I still feel extremely honoured to have been a part of the crowd of official bloggers around NEXT and to get a chance to experience the conference that way.
Like some of you might know, me being one of the official bloggers was not necessarily because I have an influential blog, far from it I’d say, but I could help with connecting the organisers of NEXT with some of Scandinavia’s most influential bloggers. A definite advantage of being a Twinglian, one knows quite a few of the cool girls and guys or at least where to find them ;). And my impression was that not only Djure Meinen, who was our “blogger daddy” for these two days and during all the weeks before the event, enjoyed their company!
So what did I think of NEXT? I had my plans obviously, and mostly I could follow these and mostly did not get disappointed either, on the contrary, sometimes the sessions where even better than expected. But in general, since I hadn’t been there before, I had no expectations whatsoever really. OK, when you look at the prices then one thinks there should be something great, but previous experiences showed, that this never really is an indicator for whether a conference is actually going to be useful or nice or none of it or something else.
I liked NEXT. A lot. Why? Several reasons.
In the past I have been a regular visitor of different kinds of conferences, all of these aiming at different people, and ultimately not really being comparable with each other. Therefore I don’t join these primarily for the talks and sessions, but mainly for networking and learning about the industries and their challenges. I can do a great deal of that online, obviously, but hey, reading about it or actually having a chance to exchange thoughts and ideas with people is so much more valuable and inspiring than sitting in front of the screen, isn’t it?.
NEXT not only gave the chance for catching up with people, but also offered the possibility for attending sessions I was interested in without having to do much compromising. The long lunch break, plus half an hour breaks between the different tracks gave plenty of room for planned or spontaneous chats. And so NEXT proved to be unexpectedly valuable for new business contacts (didn’t expect any, since that wasn’t the primary reason for me being there). It was easy to connect with people, everyone seemed in a relaxed, open and actually happy mood. And isn’t that exactly how a conference should be?
So, what created this open atmosphere? Mainly the layout of the venue, which in itself admittedly is not the shiniest one, but it is amazing what one can transform it to by putting the people into its centre with help of an incredibly good organisation.
The rooms where the different sessions took place were all connected by one big middle central space where there was almost always some kind of food and drinks, so people were naturally led together. And not the less important, there was enough staff at the food & drink counters, so that nobody had to wait really long to get served. So nobody had to get stressed with being the first one at the buffet cos otherwise nothing’s left, a usual conference scenario that I experienced in the past often enough, and which is never to be underestimated in terms of influencing the whole atmosphere, if you ask me. And the food and drink offers were great! No heavy stuff, light and healthy food! Good choice! This is probably the first conference where I did not put on a kilo more… Thanks 🙂 !
The days weren’t too long either, plus there was the great come-together for everybody at the end of day one. Really nice music, but admittedly too loud for having more good talks over a beer. The alternative I’d see here would be a nice live jazz band, not too loud, so that both dancing as well as chatting would be options to pursue. Something tells me that a cool jazz band would just suit that environment perfectly… Something to investigate for #next12 maybe?
Then there were a few critical voices about the quality of speakers and level of talks. Not unexpected, since you never ever will meet everyone’s expectations. I thought that there were really good sessions there were, at least in the international and the commerce track (these were the ones I followed in particular), and I actually learnt something new, which does not happen that often at events like this.
I liked a lot the attempt of making the conference really international, I felt kind of “home” there, if you understand what I mean.
Pep Rosenfeld was as a perfect host for that track – with clear words like “If you don’t understand English, you’re wrong here and if you don’t find the NEXT-wifi you’re at the wrong conference” 😉 The sidekick to Dominique Strauss-Kahn was priceless, and I enjoyed the brief “he didn’t just really say that, did he”-silence of most people in the room before at least a few started to laugh or giggle. Clash of cultures? Yes, but a good one and in a fun way. More of that NEXT time, please!
Well, but I also visited sessions where I thought “what a waste of time and pity” because the speaker did read an about 20 pages long seemingly aimless powerpoint presentation (ever heard of Guy Kawasaki? No presentation over 10 slides and PLEASE do not read these but make them illustrate what you have to say – and have something to say actually). Or, there was a basically really great session in the commerce track where all speakers held their talks in German, yet they were presented in English…. Hmmm, if you have like 5 translators sitting behind the panel like you i.e. have at WAN/IFRA, than that makes sense. But otherwise, what’s the point?
On the other hand I didn’t really bother that much about these instances. I simply left the (to me!) boring stuff, went to another track instead, or simply went back to the middle and had a good chat with someone until the next track started. And languages are no problem for me either, since I’m quite blessed with being able to converse in four of them fluently. Mixing them to the surprise of my conversation partners is quite normal, worst case addressing them in the wrong language (well _I_ understand 😉 ) Anyhow, one of them always works out, so I never judge tracks by language. But it is of course a real pity for both, audience and speaker, if he or she is not comfortable conversing in another language. Speakers limit themselves because they cannot make their points the way they usually would. An uncomfortable feeling speaker cannot convince and there is a risk to leave a confused audience that got a totally wrong impression of that person. In that case one should have the possibility to stick to ones mother tongue, or maybe in the international panel translators in the background could indeed be an option in the future.
All in all, the conference offered sessions for everyone at almost every level, which was also needed, considering the different backgrounds of the people I met. And if it wasn’t for the sessions, the people, visitors as well as speakers were more than worth popping by for.
However, one suggestion I have, though. Make the blogger-lounge either prettier, or merge it with the speakers lounge in the first place. That was a so much was brighter and nicer place than the actual blogger lounge. If you want to write something cool, then the environment has to be somewhat inspiring and comfortable simply. Bloggers don’t just disappear in their “dark cave” writing their more or less critical reviews… You might have guessed that, having met them ;). Therefore it was great that we were allowed/ wanted as well in the speakers lounge.
Also, there should be a proper blogger meet-up before and/or during the event. There were 80 of us in our Facebook-group and conversations were rolling nicely online, but at the conference I hardly managed to meet the ones that I helped inviting, not to mention the ones I wanted to meet, especially the ones from other countries. What Nicole Simon initiated with meeting up the afternoon/night before was a marvellous thing to do, and it should be made early enough a proper part of the program. So that one can plan it in travelwise as well. This online community simply has to continue offline on at least the same level in order to be valuable for both, bloggers and NEXT.
In terms of a program for bloggers, one could also try to have a loose strategy to cover the event at its best in all the different blogs across all the countries where we were coming from. With no intention whatsoever of telling people about what to write, one could simply check with each other about who is interested in which tracks, and what the different areas of interest are. Paula for example followed the entire elevator pitch and I look forward to reading her post about it (so you intend to write about it of course, Paula! 😉 ).
I think bloggers need many more possibilities to meet and exchange thoughts with each other. That definitely happened, but probably not to the extend it could have happened in order to benefit promoting NEXT with help of awesome reports in blogs all across Europe even more. Anyway, these were two awesome days!
That much for my first NEXT11 impressions, there will be a bit more during next week.
P.S.: By the way, this is how one finds out how many smokers there are at an event… 😉 I know, I’m a bloody non-smoker…