Conference Notes

Just 10 Days

Originally published on July 6, 2013

Last week I was in Europe, delivering three workshops and speaking at a conference. It was a whirlwind of a tour, and while definitely a privilege to be there, has taken this week to recover from being away. Here’s what I did while away, and what I learnt while there.

Friday June 21, 2013
I started my trek across the world a few hours earlier than planned, due to the worsening weather situation in the South Island of New Zealand. I was going to leave my office at 3.30pm but pulled out at 12pm with the hope of catching an earlier flight to Auckland. After getting to the airport okay, Air New Zealand was able to shift me to an earlier flight. I worked in the lounge at the airport until it was time for my flight to leave, and got to Auckland without any problems. While in retrospect it would have been okay to wait until the flight I was booked on, it was a risk I didn’t want to take. As it was, Air New Zealand held up the flight departing Auckland for London in order to bring onboard the passengers from Wellington who were similarly struggling with poor weather conditions.

I travelled economy class from Auckland to Los Angeles, and then again from Los Angeles to London. It has been a while since I have done that long haul flight in economy, with most recent trips being in Premium Economy. I had forgotten how little space there was in an economy class seat in general, and more specifically once the person in front of you reclines their seat. I had hoped to get some work done on the way over to London, but it was impossible to open a computer of any description. I could do some work on my iPad, but the lack of the physical keyboard made that difficult too. So I settled for sleeping when I could, watching a few selected movies (I had purchased a couple to watch on the plane), and reading. At LAX we had a two-hour layover, and I managed to snatch a quick shower in the lounge. Once at Heathrow, we faced about an hour in line to get through Border Control, but it passed fairly quickly.

Saturday June 22, 2013
I had three checked-in bags of 23kg, and two carry-on items to get from London Heathrow to my hotel in Holborn. It sounds a lot but I can make it work pretty painlessly, although stairs are a challenge. The Heathrow Express lived up to its reputation of being a quick ride into London, and once at Paddington I re-activated my Oyster card for a week. Then I took the tube from Paddington to Oxford Circus, and then changed to another line to get from Oxford Circus to Holborn. Oxford Circus proved the most challenging with all of my luggage, as there were two sets of stairways between the two lines. I was waiting for the crowds to clear so I could take my luggage down the first flight of stairs when three young men offered to help. Usually I’ve declined such help, but I took a deep breath and said “Sure.” They were great, and helped me get where I needed to go. At Holborn I had one flight of stairs to get up with all my luggage, but did that in three attempts – moving a couple of suitcases up half-way, then going back for the reminder, and so on until me and my luggage were at the top. Then on to my now favourite hotel in London – Chancery Court – and I felt I was at my London home away from home again.

Having arrived from New Zealand and facing a 12-hour time difference, I had to stay awake … so I took to my heels and walked some of the streets in London. There were a few Eagle Creek items I’ve been looking out for that aren’t available in New Zealand, but I found those easily in a couple of the London shops. I then went back to my hotel for dinner, and feeling drowsy at 5.30pm, took off for another walk to try and stay awake. I finally crashed a bit after 7pm, was awake for a few hours during the night, and was up fairly early on Sunday morning.

Sunday June 23, 2013
In recent trips to London I have used Sunday as a day to de-compress from the travel, but have stayed in London. I didn’t want to walk the streets for yet another Sunday, so had arranged to spend the day with a colleague and his family. This required an early train ride from Paddington, but it was great to see the sights outside the city. My day was filled with attending church, seeing an English village, eating lunch in an English home, and enjoying the company of good friends. We even went for a walk for about an hour while the rain stayed away. Then it was getting back to Paddington on the train, and back to my hotel via the tube. I got to bed a bit later – 9.30pm or so – but was still awake for a few hours during the night, and still woke up fairly early on Monday morning.

Monday June 24, 2013
In October last year when I came across to London, I presented the User Adoption Strategies masterclass in London on the Monday – after arriving 36 hours earlier on the Saturday. While it was a good day, it was too gruelling. So I created another day of adjustment on this trip, and used it for having a couple of meetings. The first required an early train ride to Slough from Paddington, and the second required being in the centre of the city for 2pm. In between I walked the streets, looked up some friends, and visited a couple of shops. Once my day was done I headed back to my hotel, and then had a great dinner with Martin White of Intranet Focus. Martin was gearing up to launch The Search Circle, a new subscription information service for search managers and developers. We talked about his work with that, among other topics.

