Scott Shuster is a name and face known to thousands of IT and telecoms executives around the world. He, by his own description,
is "but a humble moderator....of significant events." Like McGraw-Hill's "Future of World Telecommunications" gatherings in New
York, Hewlett-Packard's annual "Rethinking the Computer" in San Francisco and countless CIO-only, CFO-only, and CEO-only
gatherings held worldwide by BusinessWeek magazine over a span of 15 years. Prior to all that, Shuster was a television news
presenter, a newscaster on The Voice of America and a foreign correspondent of the American ABC News, a task which brought
him to Pakistan more than once, specifically to Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Peshawar, and villages in the Frontier. He also delivered a
lecture at the IIU in Islamabad on 'dealing with journalists.' In January this year, he was called to Abu Dhabi to lead the entire
second day of Microsoft Corporation's "Government Leaders' Forum," a gathering of ICT ministers from across the Arab States.
Dr. Kamil Muzaffar, Research Editor TelecomPlus also covered the event and was lucky to persuade Scott for an exclusive
interview. This is how it went
TelecomPlus: What is the trick behind conducting hi-profile events successfully?
Scott Shuster: It’s a combination of things. The skills of professional onstage presentation such as you see on television, combined with the
skills of business consulting. My MBA is from IMD in Lausanne, Switzerland, but my background as a radio and television news presenter, talk
show host and foreign correspondent, including my time in Pakistan is also essential to what you see me do for Microsoft and other clients.
Business events are serious gatherings where management issues are discussed in depth, often from an international perspective. I lead such
discussions, often with very senior executives, governmental policymakers and government leaders, while at the same time making the
discussions interesting and interactive -- dare I also say 'jazzy' -- for the audience that has been assembled.
How has presentation at such business-oriented gatherings changed in the info-communication age?
We see many changes at the management conferences held by certain corporations, and by certain governmental agencies, where those
responsible for developing their organizational conferences have learned how to make their meetings dynamic and exciting while also improving
the delivery of information. Sadly, however, these are the minority. Most organizations, public and private, have failed completely to improve
their meetings, which therefore remain as opaque and boring as ever. In either case, however, technology’s role is actually marginal. Certainly
the wireless microphone has made a difference, but there is nothing we can do with a wireless microphone that we cannot not do with wired
ones. Wired and wireless audience voting technologies can be extremely useful, but ‘let’s have a show of hands’ still works too. Microsoft
PowerPoint slides have had enormous impact. However the Microsoft event I chaired here in Abu Dhabi featured no projection - no slides at
all! It’s more about what the persons appearing on stage do with the audience’s time, than about the technology that is employed to assist
What are the prerequisites for a successful technology promotional conference?
For technology promotion, keep the onstage demo brief and place the focus on enabling members of the audience to approach workstations
and try out the technology for themselves. Interactivity, taking questions, being responsive to audience concerns and answering publicly all
issues that anyone in the audience desires to raise. These are key factors for success both at the conference and in business day-to-day. The
way your company leaders and technologists present themselves and behave onstage declares your company’s personality to the audience.
So you are setting their expectations at your meeting. If you don’t listen to your potential customers at your conference, what will they expect
from you as a provider of services day-to-day? I see too many technology promotion gatherings that are "all-talking and no listening." And
there is no record of proceedings for further dissemination after the event. I even see many where the sponsor has failed to get the names and
contacts of everyone attending (which a small lottery can easily achieve). Many errors are made in the production of such management and
technology-oriented conferences. The wheel is reinvented again and again, and rarely well.
How does it compare with a typical show biz scenario?
