On May 5-7 2010 Lift Conference (official hashtag #lift10) took place at the Centre International de Conférences Genève (CICG) in Geneva, Switzerland. Even if there were some ups and downs in the organizational aspects, Lift proved once more that the most relevant factor in a live event are the connections generated between people. As a matter of fact, the tagline for Lift10 was “Connected People” (rephrasing Nokia’s famous claim “connecting people”), emphasizing the human aspect rather than the mere technological one.
Amongst the things that I mostly appreciated at Lift was the big geographical diversity of speakers, whose different provenience was evidenced by the strong inflections of their English accents (tainted with German, Brazilian, South Korean, Swedish, French and Italian).
Frog Design, one of the main partners, carried out an innovative research that aimed to improve future Lift editions by analyzing people’s behavior and proposing a series of action points, some of which were publicly presented at the end of the conference (see below for further details).
This was my first time at a Lift Conference and overall it was a valuable experience. IMHO the program was not well balanced throughout the three days and I found the level and interestingness of the speakers way better in days 2 and 3. Also starting with workshops at the beginning of the day -especially during Day 1- felt kind of awkward, as there was no introductory session by the organizers and for first-comers it was easy to get lost or not sure of what to expect.
As a closing remark, Laurent Haug (blog, twitter) commented that people seem to be more busy than 5 years ago so next year Lift might take place over two days instead of three (I agree that being away for three days during the business week is getting harder, especially when you attend so many events like me).
Lift took place at the Centre International de Conférences Genève (CICG), which has a nice 70’s vintage look. The venue offered a big conference room on two levels, plenty of medium and small rooms (used for workshops, private events and other activities), a main hall that was used as the main networking and coffee-break area and a big lunch-room and terrace. While the spaces were appropriate, I would have expected a bit more of personalization on behalf of Lift apart from hanging some posters here and there (this is a minor issue though).
Signage was intelligently implemented by deploying big balloons that indicated the location of each area (see photo). This solution allows for a fast, low-impact, low cost and fancy looking way of signaling.
The front part of the conference room offered tables with simultaneous translation and power outlets for recharging laptops and mobile phones. The look & feel was that of a UN conference, maybe supported by the fact that we were in Geneva.
Partner booths were located on dedicated areas of the main hall though they didn’t feel to be very integrated with the rest and it was easy to ignore them.
A big part of the audience was composed by Swiss people but there was an important number of Europeans too (and a few Americans and Asians). The atmosphere was young and multicultural and the level was properly balanced between students, researchers and business people. Measured by the business cards I “collected”, the quality of attendees was high.
Lift has an interesting conference format: each of the three days is divided in half with the mornings being dedicated to workshops and the afternoons to speeches in the main room. Some segments of the conference sessions were labeled “Open Stage” meaning that the “presentations that are proposed and delivered by the Lift community”. The presentations were selected by the Lift team. After each break, a selection of interesting or funny videos (from YouTube) were shown. They were always relevant to the topics being discussed though the quality of the image was not very high in some cases.
During breaks the “Lift Experience” took place, where “new media artists and interaction designers are invited to display pieces that address the conference topics in a different way”. This area, curated by Geneva University of Art and Design (HEAD-Geneva), offered the possibility to interact with the artists and their prototypes.
At the end of each day there was a main social activity organized by Lift, including the by now classic Fondue gathering (ever seen more than 500 people having fondue together?) and Networking Party. The evening of Day 2 is left open so that attendees can organize their own dinner, drinks, etc in Geneva with the newly met people.
The range of speakers was very varied, from passionate individuals with no public speaking skills to seasoned presenters that know how to walk the stage and interact with the audience. The distribution of good and “not-so-good” speakers was an issue during Lift10, with Day 1 being the least interesting with an in-crescendo towards Day 3, that offered the highest quality (at least for my personal interests).
I was surprised by some well known names reading through their whole speech (with a sleep-inducing monotone voice) or showing no passion on stage, which is the opposite of what you’d expect nowadays in a live event (as opposed to accessing the content online through text, video, audio, etc).
Interaction between speakers and the audience (both those present at the conference and those following the event through the internet) was in charge of the moderators, including people from the Lift team and special guests.
I really like the following speakers
- Rahaf Harfoush (World Economic Forum) on how to use social networks as communication tools for political campaigns
- Antonio Casilli (EHESS) on why “digital natives” is an unfortunate and rather useless generalization
- Jamais Cascio (Institute for the Future) and his message that “Technology is Culture”
- Russell Davies (RIG), probably the most interesting speech during Lift10 (got a big deal of applause at the end). Funny and at the same time full of interesting concepts and applications, it explored the opportunities for a “physical internet” like his Newspaper Club project that allows people to make their own newspapers (it started out as a print of a very long online article).
Demos were, to me, one of the big assets of this edition of Lift. The following were particularly interesting and had a “we’re inventing the future here” kind of feel:
- Bjorn Jeffrey (Bonnier) on he ten design principles behind Mag+
- Fabian Hemmert (Deutsche Telekom Laboratories) on making mobile phones with physical characteristics (like weight, shape and resistance) that change to reinforce a particular behavior
Officially, there were no musical performances though one of the speakers made a demo that included creating music.
Stage & Stage Management
The stage had a vintage couch on the left and featured the Lift artwork on the right. The lectern was made of wood as part of the artistic productions used during the conference.
The schedule was kept in time and there were no delays. The program consisted of were several short presentations between 5 and 15 minutes, which are usually a challenge from the time-management point of view but the Lift team did a great job informing speakers in those cases where they went over the allocated time.
