Well, what a conference Progress Exchange 2013 turned out to be! All the months of preparation and hard work put in by the team paid off in what was our most well attended and high-profile event to date. From the distances that people travelled to attend, to our hashtag #PRGS13 trending on Twitter, it was a hugely positive and energizing experience for me and the rest of the Progress team, and from the feedback I've had from our customers and partners, they agree!
One of the highlights for a number of people was the keynote delivered by our guest speaker Luke Williams; Professor of Innovation at NYU and best-selling author. Using examples such as how 'The Shining' could be made to look like a feel-good movie to the company that's making millions out of selling mis-matched socks, Luke spoke compellingly about how taking a disruptive approach to innovation can lead to rapid, and positive results.
Which is why with this conference we were determined to do things a little differently. Yes, we are in the business of technology and yes, our audience at Exchange 2013 was made up of business and development professionals, but that didn't mean we couldn't get creative. We also knew it would be wrong of us to assume that people were hoping for a grey-suited statistics-heavy event (does anybody hope for that?).
What we wanted to do was bring an element of surprise, fun and excitement to the conference. We wanted to offer new experiences and memorable moments that would be an added bonus to the great content, hands on labs and networking that our attendees knew would be on offer.
Taking this as our aim, our conference was kicked off not by a standard corporate video but by the silhouette dance troupe 'Le Ombré'. They captivated the audience with their ability to manipulate and flex their bodies into everything from airplanes and trees to entire office scenes, and when they joined together to form the word ‘Progress’ the audience came alive with applause. Everyone suitably energized, our CEO Philip Pead led our keynote sessions which were not just captured by press and analysts but also by the incredibly talented artist Kelly Kingman. Presenters lined up to have their pictures taken with her incredible illustrations, and they were so coveted that I currently have a number of Progress offices and partners bidding over who gets to keep them!
The conference continued with touches designed to spark and surprise our attendees but we really took being disruptive to heart on Tuesday with the 'Unconference' session which was led by the delegates. Rather than talk at them, we put the AV equipment in their hands and let them choose the content. This was a deliberate risk on our part but it worked as it took us through a rapid learning curve, and created positive tension that made people stop, think and generate new ideas. It also meant that we received direct feedback on what people didn’t think worked well, but part of embracing being disruptive is being ready to accept that not everything will go perfectly first time round. It gives us a great platform to plan from for next year and provided our attendees with a sense of ownership for the content of the conference.
Twitter then went crazy on Tuesday night with song lyrics and photos as the band Alter Ego took covers to the next level by managing to quick change between every song. The buzz wasn’t about our technology, but about how great it felt to be part of the conference experience, and when one of the reasons we create events like this is to encourage and celebrate a sense of community, we were thrilled with how far the message carried.
So fun, so what? Well the point of all this is that we wanted to disrupt people's expectations of what a 'normal' conference is and make an emotional connection. We know we have incredible technology, and we know that we have an exceptionally loyal and talented community. How we make that stick, and how we make that stand out is by giving people a little something that they didn't expect, an opportunity for them to say to a colleague 'Do you remember that ? Wasn't it great?' or even better ‘You have got to get a ticket for next year’. This is all part of our plan to create broader interest and excitement in what we and our partner community have to offer, and activity like this most definitely counts.
The proof in this approach has come quickly. I spoke to a partner last week who said that while they were at Exchange 2013, one of their teams was visiting a prospective customer. The customer had a preconceived idea of the partner organization and their development credentials. This was disrupted when a member of the customer team decided to do a quick online search about the partner to check out a minor detail. The first result that came back was that this partner had just won recognition for its ability to rapidly develop and deploy innovative, useful apps. Where had they received this recognition? Just a couple of days earlier at Progress Exchange 2013. The customer’s preconception was disrupted resulting in a positive outcome for the partner. To me that’s real disruption in action. We’re going to keep on doing it, and I can’t wait to hear more stories like that.
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