We go to a lot of conferences at RedMonk. I’d conservatively estimate that I attend upwards of thirty shows a year, and have for the last ten years. As a result, we have a large number of opinions on what makes for a good conference, and conversely what does not. The Atlassian Summit was, as documented on Twitter, one of the best vendor oriented conferences I’ve been to. Unsurprisingly, a number of people in the business of producing conferences have asked me why that was. For these people, and anyone else looking to put on a good show, here are the five reasons I thought the Atlassian Summit was one to emulate.
- It Wasn’t at Moscone:
Moscone North and South are sprawling abominations. Moscone West is less terrible, but still sterile. By contrast, the Concourse Design Center in San Francisco was not only a venue new to me, it had a much more genuine, industrial feel to it. Apart from the fact that the second floor doubled as an oven and the locations for track talks were less than ideal, the Summit’s funky venue was perfect. Easily navigable, with wide concourses and a reasonably sized main stage, venue was for the Summit a major plus. And while I heard a bit of grumbling about the location, a) Atlassian had shuttles running all day to and from the venue and b) the CDC is three blocks away from the City Beer Store. The location was perfect, in other words.
- The Food Was Food Carts:
One of the things we set out to do with our own conferences, the Monktoberfest and the Monki Gras, was rethink – and reinvest in – conference food. Every show seems to trot out either poorly made sandwiches in boxes or inconveniently rich, faux-high end buffets. For the Summit, Atlassian made the brilliant decision to bring in maybe eight or ten different food carts and have attendees self-select their preferences. Vietnamese sandwiches? Done. Tofu burritos. There. Falafel, tikka masala and plain old turkey sandwiches? Pick your poison. This attention to detail – which extended to the snacks liberally salted through the venue – made for happy, well fed attendees.
- The Little Things Were Big:
Apple continue to suck at conference badge design. Single sided, tiny names. img.ly/jol3 img.ly/jol5
— Layton Duncan (@PolarBearFarm) June 10, 2012
In a world in which even Apple – the king of putting the user first – hands out badges no one’s thought through, Atlassian’s attention to detail in this area was striking. Their conference badges were large enough for me to read at a distance (and the effective range of my vision is about ten feet), two sided and included the conference program which was designed to be read upside down. Nor were badges the extent of Atlassian’s focus on the user experience. You know how some shows end up with vendor pavilions like hedgerow mazes? Atlassian lined the sides of a wide concourse with simple, cleanly designed booths, with only mega sponsor New Relic occupying significant space in the channel leading to and from the main stage. All in all, it was the dozens of little things that Atlassian had thought about that made you say, “huh, someone actually though about this.”
- The Backchannel was Front and Center:
Unsurprisingly for a company whose products include collaboration tools, Atlassian proactively enabled the back channel by providing everyone with free login credentials to Hip Chat, distributing these ahead of the show, and creating topic specific channels that were monitored in real time by Atlassian people – even the one dedicated to “Rants.” Integrating the entire user population into the back channel made it that much more useful, at least from the perspective of an analyst popping in and out of sessions.
- The Keynotes Were Show, Not Tell:
Maybe the biggest thing I appreciated about the show was the keynotes. While many vendor shows talk about their products using numbers, or quotes from analysts like myself, or in marketing-drive metaphors concerning “the power of collaboration,” the Atlassian talks were mostly their products, on display. Because the value of metaphors varies pretty widely depending on audience – and because we’re all generally already drowning in marketing-speak – we at RedMonk generally favor showing over telling. Atlassian did an excellent job of this, as far as what I saw. The people sitting to my left actually started talking during the keynote about how they’d use one Hip Chat integration when they got back to the office; a good sign.
I’m sure Atlassian has a list of things they’d like to improve on for the next show; every good conference organizer does. But if they apply the same level of attention to the attendee experience that they did this year, it’ll be a conference worth attending. And more importantly for the world outside of Atlassian, a conference worth emulating.
Disclosure: Atlassian is a RedMonk customer and comped my T&E, as is New Relic.