As we wrap up this year's event, we would like to share with you some of the ups and downs of our conference held at the Doltone House in Sydney from 1-3 May.
If you can listen to the Connecting Up team members right now, you would hear us breathing a huge collective sigh of relief and contentment. With the exciting conclusion of another conference, we are also pausing for some time to review things that worked and didn't quite go as well as we hoped in this annual event.
And, inspired by our wonderful partners from across the sea at the NTEN headquarters, we'd like to share some of the good and not-so-good stuff with you, the Connecting Up community. Since we're still collating the responses from your official feedback, these are just some of the things that were brought to our attention through verbal reports and written feedback via social media, as well as some snippets from the survey forms.
So, let's start with the good stuff…
The amazing Connecting Up community - Wow. How can we even begin to capture this in words? It seems like an obvious thing, but truth is, the Connecting Up conference is becoming more than just an event. It is becoming a gathering for passionate individuals who care about their communities and connecting with others in the sector. With our fortnightly #npau Tweetchats (a result of #CU11 conference!), this year's conference felt like one giant TweetUp for some of us. Granted, many of our delegates have never even used the hash tag #npau before. But, a lot of people quickly caught on to the community buzz. And, we can't be more excited about it! We may be far off becoming a 'tradition' yet, but people like appiChar CEO Ian Ryder is already considering the concept.
Oh, the Tweets! - Within the first couple of hours of the conference kicking off, the #CU12 hash tag reached "trending" status on Twitter. With over 2.3 Million impressions, over 560K accounts reached, and 195 contributors over the last 7 days, it's undeniably the biggest online event we've had on Twitter. And, with about 132 Tweets, 22 RTs, and over 146K impressions, Nerida Gill (@neridagill) won our very first Twitter contributor trophy. And, we certainly would like to thank the rest of the 190+ contributors that we had at #CU12. You guys rocked!
Community-led initiatives - Yes, this is a follow-on from the first two points. But, since it has been so great, it is worth mentioning several times. For example, for the first time, we've had a community-led 'side party' organised by Eliza Cussen from Media Access Australia. On the night of Day 1, over 25 digital folk (#CU12 Twitter contributors and those who heard from them) got together for dinner and drinks. And, we have Eliza to thank for finding and booking the venue for that. People were also putting their own side parties and get-togethers as part of the whole thing. And, even starting off #CU12-related hashtags. We'd love to see more of these things happening!
Sponsors and partners - How can we not say thank you for helping us to make this event happen? This year, a few of our sponsors even took part in the networking sessions and held their own breakout sessions that were well received. We are so, so grateful because without you guys, we can't make this wonderful event happen. And yes, this includes NTEN, our US-based partner who sent two delegates from North America to attend CU12 through our mutual scholarship program.
Keynotes, networking, and power sessions - This year, we've done a lot of things differently from how we used to run the conference. We've introduced the decision makers' breakfast, which was very well attended. We've also allocated for more than a couple of keynote speakers, covering a wider variety of topics - not just technology. We've added social media and the web, as well as marketing and communications in this year's streams. And, instead of just having our typical one-person speaker in breakout sessions, we've started staging power sessions, with 2 or more speakers, so each topic that was covered would've been more in-depth and offered a variety of expertise. We've also returned with our well-received networking sessions from last year. And, the topics that were covered this year by our speakers were really given the thumbs up by many. Some even mentioned "man crushes" on Allen Gunn and "brain explosion" from too many ideas and inspiration from other keynotes and speakers. Thankfully, there were no hearts broken and no brain meltdowns at the conference. At least, not that we're aware of! In any case, thanks again to all our speakers who really brought a lot of fantastic things to this year's sessions.
National and International participation - Not only did we have presenters from the US, the UK, and our very own champions in Australia, we also have delegates from the US, Canada, UK, New Zealand, and the Philippines this year. We're very pleased to see delegates from all over Australia too. And, of course, seeing some of our partners from TechSoup Global was a real treat. To us, this truly reflects the reach that we're hoping to have for the not-for-profit sector through our work at Connecting Up. And, it's wonderful to see this in action at the conference. Hopefully, this will bring about a number of collaborations, partnerships, and maybe even "coopetition" (as mentioned by our CEO, Doug Jacquier).
