelists vying for the mic and three of four of the audience jumping up as well. It’s clear that while we mostly challenge Palotta a bit and do think that working for a mission justifies making a little less than our for-profit peers, we need to remain competitive in order to attract and maintain good technologists. Irrespective of IT, we can’t let people who do inspiring work in our sector go on to live in poverty or on the streets – their contributions are worthy of more than just respect.

All that said, the technical sessions this year, once again, were hard to tease of of the huge array of social media and Web offerings. Despite hard work curating the IT Staff track, Online Fundraising and Facebook strategy sessions still made the NTEN cut for the IT Staff track, where they don’t belong. I’m told that this is because some presenters insist that IT Staff is the audience that they want to reach, but that doesn’t explain to me why it belongs in the track. The track should adhere to the interests of the group that it’s named for.  If the IT Staff session draws a majority of communications or fundraising staff, well, it wasn’t an IT Staff session . Fail!

Here’s the challenge. It’s twofold. Lindsay Martin-Bilbrey, NTEN’s Program Director, tells me that they receive five times as many submissions for the Communications track as they do for the IT Staff track. And the IT Staff submissions are often multiple sessions by the same people. I think this is a cultural issue, and a bit of a catch-22. IT Staff are generally not outgoing people, in the way that Communications staff are. We’re inwardly-focused, and generally not comfortable presenting to crowds. There are exceptions, like me, Matt and Donny, but we aren’t the norm. So Lyndsay and I agree that we need to do something to support and engage the millions of techs working at NPOs. The Communications staff don’t have us outnumbered. But it’s going to take some intervening.

So I’m here to intervene. If you do tech work at a nonprofit, and you have expertise in the current trends, such as Voice Over IP telephony, Virtual Desktop Infrastructure, Software As A Service, Bring Your Own Device, online backup, cloud, and dashboards, we need sessions on all of these topics at 14NTC. It’s not enough to just show up; I’m asking you to submit a session. If you want help preparing it, coaching on presenting, or a strong Co-Presenter, I’ll help with that or help arrange it. The truth is that NTEN can’t address the comm/tech imbalance without the explicit help of the npTECH community. So let’s do our part, and keep the tech in nonprofit technology.

The Role of Information Technology At Nonprofits NTC Panel

Just in case this late addition to the Nonprofit Technology Conference Agenda slipped your radar, I want to plug it.

Nonprofits and IT, a “Big Idea” panel, Saturday, 10:30 AM, Ballroom G: http://myntc.zerista.com/event/member/76206

As regular readers of my blog know well, nonprofits have struggled with the integration of technology strategy and leadership in their organizations. Since I transitioned to a career in the sector in 2000, there has been a clear acknowledgement that this integration is critical, but there’s still been a lot of uncertainty as to how it’s done. NPO’s now get that integrating finance, ECRM and donor databases is critical; migrating to the cloud is imminent; and telephones are now computing devices. But they wrestle with questions like “Where does IT report?”, “How much should we pay IT staff?” and “What is IT responsible for? Servers? Web site? Donor database?”

I’ll be sitting on the panel with :

  • Donny Shimamoto, CEO of Intraprise Techknowlogy, a nonprofit-focused consulting firm in Honolulu;
  • Michael Enos, CTO of Second Harvest Food Bank of Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties, CA; and
  • Laura Quinn, CEO of Idealware.

Lindsay Martin-Bilbrey, NTEN’s Program Director, will moderate the session.

We’ll tackle the big questions, like what is the role of the CIO? Will IT be necessary when we’re all in the cloud? And, my favorite (one to debunk!), Should you replace your Chief Information Officer with a Chief Digital Marketing Officer? I know that the members of the panel won’t agree on everything, either, so the conversation should be robust.  We’ll leave plenty of time for audience questions.  If, like me, you consider these questions to be of critical importance, I do hope you’ll join us.

Where I’ll Be At The NTC – 2013 Edition

It’s time again for the Nonprofit Technology Conference, NTEN’s annual big deal event for those of us who use technology and the web to advance meaningful work.  This will be my eighth NTC (out of the last nine).  Here’s my NTEN history:

2005: Emily Zukerberg and Marnie Webb tell me about NTEN and I join in SF, attending my first NTC in Chicago, where I somehow got roped into presenting at three sessions.

