So, Social Connections VI is done…

With a brief gap between conference calls as we all catch up on work we missed last week, I thought I’d make the most of the chance to write up a few thoughts on the event.

1. The Team

After two days of conference and a day of ‘TagItOn’ workshop, the weary but still-wired organisation team have made their way back to the USA, Wales, Switzerland and to their homes in the Czech Republic. Having met for the first time in person this week, this team of amazing community volunteers have all hopefully had the chance to sit back and reflect on a job very well done!

I’d like to personally say a huge ‘Thank You‘ to Simon, Brian, Martin, Jan and Luis. You guys worked your socks off – not just this week, but over the past 4-5 months, planning and executing this madcap effort of ours. Recognition should go to you and your very patient and understanding families – it’s a huge commitment on top of already very busy day jobs. Na zdraví!

2. The City

PragueWe’ve been fortunate to visit some fantastic cities so far on this 3-year event roadshow – London, Cardiff, Dublin, Amsterdam and Zürich. All have been beautiful, stylish and entertaining in their different ways. However, none have so far compared with the thrill and enjoyment of hosting the event in the very centre of Prague. From the achingly elegant surroundings of the Congress Hall in the Hotel Ambassador, to walking outside straight onto the always buzzing Wenceslas Square, to being able to stroll the cobbled streets to most major landmarks within 10 minutes, to the incredible views and vineyard atmosphere of the Villa Richter (where the event reception took place on Monday night), to the laid-back and cosy riverside location of Botel Matylda for the speakers and sponsors reception, Prague really did have it all.

Hotel AmbassadorHaving visited the city 5 times in the past 2 years for business and vacation, I knew that Prague was a fabulous city, but I really hadn’t appreciated just how much it would add to a user group conference held here. Whilst we’ve ‘visited’ many stunning cities, it really felt as though we were planted ‘in’ Prague. The feedback from attendees regarding the location was unanimously positive – I have a feeling we’ll be back here some time in the future!

3. The Venue

Congress HallWhen we first looked at conference centres in Prague, we found a few that ticked all the boxes in terms of facilities, space, catering and access. However, they all lacked that ‘wow factor’. Given that Prague is such a characterful city, we really didn’t want to be stuck in an anonymous box of a building, or several kilometres from the city centre or need to take public transport to get around – we’d be wasting the opportunity if that was the case. Therefore we carried on looking, approaching more than 15 conference locations before we found the right one.

Congress HallAnd goodness, how we found it! The Hotel Ambassador was central, historic, elegant and downright quirky in equal measures! As someone that was fortunate enough to take the main stage in the Congress Hall, I can confirm that it was both an immense pleasure and pretty intimidating to be presenting in a venue that has hosted internationally renown orchestras, fashion shows, European council meetings and much more besides! With stunning architecture all around and an ornate balcony that could have accommodated Statler and Waldorf heckling from the sidelines, it was a world away from those bland conference centres you might see elsewhere…

The possible downside of such an old building is that the layout was less than straightforward, so huge kudos to our attendees for finding their way around the corridors and staircases that linked our breakout rooms! On the upside, there were plenty of nooks and crannies for those wonderful incidental conversations and reunions that take place at user group events!

4. The Sessions and Speakers

Chris Crummey One of the absolute joys of running a community user group is that prospective speakers choose to submit their session abstracts of their own volition – there is usually no coercion involved! These folks want to put themselves out to the extent of researching and planning a presentation, creating their decks, travelling to the venue and then presenting – of course, at the same time effectively volunteering themselves (or their organisations) to pick up the tab (in terms of both time and money). Therefore it’s essential that we never ever take them for granted!

Mikkel HeisterbergIn the case of Social Connections VI, we were truly blessed that so many awesome customers, partners, consultants, vendors and IBMers put themselves forward to take their place on our agenda. I’m not going to pick any particular names out here, as all 30+ speakers did an incredible job on our behalf. We had compelling case studies, innovative technical solutions, exclusive announcements (more on that in a bit), intriguing discussions and debates, and plenty of thought leadership on both business topics and technology futures.

Luis BenitezOne of the other aspects that we try really hard to encourage is that our speakers are available and open to the rest of the attendees, rather than squirrelled away in a speakers’ lounge somewhere. It was exciting to see internationally respected speakers and newcomers alike engaged in discussions throughout the venue.

We have been urging our speakers to post their presentations online, and all those available so far are available on our site.

5. The Sponsors

EphoxAs hopefully we made clear at the event itself, there is simply no way that we could deliver Social Connections without our generous and loyal sponsors.  The success of the event is in no small way down to the individuals at Fritz & Maciol, Sugar CRM, IBM, DNS, TimeToAct, ISW, Infoware, Ephox, Belsoft, Intravision and oXyOnline – by committing their valuable Euros (plus time, energy and commitment) to the user group they provide a budget that means we can organise events that go beyond the norm.

SpeedgeekingIt was fantastic to see so much activity in the sponsors’ area during the two days of the conference, not to mention the frenzy that accompanied SpeedSponsoring.  We hope that each of our sponsors generated both business and meaningful relationships from Social Connections VI, and thus will be back next time!

We do have a couple of apologies to make in this area – firstly for the badge QR codes that were so tricky to scan (that was my fault and my team have forced me to beg for forgiveness for my mistake!).  Secondly, we were somewhat forced into having the ‘two-tier layout’ in the sponsors’ area which meant that some of the exhibitors didn’t get as much attention as we’d (and they’d) have liked.  We’ll definitely do better in both these areas at the next event.