Tuesday June 25, 2013
Tuesday kicked off the first of my public engagements in Europe, with the Collaboration Roadmap masterclass in London. I used Wallacespace St Pancras as the facility for the masterclass, a place I have not used before. It had been recommended to me by a delegate at a previous masterclass in London, and it proved to be a wonderful facility. One delegate had to pull out due to sickness at home, so there were eight delegates for the day. I had asked for the room to be set up in cabaret layout, but on arriving early and getting the feel of the room, I felt it would be better to change to a different layout. So I moved the tables around, creating a line with gaps between the four tables. This gave everyone a good view of the screen, and enabled there to be four groups of two people throughout the day for small group discussions. When we needed bigger groups during the group activity that goes with the governance session, the delegates formed into two groups of four people each. I felt it was a very successful day, and the feedback from the delegates bore that out too.

Interestingly, a few delegates asked Wallacespace for a tour of the facility, because they’d like to come back and use it again for their own work. That’s always a good sign that a facility is excellent. I’ll be using it again myself in future visits to London.

Once the masterclass was over, one delegate helped me catch the right tube to Paddington, and then it was back to Heathrow for an 8.15pm flight to Amsterdam. All that went fine, even though I slept most of the way in the plane. Once in Amsterdam I collected my luggage, and headed out to find my hotel. I had booked a night at the Radisson Blu, which was described as an “airport hotel.” What I didn’t realize was that getting there would require catching a hotel shuttle, and spending 10-12 minutes driving. Next time I’ll look closer at the map and try to get a hotel onsite at the airport. There was nothing wrong with the Radisson Blu – it was a lovely hotel – but I could have done without the extra 30 minutes of waiting / driving when the hours of sleep were already going to be short enough.

Wednesday June 26, 2013
I was up at 0530am, since I needed to be ready to pull out at 7am for Gouda. After breakfast at 6am and packing up my gear, I headed down to check-out of the hotel. Roland from Silverside, my host for the User Adoption Strategies Workshop, was waiting in the hotel lobby, and after saying hello, glanced at my luggage and commented that we might have a “logistical problem.” He brought his small and fast and very nice car, but with all the luggage I had, it took a few minutes to find a place for everything (later in the day he did actually take a picture of the luggage areas in his vehicle, just to prove found places for everything). It did all fit – just – and we headed down to Gouda. I think we took some back roads, and that was actually very cool. I got to see some of the Netherlands countryside, something you miss from the air or hurtling past in a fast train.

After arriving in Gouda, I set up for the User Adoption Strategies workshop. Various staff members from Silverside were already on site at the hotel, and had set up the room the day prior. So there was little for me to do but get my own gear ready to go. Roland was going to start the workshop with an overview of the Silverside 3G methodology. So that we didn’t have to fiddle with swapping computers after his introductory comments, I set up my computer on the data projector, and he set up his computer on the 60 inch flat panel display at the front of the room. That actually worked out really great for me because during the group sessions in the workshop, I usually display a countdown timer on my iPad so everyone knows how much time is left. With 25 people spread across the room, however, it’s impossible for everyone to clearly see the time remaining. So once Roland was finished, I connected my iPad to the 60 inch display, and was then able to show the countdown timer on that during the day. It worked like a treat. And when I needed to take notes on what people were saying during the reporting back times, I took the notes on my iPad and had them displayed on the big screen too. The big screen also worked well for that, but there were a couple of things I didn’t like about my own set up that I will seek to rectify before the next workshop.

All too soon the workshop was over, and after packing up my gear, I headed downstairs for drinks and nibbles. I was able to sign a few books before needing to make a quick exit to get back to Amsterdam in time for a flight to Zurich. Femke, a Silverside consultant and one of the key organisers for the conference I was heading to in Zurich, drove me to the airport. On the way she explained about the speed cameras and speed fines along the highway, and how it has been designed to work. By the sound of things, it could be too well designed! Femke was on the same flight to Zurich as I was, and after checking in, dropping off our luggage, and getting through security, we looked for something to eat. We did find something in one of the cafés, and then made a beeline for our departure gate. After being bussed to the plane and getting to Zurich, we waited at the Zurich airport for a couple of people coming in from London, and then Stuart – another of the conference organisers – retrieved us in his rental car and drove us to the hotel. It was about midnight when I turned in.

Thursday June 27, 2013
The reality of three different full-day workshops in three different countries in three consecutive days kicked in during the workshop on Thursday. I needed to be up early again to grab some breakfast before leaving the hotel at 7am with Stuart and Femke. After getting to the workshop location, I got set up for the third workshop – the one that goes with my new book, Doing Business with IBM Connections (2013). The room needed to be set up differently, and we needed to locate various furniture items to make the room work. But we got there, and everything was set by about 8.30am. By 9am all of the delegates were present, and we kicked off the workshop. I worked through each of the ten collaboration scenarios in the book, and then opened it up for discussion. There was good discussion throughout the day, and great sharing among the delegates about their own successes and struggles with doing business with IBM Connections. I like it when that happens – and in this workshop it happened a lot. For the final hour I sat down at the front while a healthy discussion took place. I took a few notes, and had to steer the conversation a couple of times, but basically the delegates had their own session at the end of the workshop. We also had a bit of fun during the day with what a “real coffee” was – with having delegates from different countries, one’s definition of a “real” coffee varies. In Switzerland, a “real” coffee is in a small cup and very strong. That’s not a universal definition of “realness,” however, so playing off that brought some lighthearted moments throughout.

