E L S U A ~ A KM Blog by Luis Suarez

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Social Business Forum Highlights – Reinventing Conference Events

Social Business Forum - #sbf11As mentioned in previous blog posts, here I am, once again, putting together this particular series of articles detailing some of the various highlights from the recent Social Business Forum event held in Milan, Italy, on June 8th, that I attended and presented at. Now, I won’t be able to detail most of what happened during the event, since there were lots of things taking place all over, but I am hoping that these few notes would help folks get a glimpse of what it was like, what I learned during the event and what I thought were some of the best keynote and breakout sessions altogether. To kick things off, this blog entry will focus though on my overall impressions of the event itself and what I thought about the whole atmosphere altogether, and if I were to summarise it in a single sentence I would probably say that the #sbf11 event has just redefined, for me, the way conference events should be like. In a single word: Converse.

That’s right! Over the last few years I have attended quite a few technical conferences and time and time again the main issue I keep bumping into is not having enough time to converse with fellow attendees to continue learning from one another. So whenever I am given the chance I go ahead and take it. I mean, what are the chances of meeting up the same group of smart, talented folks at another tech event like that one? Very minimal, to say the least! So I was very glad to see how the good folks over at OpenKnowledge took good care of the details and decided to give enough importance to the whole concept of entertaining conversations for those attending the event.

For us, keynote and breakout guest speakers, it all started the previous evening, as we were all invited to an evening reception, where both the food and beverages, as well as the venue, were rather accommodating and inviting. Perhaps, too inviting! (I still remember very fondly that delightful white wine and the gorgeous food coming along with it!). The end result was, eventually, meeting up with folks who I have known for a long while and with whom it was fabulous to catch up with again, but, more interestingly, meet up new friends who share a common passion, like most of us, for Social Business and the Social Web.

And that’s when it turned out to be rather interesting and exciting to get to know them a little bit better and find out that we are not all of that different altogether at all, regardless of the company we may work for, and have the perfect evening arranged to confirm that! How come very very few other conferences do that for guest speakers? There is probably nothing more accommodating than receiving a nice and warm welcome when you arrive in a foreign city to deliver a presentation the next day, I can tell you that! Even more, when a good number of the conversations I had provoked multiple follow-up ideas that shaped a few last minute changes in my own presentation incorporating a good number of new thoughts, ideas, and mind-blowing concepts that are still lingering in my mind… Priceless!

Then we move on to the day of the event itself … Now, I *do* realise how the conference wi-fi was not there as pervasive as most folks would have expected from a technical event, for whatever the circumstances. And contrary to how I would usually react in previous occasions, it didn’t bother me this time around. At all. Ha! Yes, can you imagine me saying that after all of what I have said and written about in the last few years? Well, I came to the conclusion, and rather interesting ah-ha moment, that not having wi-fi allows you to talk more, face to face, with people who are right in front of you waiting to engage. Physical interactions are still irreplaceable. No doubt! I mean, conversing over the Social Web is just such a wonderful thing that we have all have gotten so accustomed to it that we have been rather spoiled altogether. Yet, there is nothing like talking to people and participating in conversations, right there, as they happen, and you get to interact with others. Well, the Social Business Forum event allowed for plenty of that and so much more! To the point where I came to the conclusion of not worrying about wi-fi at conferences any longer from there onwards. If it works, it works, if it doesn’t, let’s talk face to face and enjoy the ride! I bet it will be much more interesting and fruitful eventually,… At least, it was for me!

The conference event took place at the Marriott Hotel in Milan, Italy, and, once again, I would have to confirm how important and critical it is to have the perfect venue for it. This hotel was just it! Absolutely wonderful! But not only because of the lodgings and the logistics, but also because of the superb catering service. This is one of my big pet peeves at conferences, how over time and as the years go by the quality of both food & drinks has deteriorated quite a bit to the point where it’s almost non-existent… And this is just such a missed opportunity. Now, I *do* realise it may well be just my Mediterranean / Latin side of things, but having the right catering service is not only going to be very beneficial for us all (Why would we need to give up on our own health and healthy habits, while attending events! Right?), but also for the overall conference. Having the right combination of food & drinks, both during lunch and breaks, is going to help people become more comfortable, more chatty, more at ease with the environment they are immersed in, to the point where they would engage much more in those already on-going conversations. Why not embrace it, like the #sbf11 folks did? I mean, as an example, I extended, on purpose, a good number of great conversations while I was enjoying that second, extra creamy, white coffee going beyond the senses!

I guess what I am trying to say with all of this is the conclusion I came to towards the end of the event that perhaps it’s time for tech conferences to slow down a bit. And let us enjoy the pace of being humans again, while we talk to other fellow humans, face to face, without having to rush off to the next scheduled session. Now, I know that some of the breakout sessions hardly had any space to mix and mingle along the lines I described above, but overall I think the pace of the event, as well as lunch and coffee breaks were just right. And wish other conferences would take example and further notice and allow their attendees to see and witness the world slowing down a bit for a change. Somehow I feel we would all be much better off altogether! And come back for more! I surely will …Social Business Forum - #sbf11

Ok, by now I am sure you have realised how this blog post with some of the highlights on the event itself have got very little to do with both the content and the speakers. Yes, that’s right! I thought I would get things started talking about looking after the details of making a great event a superb one. And that’s exactly what I witnessed four years later after my first, back then, Enterprise 2.0 Forum in Italy. Emanuele Quitarelli, Rosario Sica and their wonderful entire team at OpenKnowledge hosted a fantastic event, even though it’s not their specialty! I wish others, whose entire specialty is that exact same one, would pick up on some of their ideas to help revolutionise the way we engage and participate in tech conference events.

To me, eventually, it all felt like being part of a big family of good old & new friends, with a shared common passion around Social Business wanting to network, connect and converse with one another, learning from each other, without double agendas, second intentions or whatever other hidden purposes; just basically, conversing and sharing for the sake of wanting to learn more. And the fact that the evening of the event got a bunch of us together going out for dinner and a drink or two clearly indicates how most of the times it pays off being in good company, engaging in real conversations wanting to find out and learn plenty more about that person sitting right next to you, instead of trying to find a good excuse to go and grasp your mobile gadget to snoop around a way to make a move and leave that space.

That’s not us; that should *not* be us; we need to start humanising conference events once again. Forget about big, impersonal, mass media driven events. They are just so passe. The Social Business Forum has just shown us, if anything, the way we all have got ahead of us… Hope other tech conferences would do the same… and take their lead…

(Not to worry, on follow-up blog posts I will be cutting to the chase and focus plenty more on both content and keynote / breakout sessions… This one was just a little bit of an appetiser… hehe)

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