MVP Summit 2020, a remote experience


For Microsoft MVP’s the Microsoft MVP Summit is one of the highlights of the year. The opportunity to spend a week at the “Mothership” in Redmond, WA really is something special. We get to participate in sessions from the various product teams who actually create the software we use, provide feedback, meet socially and network with other MVP’s from around the world.

The Seattle area was one of the first areas in the United States to suffer a wide-spread outbreak of COVID-19. Microsoft are a major employer in Washington State and made the call early to move the MVP Summit to an online only event and for employees to work from home. At first I was very disappointed, but as events have unfolded, I am glad Microsoft took the initiative.

What company is better placed to run a large conference (several thousand participants) entirely online? While I don’t have direct insights into all of the effort that goes into this, I have done some things on a smaller scale giving me some appreciation for the challenge the organising team faced:

  • Travel and accommodation cancellations and rescheduling
  • Recreating the agenda to accommodate participants from every time zone
  • Technology challenges and limitations
  • Recreating the social elements of a conference
  • Communication!
  • Hundreds of small details that often go unnoticed and make good events great

And, they did all this while #WFH (Working from Home). Well done!

Delivering a keynote address to opening a conference with a global audience is a real challenge. The numbers of participants is very high and the pressure is on to deliver a seamless experience for everyone. Microsoft Live Events has the capacity (up to 10,000 participants) and infrastructure to deliver a great experience. It lived up to the promise.

After the keynote, several hundred presentations will be run over four days. Microsoft Teams is the platform for these sessions. Using a channel for each stream makes it easy to find the sessions you are interested by topic area. In addition to video and screen sharing, chat is used extensively to capture questions and feedback. Having a second person to pick up questions helps the presenter stay focused and aids the smooth flow of the presentations.

Outside of the formal presentations, a social channel provides a way for people to have those conversations normally held between sessions and share a bit of fun! There are also opportunities to talk (using Teams) before and after sessions helping people to build connections, put faces to names and introduce themselves.

I had a big question in my mind. Should I participate in the event now it was online only? After the first day, I can say a BIG YES. I might have a 4am start and be 12,000 KM’s away from the presenters, but the technology bridges that gap pretty well. The trick is to commit to it and avoid distractions. Join from home, not the office, make yourself less available to others so you can focus. Remembering the purpose of attending and embracing the new experience makes it work.

One of the real benefits of being an MVP is the opportunity to feedback to the product teams and get a preview of the things Microsoft are working on. Everything we see at these events are protected by NDA, so while I can’t tell you what I have seen, I can tell you that Microsoft are listening. They want to hear your ideas and suggestions, they use them to make improvements and add functionality, and as an MVP my job is to be an independent customer voice. Let me know your thoughts, what you like, what you don’t like. Submit ideas and vote on User Voice. Post questions on the Tech Community. Get involved!

Despite the challenges faced, I would congratulate not only the organisers and presenters but also the participants who have played nicely, listened intently and are constructive when engaging with others. One of the reasons I feel proud to be a member of the Microsoft MVP community.

 

 

 

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