After two weeks of vacations in Las Vegas and around, after the SharePoint Conference (@SPConf, #SPC12), I had time to think about what I found good and less good at this event. Even though it was not mandatory to let that amount of time to write a wrap-up, doing a step back from the conference was not bad in order to make the things more objective. So, in this post I will review the different aspects of the event, from the location, through the content.
When, in Los Angeles last year, it was announced that in 2012 the SharePoint Conference would take place in Las Vegas, I immediately thought to register. And for mainly two reasons. First, I really love Las Vegas, and, second, it meant that something great would happen. Even if most of the attendance knew that a new release would come, not that many people thought that SharePoint 2013 would have came out in such a short period of time. Since the SPC09, I was convinced that one of the reason of going back to Vegas was because of a new version of the products (a bit of intuition as well). The Mandalay Bay is a great place for such huge event, even if I’m not sure it is the only Convention Center able to contain that many rooms for sessions and 10’000 people. Moreover, the number of places where parties or dinners can be made is unbelievable. Taking a room in the same location (either the Mandalay Bay or TheHotel) is also a good decision, as going from the room to the Convention Center takes already 15 minutes, staying in another hotel would take really more time (even from the Luxor, count 10 more minutes). So, an advice for the people that wonder if it worth being in the same hotel as the conference, the answer is : YES.
In 2011, it was the first real time I used Twitter and I was blown. For a long time I was wondering about the reason or the purpose of such tool. Basically, is that really useful ? A conference is a really good example of usage of this tool. The communication medium was perfect to propagate information, room changes or other important news. Moreover, communication to and from the conference organizer (@SPConf) was radically easier. Moreover, it fosters people to interact with others and exchange experience or news. On the real life side, this year was amazing. I saw and was involved in many discussions, with people I’ve never met before, or people I exchanged with on Twitter or only via e-mail. One could see people really discussing and making new friends. The Community Hub, setup by Joel Oleson (@joeloleson) and Mark Miller (@EUSP) was a great success. A lot of people were passing by the booth to meet and it was very dynamic, showing that the SharePoint community is not only a word, but is also very active. Here, my advice to people that would be new at a (SharePoint) Conference would be : don’t be shy, engage with others and take a good bunch of business cards.
With the partner events and the Microsoft Tuesday event with Bon Jovi, there was many occasions to party all along the week. Passport party, red party or green party participated in the lot of fun that people were able to get. They were great events. Nevertheless, it goes fast and being able to meet each of your friends during a week is definitely hard. Goes too fast. And, also, don’t go to sleep too late, you would pay it off during the next days of the conference. A special mention also to Erica Toelle (@ericatoelle) and her #SPCSuite idea, that was a lot of fun.
Once again, the organization was great. Even if there was 10’000 attendees, the registration went smooth, almost with no waiting time. During the course of the week, I haven’t seen big problems. If I had to give an area to improve, it would probably be the room’s session allocation. Several times, sessions were packed and it was no longer possible to enter the room. An idea to avoid these situations in the future is maybe to enforce the registration to the sessions. On the other side, I was really surprised to see the lack of tolerance of some people. Indeed, I could see once a blue-shirt lady explaining hundreds of times that the session was full and that no more people could enter. Suddenly, one or two guys insulting her so much that she had to leave, shocked. I don’t understand this kind of behavior from an attendee. It is like shooting to the messenger. I would also like to thank all of these blue-shirts people for their guiding information and their kindness during the week.
Another point to improve is the break between the sessions, that was not long enough, at least from my own point of view. 15 minutes to go from the lower-level up to the 3rd level, with some many people in the corridors, it is too short. I am open to have sessions starting earlier in the morning and finishing later in the evening, making the breaks longer, as I know that many people are not attending the same kind of session (business, developer or IT) the whole day, but rather switch from one to another. Splitting the types of sessions by floor was very good though.
Organizing the catering for 10’000 people is really serious and can’t be improvised. Here as well, thumb up for the organization. I’ve never waited more than several minutes to reach the buffet and then to find a seat. Again, we should not be afraid of joining a table with already many people around. It is a very good way to make new friends or to network a bit. For non-american people, the food can be......different, but it was ok.
Seeing my colleague coming back from the Build Windows conference with a Surface and a Lumia 920 got me mad. Ok, not that much, but still. Of course, we could not imagine that Microsoft would leak 10’000 Surface to the attendees. Instead, we got a backpack and a bottle. I can’t count the number of bottle I got from conferences. The first day of the conference, I immediately thought that a nice swag would have been a 3G SIM card for smartphone. At least, people would have been able to twit or get access to the internet (see my last paragraph).
Since the keynote, it was obvious that 3 main topics that would be addressed during the week : Social Networking, the Apps and the Cloud. And we were not disappointed. Almost. In reality, when discussing with colleagues and friends, it appeared that several sessions were similar. Moreover, there was some lack of in-depth sessions, most likely because of the recent release of the platform. I didn’t attend sessions that were really bad, but watching few videos and also gathering some feedbacks, it appeared that many presentations were not enough prepared or rehearsed to avoid bugs or issues on stage. Another thing : when promoting the “all-in-the-Cloud” strategy, it works better when there is a network, but I will come back later to this specific point. Indeed, many demos failed because of the connectivity. I was also lucky to mostly attend great sessions held by top speakers. When you attend a session with Andrew Connell or Eric Shupps (@eshupps), it is a guarantee that you will have good time. But according to some other attendees, some of them were not that lucky. On the other side, it is true that in some occasion, I attended sessions where the title was not really aligned with its content. The strategy I adopted was to mainly select the sessions according to its presenter. My favorite presentation, because of its originality and also because it was really spectacular, was without doubt the “Zero to Live in 60 minutes using SharePoint 2013 Publishing”, with Andrew Connell, Daniel Kogan and 4 others Microsoft Program Managers.
Wifi (because it deserves its own section)
Finally, and even if it was “heard loud and clear” by the organizer, the wifi connectivity was not even bad, but awful. I understand, ensuring the wifi for 10’000 people is not that easy, but there was already a warning in Los Angeles where attendees were complaining that the wifi was not reliable. Also, nowadays, both technology and people are able to support such a big number of connections. At the end, 2 days without connectivity is simply not acceptable. Sorry. Moreover, the last day of the conference, connectivity was also lost for the exhibitors. Again, when promoting the Cloud, there is a bit of an issue.
Last but not least, I would also like to thank Dave Coleman (@davecoleman146) for offering his platform for blogging to some people like me, and was happy to meet Dave and discuss a bit during the conference. I hope to see again the people I met or missed during the conference in the course of next year or at the next SharePoint Conference (not yet announced).
Definitely, the SharePoint Conference, is THE conference to attend when working with SharePoint.