On 15th and 16th September, I spoke at my first in-person conferin almost two years and it was so incredible to be back with real people. The organising team have been through so many rollercoasters with this conference so seeing everything come together was so so heart warming. Here are my key takeaways from the event.
It is all about the people
I know quite how much Mark, Randy, Martin and Phillips have put into this event but if you were there and didn’t know, Mark welling up during the opening speech would have told you all you need to know. Most importantly, it was worth it. The beaming smiles and looks of awe as people took the escalator up to registration while looking down over generations of Mercedes was a sight to behold. People were enthusiastically chatting the sponsors and each other, having been starved of interaction for the last 18 months. Naturally there were still some folks who were hesitant but the goodwill kept everyone going.
What was clear from when I arrived the night before at the speakers event was that people were just so happy to be interacting with real people. They had depth and not just a 2D screen! I will admit that I was a little nervous that people I had only met online would not be always as engaging in real life but I was completely wrong. Everyone was friendly, open and embracing and it really showed what a strong community it is.
It also showed why we do things like this. Sharing to others and seeing that interest is what keeps us all going. To all the attendees, a heartfelt thank you.
Hybrid can work
One of the most interesting aspects for me though was how well the hybrid aspect worked. There were some technical difficulties that were soon ironed out but I attended several talks where the presenter was remote. It didn't feel too different to the in-person sessions and you could tell that the presenter could see people there. It meant that we had a much broader range of speakers, especially those internationally based who could still present.
It is worth saying that it was better when the presenter was there in person and you could get the better connection with them or ask a quick question afterwards. However, the options are there for remote presenting and attending and I like the fact that people have choice. That can only be a good thing in this case.
Viva is definitely a hot topic
While many of these session titles were decided in the days just after Viva was announced, it was intriguing how many of the sessions referenced Viva even where it wasn't the main subject. It shouldn't have been a big surprise but it was still good to see the interest among the presenters and the good audience for the dedicated Viva sessions shows that there is definitely interest from attendees to know more.
On the flip side, there weren't that many vendor offerings that went big with the Viva branding but I suspect that it is still early days for that. The LMS apps on show generally hadn't defined their Viva Learning plans and the Contact Centres aren't yet talking Viva Topics. It was a Teams focused conference so there was more about the hardware on show but it will be interesting to see how this plays out at other events.
Talking of hardware...
There's some pretty cool devices out there
One thing that I was particularly interested in seeing was the new devices on show. While a blog post or video is nice, being able to see the actual things and be able to glance around makes a big difference and I wasn't disappointed. The new Bose UC headphones were simply gorgeous and did make me want to drop my QC35s a few times to give me an excuse. The Polycom solutions that would work for home office were very interesting and I can see a future in the lower end home devices to go along with the even more impressive Teams Room devices. I shouldn't forget to mention some of the Jabra headsets either with the Evolve 2 catching my attention with it's foldaway boom mic.
It was the cleverer devices that stole the show with AI powered cameras that could isolate each individual in a Teams meeting to give that real hybrid feel. Also the HoloLens2 and Magic Leap that Simply Videos had on display for having augmented reality meetings gave me food for thought. At one point, I saw one of their reps walking around with a headset and giving a commentary on the F1 cars at Mercedes Benz World - peak Commsverse!
Governance and reporting are still important
A surprise I had was how popular the sessions on governance and reporting were. These are really important for Microsoft Teams but it was telling to see the number of people attending the sessions. For me, this shows that the quick move to Teams now needs to be followed up with better governance to keep things working well and not just letting the sprawl happen.
Thank you to all the organising team
Finally, I can't finish without saying a massive thanks to Mark Vale, Martin Boam, Randy Chapman and Phillipa Digby for the incredible event that they put on. The heart that they put into things to make sure there was great food, brilliant swag, engaging speakers, intriguing sponsors and just the best venue showed their passion for the community. Without people like those four, we would not be able to have anywhere near the fun and interest we have.