During the previous editions of this workshop, I had everything set up for live demonstrations throughout the day. This involved using four computers, three data projectors, two smartphones, two tablets, and … a live connection to IBM Greenhouse. Apart from the sheer volume of gear and cables one has to carry to make that work, there are two main problems: (a) there’s a lot of risk that something could go wrong, and (b) the technical overload turns the workshop into more a geek-fest than it should be. For the Zurich workshop, I elected to run with canned screenshots throughout the day, with the option of doing some live demonstrations if required. My own feeling was that using screenshots allowed the proper emphasis to be put on the human dynamics I was seeking to highlight, and I’ll be taking this approach in future editions of the workshop.

Once the workshop was done, it was time to head back to the hotel and get ready for the pre-conference dinner for speakers and sponsors. Given what I’d put myself through over the three previous days I left at 10pm and slept from then until 5am. That is about right – the night before I have to leave to come back to New Zealand, my body had finally adjusted to the time zone and I got a good nights sleep. It was the only good night of sleep during the whole trip. That is, however, standard experience on such short trips.

Friday June 28, 2013
Up at 5am, breakfast, and then I was ready to go again at 7am. Friday was a conference day, and all I had to do personally was participate in a panel discussion and present the closing keynote at Social Connections V. I was rather tired after the three previous days, but managed to make it through three or four of the initial sessions. I blogged the sessions I attended, and also went around all of the sponsors to get a snippet on their wares. Then it was time for lunch, getting into the right headspace for being a panelist, and then the same again for presenting the closing keynote. I tried to add a bit a humour into the mix at the end of the conference, with a jab at “swiss coffee” and the use of an upside down map that put New Zealand at the top of the world (which meant I “came down to the Northern Hemisphere.”) Once the conference formalities were completed, there was a speed sponsoring event where everyone had to go around and listen to a three minute pitch from each of the sponsors, then the prize draws, and then a dinner at a restaurant at the lake. The 80 conference attendees who went to the dinner were bussed there and back, and after getting Stuart’s rental car from the IBM location and finding out way back to the hotel, by the time I’d repacked for leaving early on Saturday morning, it was 12.30am before I got to bed.

Saturday June 29, 2013
4.30am came far too quickly, but as I had a 7am flight to catch to get to London Heathrow, there was nothing for it but to get up and get going. A few of us were on the same flight out of Zurich, and we left the hotel at 5.15am. I don’t like cutting it too fine when checking in for flights, but I made a mistake when getting to the Zurich airport – a mistake I shouldn’t have made given how frequently I travel. I didn’t check the screens for the check in area, but instead assumed that I should check in with the airline that sold me the plane ticket, instead of the airline that was actually operating the flight. That cost me about 40 minutes of stress, and if it hadn’t been for Tim and Stuart I probably would have missed my flight. But … it all worked out, I took a mental (and written) note not to do that again, and we left in good time. Once at Heathrow I had to transfer from Terminal 5 to Terminal 1, say goodbye to Tim and Stuart, and then wait for eight hours before my flight back to New Zealand via Los Angeles. I worked in one of the restaurants for a couple of hours, and then once I could drop off my luggage and get through security, worked in the lounge until it was time to head away. I had upgrades from economy to premium economy on Air New Zealand on both legs of the journey, so it was more comfortable heading home than going to Europe. We landed in Auckland in good time, I managed to get on an earlier flight to Christchurch, and was back home with my family at about 10.30am on Monday. From leaving the hotel in Zurich to getting home I was in transit for over 43 hours, and to put it mildly, was exhausted.

Reflections on the Trip
I enjoyed every minute of being away, and it was a privilege to be able to work with other people who are similarly passionate about the collaboration space. It was exhausting, but that’s just par for the course. I leave again for Europe in 11 weeks …

Finally (I hope this comes through above but it does need to be said explicitly too), thank you to everyone who made the week in Europe possible – the delegates at the workshops, Silverside for hosting the Wednesday workshop, Roland and Femke for transportation in the Netherlands, Social Connections for hosting the Thursday workshop, the invitation to speak at Social Connections, Stuart for driving me around in Zurich, and many others.

Categories: Conference Notes