Party-goers and conference attendees want similar things: to meet people, have fun and feel comfortable. Lessons can be taken from each and applied to the other so that even accounting software events can leave guests smiling. Microsoft’s Convergence 2007 conference, held in San Diego last week, provided a great venue for observing what works and what doesn’t as more than 8,500 Dynamics customers, partners and Microsoft employees gathered to share ideas, see product demos, network and well, party. The company must be doing something right to keep attendance rising. The first event took place in 1997 with a whopping 47 people. Total attendance at last year’s event was 7,404, of which 97 percent reported being “completely satisfied” with their experience, and 98 percent said they would attend again. Not surprisingly, the software giant provided some testimonials on its Web site, but hearing feedback straight from the techie’s mouth somehow seems more believable. Following are some lessons and observations gathered from various venues during the conference -- from the San Diego Convention Center to Embarcadero Marina Park to SeaWorld: Connection is Key. Someone conjured up the idea of creating buttons people could wear to indicate what type of industries they serve (manufacturing, healthcare, etc.) and therefore actually connect with people who might help them improve their business instead of searching for needles in a software stack. In theory, the more buttons they had in common, the better the connection would be. Think how well that could work in a bar, except for the poor guy with the big fat “Other” button pinned to his chest. Cocktails Help Start Conversations. Under “Alcohol Policy,” Microsoft’s conference guide clearly states: “Attendees are expected to manage their own level of alcohol consumption responsibility … You are responsible for your own behavior during the event and after leaving the event facility.” But we are all adults, and therefore adult beverages were flowing freely. After all, they help relax tense guests enough to strike up conversations and build better connections. Executives had tasked attendees with asking random strangers a total of roughly 10 questions throughout the conference and by the Monday morning session reported that the most progress had been made between midnight and 3 a.m. Let There Be Light. Prior to the early morning keynote, a percussion and dance troupe called The Rhythmics put on a high-energy Stomp-style performance -- turning everyday office supplies into musical instruments -- to demonstrate how Microsoft Dynamics can bring new life to businesses. After the spectacular, however, the lights remained low for the next hour as the people who were conducting those late-night Q&A sessions struggled. Have Fun. Kudos to Avalara for standing out from the surrounding black and blue booths in the Expo Center with a tiki bar. Next year the on-demand sales tax services vendor may search for a male model to lay in the hammock (Fabio’s name was mentioned.) Who said accounting technology couldn’t be sexy? Early Bird Gets the Bagel. Arriving to breakfast at 8:31 a.m. when it ended at 8:30 triggered an extra large guard to block the door, refusing entrance. Luckily, extra small speedy types were able to run past him and grab to-go containers filled with fresh fruit and bagels. Microsoft was sure to stock tables throughout the convention center with snacks and beverages throughout the day for those of us too busy to actually sit down for scheduled mealtimes, however. Bigger Isn’t Always Better? This statement holds true for the XXL T-shirts many of the vendors provided prospects and customers -- were they trying to tell them something? But when it comes to caffeine, the more the merrier. Guests who did not want to wait on the Starbucks line that wrapped around the convention hall like an anaconda were subjected to coffee cups so small that one sleep-deprived patron commented they “can’t hold enough caffeine to give a jolt to a field mouse.” He also worried that because they get really hot and they’re flimsy, if he became really excited about something and “squeezed really hard” he’d be in trouble. It’s the Little Things That Count. Forget the surf simulator, Venice Beach boardwalk arcade and live musical entertainment at the opening night reception along the bay: Surfin’ San Diego. What several of the female guests appreciated the most during this outdoor spectacular was the lack of lines for the women’s restroom. Men were waiting a dozen deep as ladies walked right in and waved. Several mentioned it feeling like Christmas, and one even said she was going to note her satisfaction on her comment card. Free Stuff Rocks. Speaking of Christmas, the vendors who provided freebies to interested parties may not have won over those customers, but at least they attracted their attention. From candy and pens to stuffed whales at Tectura’s SeaWorld reception, giveaways attract prospects of all ages. One guest played with an oddly shaped rubber item for a few moments and asked whether anyone knew what it was. When no one did, he put it back in his bag. Hey, one man’s junk is another man’s treasure.
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