I had very high hopes. I had never been to a Microsoft conference but had a great deal of hope and high expectations. maybe this is where I went wrong.
I attended the Gartner ITSymposium Expo in Cannes, France in November 2006 and this was easily one of the best (if not THE best conference I've ever attended so maybe my expectations were unfairly high). I now compare conferences to the gold standard. this was not it.
You judge for yourself:
- The first morning of the conference started well enough. The conference venue was a bit outside of the centre of Berlin. Not necessarily a bad thing. It was just a short (20 minutes) taxi ride for us. Check-in started at 8:30 which seemed a bit late to me. Most conferences you can register for the night before to avoid the rush and get started early in the morning but this didn't matter to me since I wouldn't have made a special trip to the venue just to register. However, it should be noted that some conferences have warm-up sessions on Sunday evening so you don't just sit about in your hotel. That's OK, though. This was going to be a bit of a slower pace.
- The welcome packet came in a paper Microsoft bag. It had a different piece of paper for each session schedule for each day and another page with a map of the venue. Not connected. Not in a little booklet. Phew, that's a lot of paper to keep track of. The other items were some very hefty catalogue and brochures. Don't know what they were because they were all in German. Wasn't this the European conference? Wasn't this supposed to be in English? Did they want me to carry these heavy items which I can do nothing with around with me? Fat Chance!
- The delegate badges were not bar coded or have metallic strips. There was no way for Microsoft to tell which sessions I had attended. The supplier partners could not swipe my delegate badge and get my contact details. Not a good thing. Very inefficient.
- The first session of the morning was the welcome and key note. We started 30 minutes late. And the welcome address started in German. Now we had confirmed that the conference was going to be in English and I was starting to get worried when the speaker was still speaking German after 10 minutes. He did switch to English and proudly announced that over 50 countries were attending. At this point, I couldn't help but ask myself, if that was true, why in the world did he just spend the last 10 minutes speaking to us in German? He must have made the decision about what would be in the welcome pack. By the end of the welcome and keynote sessions, I was a bit bored. Not inspired, not excited about being here. Just waiting to get on with the real stuff.
- Every session for the rest of the day started late. I walked out of one due to boredom. I think I might have fallen asleep in another. I hope I didn't wake any of the other delegates with my snoring. Many times, people just got up and walked out.
- Lunch was scheduled for at least 2 hours each day and on the last day we were allowed 2 1/2 hours for lunch. This seems a bit slothful to me. I like a bit of buzz and any buzz I might have gotten was quickly subdued by the 1/2 hour coffee breaks between each session. At the Gartner conference, I remember trying to pee and drink a glass of water at the same time so I wouldn't be late to the next session.
- At the Gartner conference I had trouble picking from the vast choices of interesting sounding sessions. At the Microsoft conference, I struggled to find one for each time slot.
- Day 2 didn't start very well. The keynote was the worst I have ever attended and half the attendees walked out. Can't even begin to tell you who was speaking and what they were speaking about. I can still tell you that the CEO of HP spoke at the opening session of the Gartner conference and the CIO of HSBC spoke at the closing day. That keynote made me want to work for HSBC and him. It made me want to change my work environment. He made me want to be better than I was. He was fabulous.
- The keynote on the last day was cancelled altogether. Hmmmmm, this is not good!
- The very last session that I attended on the very last day was the one that I learned the most from. it was about migrating from a Sharepoint 2003 platform to a Sharepoint 2007 platform. This is extremely relevant to me. I got some sound advice on what to do and what not to do. I can use this.
- The supplier partner stalls all the looked the same and there was no compelling reason to step up and make an inquiry. Oh and some of the staffs displayed only in German. Wasn't this the European conference?
I picked up some little nuggets of useful information from various sessions in the conference. I got to see what Sharepoint 2007 looks like. There were some extremely knowledgeable Microsoft professionals on site who were willing to discuss at length the answers to any questions. I could have gotten the value of 10 (above) by going to the Microsoft campus in Reading, just 20 miles down the road from me.
The language thing doesn't really bother me. Although I almost wrote that if we had been in France it would have all been French but that wasn't true at the Gartner conference or a Project Management conference I attended in Paris some years ago or so.
I don't think I'll be going to another Microsoft conference anytime soon. and I don't think I'll be approving anyone who works for me to go any time soon.