Last week’s Mashable Social Good Summit was pointless

I’m sort of cringing at that snippy, click bait-y title, but it really was not good.

I’d heard about this annual social good event for the past few years, but hadn’t had occasion to go. Then a friend of mine, who’s launching a new design and social good conference in Portland next year, asked if I would attend this year’s program in her stead and give her notes.

I was genuinely interested. Also, I’m sure I don’t need to say that when you offer a freelance writer a free ticket to something, she’ll always go. So I went.

A (good) freelance writer will also always try to show-not-tell you about their experience. So here’s what I saw, as reported to my notebook during the event:

At least they had one of those celebrity backdrops you could stand in front of.

At least they had one of those celebrity backdrops you could stand in front of.

  • “Objectively meaningless two-minute video where the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal flags are waving around groups of ethnically-diverse children.”
  • “Opening ceremony = brief introductions to each of the SDGs by celebrities Victoria Beckham, the clock/”bomb” kid, Adrian Grenier, a taped speech by Jennifer Lopez… This is not helpful or interesting! Just a parade of celebrities.”
  • “The Digital Media Lounge appears to be a room with a bunch of tables where people are using laptops and there’s a screen projecting the live program happening in the auditorium. The lounge is where the coffee and snacks are, too, which was not explained to us before.”
  • “Did the conference website crash, or is the wifi in here just getting deluged? Been 10 minutes and it hasn’t loaded.”
  • “Moderator: ‘These kids will be leading this summit 15 years from now.’ Yawn.”
  • “Panel participant: ‘Social media is used by young people, who are going to be the ones driving change for the next decades, so we need to use and pay attention to social.’ Is this news??”
  • “There is a panel called ‘Champions of the Earth.’ “
  • “I see people with pizza, and I smell pizza. I guess we got pizza! No instructions or explanations. It’s like a secret!”
  • “I’m not sure who’s here, or why. There was no chance to network—other than waiting in line for the bathroom, which I did—and I’m left with no sense of who would come to this. Starting to think it was just a bunch of UN moles!!”
  • “Closing remarks were compassionately brief. We were asked to leave the auditorium immediately afterward.”

I could go on, but I don’t want to embarrass anyone, exactly. And there were some gems:

A deservedly tired Bill McKibben spoke about, among other things, the similarities between tobacco and oil companies when their jigs have been up.

Moxie Marlinspike issued the very interesting thought that laws should be difficult to enforce: “How would we know that public opinion and demand was swaying in support of same-sex marriages if no one had ever seen an ‘illegal’ same-sex relationship in public? Same goes for marijuana legalization in Washington and Colorado. We need to see how people act outside of what they’re told to do by laws in order to see what they’re really like; what they really want and need.”

Lara Logan was a tough and smart moderator who brought needed rigor and vigor to her discussions.

But overall, I was surprised by how much time and care went into something that wound up being so banal and providing such little value. My peanut gallery tips to conference organizers of the future:

  • Make it concrete, not conceptual. Statistics and stories can be useful; platitudes are not.
  • For the love of god, build time to network into your schedule. No one wants to go to a conference, sit for six hours, then go home. Networking is half the point.
  • Either tell us to bring a lunch, or tell us there will be food (and preferably what and where and when, too). Also for the love of god.

That’s it. No hard feelings, Mashable (although I can’t recall seeing anything on your site that’s really grabbed me, either). Just… sayin’.