Ha! In show business, the producer can fire any dancer who does not kick high enough. Regrettably, business conference producers cannot
fire the CEO who hired them, nor the vice-president for marketing, nor the minister of ICT. Thus the producer is working for the dancers instead
of the other way round. This often causes extreme caution on the part of the producer, which leads to boring events. No one dares to tell the
CEO or the minister that he is a poor public speaker. So, instead of taking a better approach, the entire audience has to suffer through a
poorly-written, poorly-delivered speech that does the company more harm than good. This does not happen in show business, but it happens
at industry and governmental events all the time. "Show biz" techniques are successful in attracting enthusiastic audiences to television and live
concerts because the producers and performers apply themselves 24x7 to the complex goal of delivering a superb performance, designed to
please the audience. This is not the way most business and governmental conferences are developed. The goal of the event is too often to
please the event creator rather than the audience, and even there many companies and government departments fall short because they do
not know how to create a pleasing conference. Individuals who do not know how to create a conference are assigned to create a conference.
Isn't it obvious why the audiences are not enthusiastic?
How you cope with cross cultural issues while introducing vendors from one continent into the market of another?
A certain formality in the initial interaction is always a wise opening gambit, however as more and more companies reach out from their home
culture to do business across the seas, concerns over intercultural issues in the business-to-business interface are declining. I hasten to add
that I am speaking of the business-to-business interaction among executives and company functionaries, including technologists — not the
national and cultural issues in product design, pricing, marketing, advertising, labor management, government relations, etc. In these
operational areas the complexity of intercultural matters remains enormous — indeed, may loom larger than ever as more and more foreign
firms try to address the ‘base-of-the-pyramid’ of lowest-income, least-educated, least-internationalized consumers. But at the managerial and
executive level, intercultural issues are in decline. Nearly all business education is being delivered on a western model, so young employees of
all nationalities coming out of the business schools of every nation are already able to express themselves in the internationally-accepted
terminologies and behave in the internationally-accepted manner familiar to all businesspeople.
In terms of my own specialty, the business or governmental policy conference, I’m finding that the satellite TV is my friend. The western norms
of television presentation are setting new standards for live verbal presentation -- standards that business audiences expect to see met at
business events. And around the world we see corporations and government ministries responding. I have seen even the most introvert and
cautious type of government minister in East Asia ‘open up’ and behave in a relaxed and open manner onstage, something that would have
been unthinkable not long ago. Admittedly I do not see a lot of older East Asian executives and ministers behaving in this way, but I always
make this happen at the meetings I am hired to lead. This more modern, more 'open' spirit is trend that is spreading, globally.
Do you find it different in the Arab markets?
Not at all. Not in the slightest. Egypt, Jordan, Gulf...Latin America! Everywhere it is the same in this regard. What vary are the generations.
Younger professionals are more relaxed and comfortable across cultural lines, definitely. And they find it easier to be relaxed and comfortable
onstage than do their elders, generally speaking. But I reiterate that in the sphere of business interaction, the differences among nationalities
are growing ever smaller. And this is a thrill to behold. It is a wonderful time to be in business internationally, and in the Arab world in particular.
There are so many opportunities, such enormous potential, communication is not a problem. Spirits are high, talent is everywhere. The Arab
world is truly in bloom right now.
Do you get clients who are also rivals to one another?
Yes, and best of all is when these clients appear together at the same event! The more rivals onstage together at an event, the more exciting
the discussion, and the higher the credibility of the event. It helps the event attract a larger audience and more press attention. Audiences do
not like to feel that they are being fed company-specific propaganda, and neither does the business media. By involving competitors, events
improve the apparent customer-orientation of the gathering. In terms of my own business, of course I am booked to chair the conferences of
companies and also of countries that compete with one another, and I have never heard any client protest this. I don't blab anyone's secrets to
I am impressed that Telecom Plus has chosen to discuss this issue. Live gatherings of businesspeople are a crucial part of business culture,
locally, nationally, and internationally, yet this field of human interaction is in general not addressed with much rigor by the corporations and
governments that create large meetings. Most gatherings are much the same as they were 10 or 25 years ago: “We talk...you listen...good-
bye.” It is the rare company or government ministry that focuses on its events as a potential source of competitive advantage, and seeks to
make its meetings "better-than-everyone-else’s.”