Could TechEd Be Bigger and Better!?

I’ve got a big mouth, and sometimes, I just can’t keep it shut. I also cause Frank alot of drama, so when I heard the latest stats for TechEd, I decided to keep two traditions going strong…mouth, give me all you got!

So what’s my problem with TechEd? Well, people don’t seem to see any value in it. And before you give me the ra ra, let me tell you, with approximately 2000 (maybe more by the last day of rego) people registered, less than 400 of those being developers, I’m thinking there are more people out there who don’t see the value for money than those that do.

And what of those that are coming? Well, I assert that many of those would not be citing the content as the major reason for attending; I personally see TechEd as a networking opportunity more than a training opportunity.

So let’s go back into the time machine to get an idea of why TechEd is where it’s at. A little while back, say 5–10 years ago, getting on top of technical info was tough. Blogs, podcasts, webcasts, training webcasts, hands-on labs, whitepapers and code portals weren’t the norm, so getting to TechEd was important if you wanted to stay ahead of the curve. That was the paradigm; hard to get information thou will get at TechEd. But then the hard to get info got easy to get; but TechEd stayed on the “get yer hard to get info here” path. Ergo the problem, the paradigm moved, the response from TechEd was to stay still.

Onto my next concern. This year was the first year I was a track owner. As I moved through the process of organising my sessions, I realised that I was essentially organising 16 1–hour presentations. Wow, I do this for a day job! In fact, I give more than 100 presentations a year, so I kept asking myself, what am I offering to attendees at TechEd this year, that they couldn’t get through user groups, Microsoft road shows, or my own presentations (customer, partner or lunchtime brown bags)?

But I don’t want to shake the soup bone here! Yeah I could delude myself that I think TechEd rocks the house, and keep smiling, so as to stay out of trouble, but I don’t think that’s why I’m employed at Microsoft. So I thought I would list some ideas and concepts that I think would make TechEd really rock, and open it up to the community of customers, partners, developers, colleagues, whoever, to give me some guidance and feedback.

So let me break TechEd into some segments that need further analysis:

1. Paradigm: What’s the model for TechEd? What is the vision? What are the goals and objectives?

2. Strategy: Content delivery, venue setup and flow, marketing.

3. Execution: Who? When? How? Where?

Let me start with paradigm. The model for TechEd needs to be all about the small steps in a positive direction. No big “fill em up” sessions, but smaller, shorter, more focused sessions. The vision needs to be all about helping the attendees get ahead. The goals and objectives should be about getting content to attendees that they would not, could not, and won’t get anywhere other than TechEd. It’s has to be Alladin’s Cave for techies. IT has to be about differentiation!

The strategy. Content delivery needs to be short and sweet, and personal. Lots of 30 minute sessions, in rooms of no more than 30–50 people. It needs to be interactive, started by a topic, fuelled by questions and conversation, and then over. All the sessions need to be immediately recorded as both web casts and podcasts, and instantly uploaded to a system where attendees can sync devices with sessions they missed out on, and watch or listen to them at a later stage. The venue needs to be multi-levelled and cosy. Also, it needs to be focused. Don’t put all the exhibitors in one spot. Create areas that are relevant to the topics being presented, and have the exhibitors scattered out. So as attendees are moving from one session to another, they can observe an exhibitor, stop for a quick chat, or come back during a break. And the flow, make it meaningful. Levels as appropriate to the customer demographic. Understand who is coming, segment their interests and needs; for example, slice your audience by role, responsibility and interest. If I’m Dave, and I’m a Senior Consultant for Systems Integrator X but also love coding server components, then have sessions on Consulting Best Practices, Integration Futures and Trends, and Server Patterns and Architectures. And make sure those sessions flow in a meaningful way, from top to bottom or vice versa.

The execution. First, the who? Get experts and luminaries to talk about their experiences in the field. Get academics, researches, faculty to talk about what’s being thought of for the next 15 years. Get them to talk freely, and interactively with the attendees. Share the good oil! Share the experience! The ideas and thoughts! Not just some contrived slide deck of API calls and pretty Visio diagrams.

But here’s the burner! All the things we need for amazing AUSSIE TechEd are available to us. To those who say, yeah, but that’s what the overseas conferences are for, get real! We have THE BEST AUSSIE consultants, THE BEST AUSSIE technologists, THE BEST AUSSIE researches! Why is AUSSIE so important? Because that’s the environment we all work in! I need to know how the BEST AUSSIE does it, so I can practice it the next day. I need information, knowledge, techniques, ideas on how to be better, and I need it from those people who I consider the best.

And finally, get the attendees to provide content back. I think about all the conversations I’ve had after sessions with other attendees. You know, those brainstorming conversations, or those ideas on how to do something better. Setup booths around the venue, people can step into single or multi-person booths, and record their own impromptu postcast. They can capture that great conversation, and have it immediately uploaded to the central media portal for other attendees to download, along with sessions that have just been delivered. It’s all about the good oil!!

Anyway, for me, I reckon TechEd could be so much more, but without understanding why people aren’t attending, and find out what would make them attend, and make that the focus for TechEd, we’re never going to get 10,000+ people to this event.

And why post this on my blog? Well, I didn’t do it to throw mud in the faces of those who worked tirelessly to get TechEd to where it’s going to be this year. And I didn’t do it to be pestilent. I did it because if we don’t ask questions and poke holes in the things we do everyday, and dream of ways to do things truly bigger and better, then things just stay the same. And if you don’t challenge, scrutinise, and push really smart people to move outside their boundaries, past the safe places they know really well, then truly amazing things never happen!

Hmm, anyway, time to lie down and repeat, Goosfraba