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Reconnecting: Microsoft Teams and Beyond at Comms vNext

Wow. As I sit here and reflect on the afterglow of Comms vNext Reconnect, that's all I can think. With all the craziness of the past 18-20 months, I know many have been wondering if in-person events would ever come back and if they did, would they be any good? From my experience, there is only one word to answer both of those questions: yes.

Before the conference event started, many of the folks who attended got together for some Scheduled Maintenance! This is one of those parties that you would typically see at Ignite. It is an invite only affair where people tweet out why they need a Scheduled Maintenance, and the best stories get you a ticket. It was held at a place that had ping-pong tables which is a great way to blow off some steam. The conversations lasted late into the night and folks were able to just relax and enjoy themselves. A huge shout out to the organizers of Scheduled Maintenance for putting together such a great get together. BTW, if you are ever at Ace Eat and Serve in Denver, their Ginger Soda (whether on its own or mixed into an adult beverage) is not to be missed if you like some spice in your drink.

Comms vNext Reconnect was purposefully kept small and I believe that was one of the reasons it was so good. Not everyone is ready to travel and/or attend a gathering of more than a small handful of people. That's ok. There are others who have been craving that in-person interaction and comradery. Comms vNext put a default "approachability" of "No" on each badge and required attendees to purposefully put green "Yes" stickers over the red "No" to say they were ok with people coming up to them. It didn't take long for the stickers to be renamed to the "Give me a hug" sticker. Old friends were reunited, and new friends were made as the event went on.

The focus on "Reconnecting" was evident from the beginning in the Keynote. Principal Program Manager for Microsoft Teams Jamie Stark kicked it off with talking about how things are changing in the office and how that will look as we return. Then Joel Rowland took things in a different direction and got real with how we reconnect with each other with empathy and our stories. His talk had nothing to do with Teams or virtual meetings but rather asking "What are we struggling with?" or "What kind of moment was that?" This kind of empathetic and "meet you where you are at" mindset is what will be needed as folks start returning to work in a larger scale over the next year(s).

With the energy of the keynote infused in us, the rest of the conference really started. There were a few things that I felt really made the event:

  1. Conversations
  2. Sponsors
  3. Sessions
  4. Food

First, everywhere I looked, folks were in deep conversation. People would grab a seat in one of the little enclaves or just stand in the expo area having conversations. I heard from many people that this was the best part of the conference. The ability to have those personal conversations that just don't feel the same when talking to someone over video. In-person situations allow us to open up and become more authentic in many cases and I believe this was evident to everyone who attended.

Next were the sponsors. They all brought their "A-Game" and were fun and engaging. This gave everyone the ability to take a breath and just find out what was new in the ecosystem. Reading and seeing pictures online is just not the same as seeing things in person and being able to really experience the solution.

This next one is a bit obvious, but the sessions were amazing. Trying to decide who to go see was the hardest part about the conference for most folks (myself included). When you have folks like MVP's and Microsoft Teams Product Group members speaking, you know it will be good. Thankfully all of the sessions were recorded and will be posted on the Comms vNext YouTube channel. What was great was that people were able to ask questions in real time and those questions prompted more questions which lead to conversations (see the first point about what made Comms vNext so awesome). I do want to call out a special session that did not get recorded. Laurie Pottmeyer led a session on "Women in Teams". It was awesome to see the energy that she, Joy Apple, and Sharon Weaver brought to this. I truly hope they will be willing to make this a full session next time instead of an impromptu lunch session. They packed the room, and everyone (men and women) came out just smiling from how great it was.

Lastly, the food. The hotel did a great job on the meals and there was plenty for everyone. After years of having sub-par food at conferences (looking at you Chicago and Atlanta), Comms vNext consistently ensures that the food will be incredible. Whether it was fajitas on the first day or the BBQ on the second (seriously, the buffalo cheddar hot links were fantastic), there was something for everyone.

It took me a few days to come down off the "high" I got from the event. I was more productive for the days after the event than I had been in a while. I was engaged and ready to take on the world. This is what a truly great in-person event does for you, it fuels you. It makes you feel like you can take on the world. I'm super thankful for the opportunity to be a part of this event. If you are reading this right now and feel like you missed out, you did but don't fret, Comms vNext is planning to return in 2022. You'll have your chance to join the community and be a part of this incredible story. You can keep up to date with Comms vNext through the website www.commsvnext.com.

 


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