Even though the event was on Monday, the room was full. Communication about this conference traveled mainly through word of mouth, supported by social networking activity on Facebook, Twitter and others.
I think that the main driver of success of Frontiers of Interaction V was the passion and dedication of the organizers and the atmosphere they created for this event. The excitement, sincerity, humility and energy of them all created a strong connection with the attendees, creating an absolute world-class event. It was fundamental that they put together a very rich program of speakers and content (check out the program here).
- Venue – the organizers of Frontiers of Interaction V chose a spectacular venue: Aquario Romano. This is a very suggestive building that was an aquarium during the 1800’s and now is used mainly for architecture exhibits. The place offers not only a beautiful scenery but also is very well located in Rome. Just a couple of blocks from the Termini central train station, it is easy to reach for who is coming to Rome by train or traveling around the city by subway. It has a big garden where coffee breaks and lunch took place and people could relax and do networking on under the bright sun or under the shade of trees.
- Flexible conference room – the main room was divided into several distinct areas. The main seats where located in the center and deployed as a semi circle. On both sides you had energy points (see below) in front and demo areas on the back. Demo areas were the place where you could see and try some of the devices presented during the event.
- Demos – demonstrations took place simultaneously in the “demo areas” mentioned before. There you could meet the interaction designers and play with some of the products or services they were presenting. Before the demos started the chairman of the event invited the guys responsible for each demonstration on stage to explain what they were going to show.
- Diversity – speakers and audience were characterized by their diversity. On stage you had technologists, innovators, journalists, evangelists, researchers and executives. Same in the audience plus students and curious people. This created a more balanced atmosphere. In many conferences where technology is a key issue the attendees are mostly technologists and the presentations get rather boring. Here speakers came from various walks of life and had to keep their speech and time interesting enough to engage the audience.
- Glocal – the event was local but strongly global. At least 85% of the audience was italian but the topics covered and many of the speakers were international. The content of the event was as advanced as there is… the editor of Wired Magazine, Riccardo Luna, twitted that “this event is like being in Silicon Valley” (I added that from some points of view it was even better!).
- Free, powerful wi-fi – being this an event about interaction, technology and the internet of things, the organizers decided to provide free (and powerful) internet through wi-fi. Amongst other things this allowed people to create and publish content (like my flickr photos) directly and interact with people not present.
- Energy – several “energy points” were placed on the sides of the main room. There you could plug your computer or other gadgets to charge the batteries. They also offered a support for your computer and in fact at least 30 people could work simultaneously on them (out of about 200+ attendees, which represents 15% of the audience). The energy points allowed you to still follow the conference.
- Twitter wall – on one of the sidescreens a “Twitter wall” was set so as to show in real time messages that contained the conference’s hashtag (#frontiers09). This is a clever move because it allows twitterers and non to follow the buzz generated by the event.
- Interstitial interviews – during the intervals between presentations, a live interview took place on the balcony and it was projected on the main screen. Robin Good, a famous online entrepreneur, interviews speakers and interesting people for 2-5 minutes while the stage was set up for the next speaker. This is a great idea because it entertains the audience while tech guys work on the setup, creating a seamless experience.
- Speakers must also eat – the organizers created a separated catering for speakers. Many event managers forget about this issue which is fundamental and try to solve it on the go. It was made in a separate area so that this people could relax and have a bite calmly and not immersed in the voracity of the masses
There were some petty flaws regarding mainly the logistics, but their negative effect was not enough to ruin the experience. A list of of some of the areas of improvement:
- Use lavaliers – speakers should use a lavalier-type microphone that would free their hands. This improves their body language and allows them to operate a computer, etc more easily
- Use a remote – speakers should use a remote controller to manage the presentations on their computers. This allows them to move freely around the room and not “hide” behind the computer. It improves the connection between speaker and audience.
- Test, test, test – there were several minor tech problems during the event: video or audio not working correctly (for example during Bruce Sterling’s videoconference), some microphone’s calibration, etc. You should make full tests the day before and before the event starts, trying all the computers and speakers involved.
- Screen contrast – the main screen had a mediocre contrast which resulted in dull images and difficulty to watch many of the speaker’s slides. I’m not sure if the projector was not powerful enough or a matter of light filtering from somewhere. This was a major issue.
- Time management – I’m not sure what was the cause but at a certain point during the morning the agenda got delayed (maybe a late start or technical problems?). In any case Matteo was taking control of the situation by reminding each speaker when he or she had 10 and 5 minutes left.
- Registration – the registration process was “outsourced” using Yahoo! Upcoming. While this simplified the registration management, it is not the best solution. First, people should have a a Yahoo! account to use it and in some cases generated confusion. Second, you partially “lose” the data of the registered people… It would have been better to create a simple registration form on the event’s website or use a dedicated service like eventbrite.com, amiando.com, etc.
- Catering for the audience was kind of fuzzy. I got there 15’ after the lunch hour had started and the food had already been depleted by hungry piranha. Was it not enough or people were really hungry (and greedy)? Fortunately there were some bars and restaurants a few blocks away from the venue.
Remember that nothing beats passion and good content. People forgive you minor logistical problems if you create an exciting, sincere, humble and interactive atmosphere.
Leandro, Carlo and Matteo: you did an amazing job, thank you!!
See more photos from the event here