And, did you mention the food?! - Following on from last year's success with the catering, we are all celebrating this year's food again at #CU12. In fact, the food was so good, some people even started using the hash tag #CU12food as a way to enjoy and to share the goodness on Twitter. How many conferences get a hash tag for their food, hey?!
Here are some of the great comments from a few of our delegates:
“Good to see enthusiastic speakers and inspiring stories mixed with practical information.”
“It was very beneficial for myself and can apply many aspects to my organisation to improve different areas.”
“A great conference run by passionate people. Thank you for committing to make it the best it could be and role-modelling the use of technology throughout the conference.”
“Hearing passionate people sharing success stories and being able to learn from others.”
“Loved it & already planning changes.”
“All in all an extremely relevant and worthwhile conference.”
“Almost all of the sessions I attended where extremely engaging, informative and interesting. I also really liked the energy of the speakers, attendees and the Connecting Up staff. Well done.”
“Fantastic event - content well focused, speakers inspiring, management good, setting great and the food was yummy.”
Now, here are the not-so-good stuff…
WiFi… What WiFi?! - Yes, we paid for wifi connection. Yes, we were hoping to inspire you all to be as connected as possible while at the conference. Unfortunately, the connection was highly unreliable at best. Such a contrast from last year's conference, but unfortunately, we can't always control what our wifi providers would do. Rest assured, however, that we definitely felt your pain. We hope next year's provider would give us a much better experience.
Spambot Alert! - As soon as the #CU12 hash tag reached "Trending" status, our Twitter stream was suddenly filled with spam Tweets from all sorts of places. This can really be a bit of a turn-off, especially for those who are new to the scene. Unfortunately, this is the flip side of having awesome Twitter contributors during the conference. As soon as our hash tag became popular, spammers immediately want in on the action. We eventually managed to push them out, though, thankfully.
What's with the aircon? - If it wasn't too loud, it became too stuffy. When it's completely on, some people felt way too cold. With varying body temperatures and unpredictable machineries, this was one of those things that we really didn't quite prepare for. Hopefully, other things about the conference more than made up for this one drawback.
Downers and 'sellers'? - We believe that we've put together one of the most effective and well thought out programs that we've ever had in our conference this year. However, we can't always please everyone at all times. For example, there were mentions of "Not sure whether we're being sold to in this session or not" during some breakout sessions. But, there were also some positive comments coming out from those same sessions. Also, one of our keynotes sparked a variety of reaction - from being inspired to feeling down. However, overall, we think our keynote, networking, breakout and power sessions have been received really well for the most part. Yay for that.
Pressed for time - As with most events, timing can be a bit tricky. One of the things that delegates mentioned was the lack of time for Q & As during the talks. And, it is always a challenge to choose which session to go to, so there's always that feeling of wanting to be cloned during conference days. And, we hope to be able to continue to find ways around these things, including becoming more vigilant with time keeping, as well as encouraging advanced questions from delegates in future events. As to the issue on cloning... Well, we don't have a direct solution to this, but we can offer pre-recorded events and post-conference wrap-ups as a way to help delegates capture some of the learnings from sessions that they've missed.
Power stations, multi-level sessions, and more - There were a couple of things people said that they wish they'd see next year. One is having comfortable "charging stations" so people can recharge their laptops, tablets, and phones without having to hunt for plugs and crouch on floors. Also, some people mentioned they were hoping to have our sessions marked as 'Beginner', 'Advanced', and 'Intermediate' in the future. This will always be a challenge in these events. It's tough to cover as many topics as we do (technology, social, web, marketing, and communications), with as much breadth and depth as possible over two days. However, we will continue to try to accommodate the different levels of our delegates.
Some people already mentioned using #CU13 as a hash tag whenever the Connecting Up community members would have any suggestions for our upcoming event. And, since we've already started tracking that hash tag, we encourage you all to do so as we plan for next year's event.
The CU12 conference was not a perfect event. There were hair-tearing moments and stressful situations. But, we hope that the wonderful stuff outweighed the not-so-stellar stuff. And we hope to give you a better and brighter conference next year. With your help, we can all make it happen, right?
So, again, thank you to all of you who contributed, supported, presented, attended, and participated.
And, if you're already going to pencil in the date, reserve 15-17 May 2013 for CU13. We hope to see you in Queensland!