In attending the 2009 Search Engine Strategies conference in San Jose, it’s probably near impossible for you to talk about search marketing and strategies without uttering the G word: Google. That’s right…the 800 lb gorilla in the room plays quite heavily in the industry which is why it wasn’t surprising to hear that the SES conference organizers had set up one of the keynotes during this three-day event to be given by a Google team member. Now a major coup d’Ã©tat would be having Sergei Brin and/or Larry Page (founders of Google) to be the keynote speaker. Instead, the speaker was Nicholas Fox, the Business Product Management Director in charge of AdWords at the search engine giant.
Just hearing that there was going to be someone from Google makes me pay attention. After hearing the keynote from Clay Shirky the day before, I was psyched to hear some great keynote speeches, especially regarding AdWords because I’m curious about what strategies and insights marketers should look into when doing search engine advertising.
So the keynote started off alright but soon you realized that it wasn’t going to be all that great. Fox’s keynote seemed rather rehearsed and, in his words, were “prepared remarks” as if he was at a press conference and did not want to deviate from the message set forth by his superiors at the Googleplex – see picture and tell me that it doesn’t look like he’s reading it verbatim. On the one hand, it was nice to hear what Google has done and the continued self-promotion that Fox was heaving on Google (which one wonders if it was a publicity campaign? If so, it was a big mistake). However, it was too stoic and conservative that didn’t exude any energy to which attendees needed after eating a lunch filled with plenty of carbohydrates and other chemicals that a bad keynote only contributed to hasten people’s reluctance to stick around or stay awake.
Twitter, which I found interesting that it was more in the shadow of the conference, wasn’t much friendlier than what I just wrote. During the actual keynote, Twitter search was pretty much abuzz with at least a few people offering their opinions denouncing the keynote while others were pretty encouraged by it.
What was interesting to note though and what I felt really saved this keynote from utter disaster was the portion where the audience got to interact with Fox. No, people didn’t verbalize their discontent with the speech. Rather, they offered some relevant questions that related to the theme of the conference: search. Also, while people were getting bored with the speech, Fox made the point that you could download the entire speech on the Google website (which you can do by clicking here). Once people got up to ask questions, Fox became more lively and unconstrained. It appeared that he actually could be more interactive when he didn’t have to read “prepared remarks” and could be himself. It seems that the next time this issue might come up, perhaps instead of giving the audience a brow-beating over how good Google is, maybe change the format and have a lively discussion where people can engage with you and that itself might form a great keynote.