This year at RSA, there was a new area introduced called the engagement zone. As the name implies, it is less about speakers talking and attendees consuming the information. Rather, it is meant to be a place where attendees can get together and exchange ideas.
I was honored to have been asked to help facilitate two very different kinds of sessions in the engagement zone.
The first sessions were around speed networking, which I facilitated with RSA content director Britta Glade. Being the first time, we weren’t sure what to expect or how many people would turn out.
We ran this twice in the day, once in the morning and once in the afternoon.
Both sessions were well attended, and bar a few exceptions, nearly all participants were first-time RSA attendees.
After the introductions, we gave each of the participants four minutes to talk with the person opposite them after which we rotated. To help kick things off, we gave a seed question prior to each interaction, which the participants were free to use or come up with their own questions.
We found ourselves having to repeatedly intervene at the end of the four minutes to encourage people to move onto the next conversation. On a side note, prior to the event, I did suggest to Britta that we source a large gong to get the attention of participants in between sessions. I maintain that if we had it, things would have flowed much quicker.
As I’ve been attending conferences for more years than I’d like to remember, I realized that it’s easy to forget what it’s like going to a large conference like RSA for the first time. You can simultaneously feel overwhelmed by the large crowds, but at the same time, it can feel like the loneliest place ever; which is why I believed that the speed networking session was such a success. Most people genuinely appeared to have a good time, and we saw many continuing their discussions after the sessions ended. Hopefully at the very least, some people found a new conference buddy.
What Skills Should a CISO Have?
Another session I facilitated with my friend Thom Langford took the form of a debate. We asked the question about whether it’s necessary for a CISO to be technical or not. I took the side of “yes” and Thom opposed me. We spoke for five minutes, then opened the floor up for Q&A. After which we let each table discuss amongst themselves for 15 minutes where they believed technical skills fell in the CISO hierarchy of needs.
Again, it was a lively debate and encouraged lots of discussion, with a handful of people changing their opinions through the course of the discussion.
The Human Element
Talks at conferences are great, but this year, the RSA Conference was about the human element. And these sessions that I was honored to be a part of really reinforced how important the human connection at such events is.
Throughout my career, I’ve made some of my best professional connections and friends at conferences. These are people who I remain in contact with throughout the year, sometimes bouncing ideas off, sometimes to whine about the state of the industry, and sometimes to seek their counsel.
I think it’s a shame if people attend such conferences and don’t leave having met some new people. After all, what are we, if not human – and the more we can do to facilitate better connections, the better off we’ll all be. That’s one thing RSA did very well this year.