2006: Seattle

2007: DC

2008: New Orleans

2009: San Francisco, and the first #ntcbeer event, where we had about 45 people brave their way to Berkeley.

2010: Atlanta. Here I introduced the Tech Track; five sessions on geeky topics that helped balance things after a headlong dive into social media madness that almost obscured NTEN’s mission, from where I sat.  We had three of the top ten rated sessions that year. The second #ntcbeer got about 40 people at a great bar that was way too far from the hotel.

I missed 2011 in DC.  But my good work went on with out me. Tracy Kronzak led up the second tech track to further success, and #ntcbeer boasted about 100 people at my favorite DC bar, Churchkey. Oh,  and I won a little award.

2012: San Francisco. No tech track this year, because we incorporated it more solidly into the IT Staff track, which the tech track crew curated.  #ntcbeer probably broke a few zoning laws, with about 150 people packed into a small bar.

Now I’m off to Minneapolis for #13NTC, and it’s shaping up to be another good one.  Here’s where you can find me:

April 10th, 7:00 pm, Brit’s Pub a few doors from the hotel for the 5th Annual #ntcbeer event.  As of this writing, we have a dead heat for signups on the official Facebook page (90) and the MyNTC event page (89) for a grand total of, well, somewhere between 160 and 170, I think.  There are duplicate signups and there’s no easy way to do the math.  This is definitely shaping up to be the largest one yet, as many more people will sign up in the days just before NTC and quite a few won’t bother signing up at all.  Join me there with the understanding that it’s about the company first, beer second; we have a history of being a welcoming, casual crowd.  And we have some surprises in store.

If you aren’t going to NTC, but you can get to Austin, Texas, be sure to attend our sister #ntcbeer event! Rumor has it that they know how to have a good time in Austin.

On Thursday. the 11th, I hope to participate in NTEN’s Day of Service.  I’m signed up, but concerned that I’ve heard nothing about this event to date.  Then I’m off to the IT Director’s meetup at 10:30, followed by the Science Fair, NTEN’s always impressive vendor show.  What’s great here is that NTEN draws nobody that is even capable of a hard sell — the vendor show is a great way to acquaint yourself with the nonprofit technology out there and the people who know how to make great use of it.  It’s a conversation-rich event.

My evening plans aren’t 100% booked, but if you work, as I do, in Legal Aid, please let me know so I can add you to the dinner reservation for the Legal Aid get-together.  I’ll be joined by fellow LSCer David Bonebrake and friends with ProBono.Net, LSNTAP, The Shriver Center on Poverty Law, Montana Legal Services, and hopefully more.

On Friday, Dan Pallotta follows up his groundbreaking TED talk that challenges all of us to shake up the damaging preconceptions we have about charity and donating. Then I’m off to sessions on IT Governance (by frequent co-collaborator Matt Eshleman of Community IT) and Bridging the tech funding gap, with Lindsay Bealko.

At 3:30, I’m presenting on Project Management: Choosing the Right Tools and Approaches for Disparate Projects.  I’m only somewhat ambitious here, but my goal is that everyone attending will walk away with a solid understanding about traditional (“Waterfall”) and modern “Agile” project management; how and when to apply one, the other, or some combination of the two; and what awesome tools and applications are available to support them.  As always, I’ll keep the PowerPointing to a reasonable time limit and mine the wisdom of the crowd attending.  I think there will be a healthy showing  and there are already some gurus signed up.

Friday night is the progressive party — not sure where I’ll be, but I”ll hit as many of them as I can. This might be the best chance to catch up with me, so let me know if you want to hang out.

On Saturday, after the Allyson Burn’s plenary, I’ll be leading a “Big Idea” panel on the Role of IT in Nonprofits.  Joining me will be Donny Shimamoto of Intraprise Techknowlogies and Michael Enos, CTO of Second Harvest Food Bank in my old stomping grounds, San Mateo and Santa Clara Counties, CA. We’ll be sure to hit the big topics about where IT works in the org chart (and where it’s set up to fail, browse this blog for lots of my thoughts on this); what nonprofits should pay, and what good can an IT strategic plan do for you.

Finally, after lunch, I’ll be crashing Tracy Kronzak and Robert Weiner’s “Data is from Mars, Nonprofits are from Venus” session before getting way too early a plane back to DC and missing out on the Geek Games.  But, no rest — LSC’s board meeting starts on Sunday.

I do hope to see you there — let me know where you’ll be in the comments!