Climbing Everest Virtually

Mountaineer Jamie Clarke knocked it out of the park yesterday at the 2010 PCMA Education Conference in Montreal, speaking passionately about the failures he encountered along the way to successfully summiting Mt. Everest.

Jamie Clarke made us laugh, made us think, and made some of us mist up. He kept me, along with the entire audience, on the edge of our seats — although the particular seat I was sitting in was 300 miles away in my home office in New York.

It’s not the first time I’ve gotten great content by logging on remotely to a conference — last February I wrote about logging into the Virtual Edge Summit. But this is the first time the experience has felt so emotionally compelling, or that I have felt so much a part of the experience. I think there are two reasons for that.

First, Clarke is a master storyteller. He used details brilliantly to convey experience — I could almost smell chocolate-chip cookies baking in his mother’s kitchen, and taste the cups of tea brewed in at base camp as Clarke spoke. (Um, yuk, if you happened to hear the talk. Watch it here if you missed it.) Clarke broke the rules, exceeding the length of time that conventional wisdom says is an appropriate time to speak. But at 45 minutes in, the energy in the room was palpable, even when delivered via streaming video

And secondly, the remote audience was skillfully and warmly invited into the experience by Jessica Levin and Mike McCurry. They greeted those who made their virtual presence known and kept tabs on the quality of the video experience. There wasn’t a lot of tweeting going on during the talk — it was that mesmerizing — but our online exchanges had the feel of shared glances and nods. There was a consensus about what stood out in Clarke’s talk, arrived at by way of tweets and retweets: Failure is a good teacher, if you can just boot your ego out of the way. Success doesn’t come in one big, individual leap, it comes through collectively facing down difficulties, one by one. Family and relationships matter more than anything. Including online relationships, as Mike McCurry pointed out.

There’s been a lot of talk about whether or not videoconferencing will hurt face-to-face meetings. As satisfying as it was to be in the remote audience, I can’t imagine that any of us wouldn’t have rather been there in person.

Or hasn’t made a mental note: 2011?

Barbara Palmer

Barbara Palmer is senior editor and director of digital content.