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Why Did Bob Costas Flop So Badly at a Technical Conference?

Tuesday, January 22, 2008 , Posted by Christopher Byrne at 8:34 AM, under

Orlando, FL (Jan 22, 2008) - "If people would get over their sense of celebrity, and had actually listed to what he [Bob Costas] was saying, they would realize it was a great speech," said IBM Lotus Software General Manager Mike Rhodin during a Jamfest concert last night at Lotusphere 2008. "Of the 7,000+ people in the room yesterday, only 150 complained and I find that is great."

Apparently, he had not been talking to different people all day long, either in person or by instant messaging. "It was horrible," said one attendee from France. This was probably the worst opening session I have seen at this conference." One of his colleagues nodded his head in agreement, adding "I had absolutely zero interest in what he was saying because I had no idea who he was, and I could not relate to what he was talking about."

A large part of this seems to have been a misstep by IBM, who introduced him as "internationally known" because of his work on the Olympics. This is a stunning mistake on its face because IBM, despite having been an Olympic Sponsor in the past, seemed to not realize that when NBC (or another network) broadcasts the Olympics, that broadcast does not extend beyond the United States borders.

Of all the people in the room for either of Costas' presentation, I was probably the only one who had a full context of what he was saying. This is because Costas was the first NFL Play-By-Play announcers I worked as a spotter for. I also know who Bob Uecker is, so the joke Costas told was funny to me.

I heard Costas in the second Opening General Session. I was waiting to hear what people told me was his diatribe against China. When he got to the China topic, I thought it was quite good.

Devin Olsen wrote a blog entry entitled "Did he really just say that?" offered this quote from the speech:

"The 2008 Olympics in Beijing will be a spectacle like we've never seen; the Chinese are very good at controlling their people and making them do what they want."

and commented that "I'm pretty sure Bob will be getting a "talking to" before the next session."

When talking to people later, it appeared that he had toned down his rhetoric in the second session. Word through the grapevine, but unconfirmed, is that IBM did take him aside after the first speech and asked/told him to tone it down a little bit. If this is so, it is unfortunate because Costas is known for speaking his opinion, whether you like what he says or not.
So how could the stage have been set so that the appearance by Costas would not have failed so badly in the eyes of many?

For starters, there should have been a video montage of his work, including his work on football, baseball, the Olympics and HBO. This would have given the audience who did not know him some context, so that when he talked about distilling data for broadcasts, they would have had at least a little context.

The second thing that he could have done, if IBM had really educated him, is speak to the fact that the people in the Lotus Software community live, breathe and eat collaboration, especially contextual collaboration. If he had this knowledge, he could have talked about how he works with a collaborative team before and during a live broadcast. That would have gone a long way to help salvage an otherwise disastrous guest speech.

Bob Costas is a gifted speaker and a brilliant mind. People were amazed how he was able to speak so well without the use of a teleprompter. This is because he is a sportscaster where things are not scripted. If he had only been able to apply those skills to the audience listening to him yesterday. Then maybe he would have gotten a standing ovation like the Orlando Symphony Orchestra did that day.

Photographs Copyright 2008 by Christopher Byrne/Eye on Sports Media. All Rights Reserved.

Currently have 2 comments:

  1. Unknown says:

    As someone who lives in the UK, loves US sports, and was watching the events at Lotusphere by way of the blogs and Twitter, I have to say that I was holding my head in my hands when it was relayed that IBM had chosen a US sports broadcaster as the guest speaker.

    Sports is a generally a no-no as the IT crowd isn't generally that interested in Sports anyway. And US Sports is even worse as 90% of the world has no knowledge of, or interest in, NBA NFL or Baseball. It could have been the most engaging and relevant speech ever and it still would have been badly received.

    This must have been a US-made decision and was not checked with anyone outside the US before the booking was made. A disastrous choice indeed.

  1. I'm a sports nut here in the US and found Costas both puzzling and honest. Puzzling because for humor he essentially performed Bob Uecker standup. That works for Uecker, but it doesn't work so well for someone else telling Uecker stories. Honest because he talked about the Chinese government in relation to the Olympics.
    I understand that his references to US sports might not be understandable to half the audience either due to not caring about sports or being from outside the US, but I would have thought that his comments about China would be interesting to everyone. But the two most common reaction about the China comments seemed to be either "who cares" or "how dare he say that". The first is sad to me. The second, I just don't get. Stating that the Chinese government is pretty good at controlling their citizens may not be something that you want to hear, but it doesn't make it any less true.

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