(Speaking of the next event, we are already actively recruiting sponsors for Social Connections VII this Fall, so if you’re interested, please get in touch!)

6. The Receptions

Villa RichterRight from the early days of this user group (back at Social Connections II in Cardiff in 2011) we’ve tried to make the networking aspect as important to the event as the formal agenda.  After all, we can read presentation decks or watch session videos from the comfort of our own homes (or cubicles), but nothing can replace the value of spending quality time meeting, conversing with, and getting to know our peers face-to-face.

Villa RichterSo thus far, we’ve held receptions in the tower rooms at Cardiff Castle, at the Guinness factory in Dublin, alongside the canals and Anne Frank’s House in Amsterdam, and then on the lakeside in Zurich.  That long list gave us a standard to live up to in Prague, and I have to say I think we achieved it!

Villa RichterThe gala reception was held at Villa Richter, a complex of restaurants located in the stunning surroundings of the St. Wenceslas’ Vineyard, the early beginnings of which reach back to the 10th century A.D.  With incredible views over Prague as the sun set, wine made from the grapes grown on-site, interesting food and great service, the 130 attendees that could make the open-air reception seemed to have a wonderful time.  We were even treated to a splendid fireworksfireworks display over the city that I wish we could take credit for!  The stroll back from the reception through the old city of Prague proved a highlight for many as well, perhaps even making up for those that had struggled up the many steps in their heels earlier in the evening!

botel1The following evening as most attendees headed home, we thanked our wonderful speakers and sponsors by offering a more chilled evening at the Botel Matylda, a floating restaurant on the Vltava river – a great way to recover from the hustle and bustle of the conference.

7. The Event Schedule

With the expansion this time from a one-day agenda to two full days, as well as an increase from three breakout rooms to four, it gave us time and space to accept a far larger number of sessions and thus a greater variety of topics.  As well as a few speakers returning to speak at the conference for a second or third time, we had a really good number of first-time speakers which was both exciting and bodes well for the future.

Luis Benitez presenting in the Congress HallThe general consensus seems to have been that the format of our new event schedule worked well, with the first morning offering a local language session for those looking for an introduction to the topic of Social Business, then a lunch for all attendees, then a afternoon of keynote presentations in the main auditorium.  This allowed time for some of those travelling from afar to get in that morning, for others to do some sightseeing, and for the local attendees to get the most from their time.  The second day was a full-on multi-track agenda with four rooms in use for most of the day, and most time slots offering sessions from four different tracks (selected from management, development, administration, case study and sponsor sessions).  Concluding the day with Pardon The Interruption, a powerful closing keynote session from Luis Suarez and then the obligatory group photo seemed to wrap things up rather nicely too.

We’d love your feedback on the entire event agenda and schedule, particularly if it didn’t work for you – as otherwise we’re likely to use a similar structure next time.

8. The Translation Service

Social Connections VI translatorsFor the first time at Social Connections, we provided an on-demand translated service from English to the local language – in this case, Czech.  Whilst this was by no means essential – we know what great language skills the local folks have – the team did feel that it may help a number of the attendees.

Unfortunately whilst we could only translate the sessions in the main hall (so all the keynotes on both days, plus one of the tracks on the second day), and the take-up wasn’t particularly strong, it is hoped that this service was useful to those that used it.

We’ll take some feedback and make a decision on whether to offer translation at future events – please let us know if you feel that would be a positive contribution to making you attend our user group events!

8. The Masterclass

In Zürich, we made the most of Michael Sampson’s attendance to offer a ‘TagItOn’ paid workshop for those that attended the event.  This proved to be really popular, and generated a great deal of discussion that continued through the event.

Luis SuarezThis time, we were delighted to be able to invite Luis Suarez to conclude our activities in Prague by offering a full-day masterclass entitled ‘From Adoption to Adaptation, From Enablement into Engagement’, taking attendees through the process of facilitating and inspiring use of IBM Connections in their organisations.

The workshop was deemed to be hugely successful by all those I spoke to.  Many took away a full set of notes they’d taken in terms of how Luis’ advice would help them shift their organisations (or customers) toward a future of ‘Open Business’.  There was certainly a healthy level of debate and discussion both during the workshop and over lunch!

9. Video and Photography

As those that attended will have spotted, we had a team of cameramen on site for the full two days, videoing every single session!  Led by Martin Humpolec, they did a brilliant job on our behalf, not just taking hours and hours of video, but also helping to set up lights, projectors and screens, as well as running the live stream – and even finding time to take some excellent photographs too!

Video cameramanWe’ll be processing these recordings over the next few weeks and will be releasing them as soon as possible.  More on this in a week or so!

In addition to Martin’s photos (shared via our Flickr account), we were blessed to have some excellent images shared by attendees and speakers too.  Check out the Social Connections Flickr group to see them all (and thanks to Martin, Oliver Heinz and Andreas Ponte for the images shared in this post!)

10. And finally…

Goodbye from Prague!I’d like to personally thank every single person that attended the event.  With over 250 individuals on site over the two days, this was by far our biggest event yet.  The team thank you for your precious time you gave up to take part, and hope that you gained knowledge, experience and relationships that will help you and your organisations get more from IBM Connections in the future!

Did you attend or watch the live stream?  Please leave a comment and let us know what you thought – we’d love to know!