The presence of 3 big screens that switched and complemented themselves between live camera and the speaker’s presentations offered a good visibility. Light on stage was appropriate and the illumination of the conference room was varied to offer a higher contrast when, for example, videos were shown. On occasions there were audio glitches, especially when a speaker wanted to show a video located on his own computer on the lectern. To avoid this issues, which during Lift were minor but always put the show at risk, it’s better for the event organizers to have their own well tested computers (mac/pc) on stage and have the speakers load their presentations on them.
Catering during the conference was probably one of the weak points, though it never became a major issue. Coffee breaks were limited to free coffee and biscuits supported by a small bar that offered other things on sale. Strangely, the coffee was not always available and sometimes it seemed that there wasn’t enough for all the attendees. In some moments the bar was closed so you couldn’t even buy a drink.
As an event that stimulates people to meet, not only during the breaks but at any moment, I think that Lift should offer a continuous free or pay service: having a chat over coffee is one of the best ways of bonding with new acquaintances.
Lunch was available on the first floor during the three days. On Day 1 I decided to skip it as I was already missing the first part of the event (workshops) due to the fact that I had landed in Geneva that same morning. On Day 2 I was invited to a special lunch organized by Frog Design during which Adam Richardson presented his book Innovation X (nice detail: I got an autographed gift copy). On Day 3 I had the”regular” lunch t. The service was available through a voucher that could be redeemed for a salad OR a desert and a main dish that included two different servings from several alternatives available. I was surprised by a sign indicating that you had to choose between a starter or a dessert. While I understand the economic motivations behind this, it felt not appropriate from the communication point of view. My suggestion would be to offer smaller portions of both.
Extra food items could be purchased during lunch, which is an intelligent way of offering a more varied menu. The catering was managed by the venue through it’s own structure and usually this is a way for them to earn extra money during an event. I nice “eco” touch was given by a limited amount of dishes made of dried (palm?) leaves. They could represent a good replacement for plastic, which in this case was not used because the catering service had it’s own porcelain plates and metallic cutlery.
The logistic setup was a big issue during lunch: as people could get some of the food for free and other items by paying, anyone wanting to have lunch had to form a single-access line that had it’s bottleneck at the cashiers (if you had no extra food you could walk through without paying, but this was only checked at the end). A different and faster setup could have been achieved by having several access points to the “free” food with no controls whatsoever. It’s true that some individuals might benefit of multiple servings but it’s usually just a minor portion of the delegates. The service would be much faster (and less frustrating) and people would only go to the “pay-area” if they wanted to have extra servings.
Free Red Bull was offered in the main hall throughout the conference but I find it an inadequate replacement for continuous coffee & water (I personally don’t like Red Bull).
This was my first Lift Conference, and hopefully it won’t be my last. Even though there were some organizational glitches, I enjoyed the overall experience with networking being the biggest asset. More than than a specific event, Lift gives the impression to be a universe with different access points: the conferences (Geneva in Switzerland, Marseille in France and Jeju in Korea), the Lift@Home program (host your own Lift gatherings in a similar way to the TEDx model), the online community and partners (sponsors, other events, etc).
Frog Design Research
As mentioned above, Frog Design made an advanced research during the conference involving a dedicated team of frog staff and other volunteers. The main conclusions/ideas were presented at the end of the conference and they included:
- How to create centers of gravity (that make people to aggregate around them). For example, food was considered more than just a means for filling up your stomach and through a better curated experience could create new connections. Fun/play is another big attractor and they proposed playful activities like having a “Lift trampoline” (mmhh… that might incur into some unwanted extra insurance and medical costs).
- Centers of anti-gravity should also be offered for those moments when you need to meet people in private, have a conference call with your colleagues back at the office, etc.
- Creating the “greeting experience”: to avoid the boring waiting time during the registration process at the venue, you could ask lifters to introduce themselves on video while queuing and then use screens to show those spots to the other people while they’re waiting to check-in. This addresses two things: first you transform a passive moment into an active/entertaining experience and second you give the opportunity to the people that are at the check-in to discover who else is attending.
- Create enhanced serendipity to raise the chances of positive networking. One of the ideas was to create a buddy or pairs system that requires you to find a someone to check-in with or get food with (you cannot do it alone).
- Create audience engagement by inventing more engaging “rules” for the “game” of Lift.
The conference was live-streamed through the Lift website using Livestream and the quality seemed ok.
Networking & Matchmaking
As mentioned above, Lift is strongly dedicated to networking and the conference offers several organized moments for this, mainly the workshops and the social events (like the fondue on Day 1).
Support Material / Giveaways / Goodies Bag
Lifters were provided with a branded plastic goodies bag containing promotional material from the partners, a set of stickers and the program.
Lift10 didn’t offer a dedicated iPhone app, which I consider a wise move when no special features are available. Most conferences I have recently attended have applications featuring tons of content in a rather unpractical way which few people tend to use. In most cases it feels like those events want to show off that they have an iPhone app (or other mobile app) but it is nor really part of the experience and for sure not at all useful for the attendees. A courageous decision on behalf of Lift, and a good one in my opinion. (Note: Lift does have an iPhone app that displays content from several editions).
Registration Process & Badge
Attendees had to register at a desk located at the entrance of the venue. My registration process was smooth, probably because I arrived during lunchtime of Day 1. I heard some complaints about waiting times, which might have happened during early morning of when probably a high number of attendees concentrated at the registration desk.
I have mixed feelings about the Lift badge. My major concerns were:
- Small overall size
- Name printed in small letters with the surname being bigger (relatively more visible) than the name. The company names was hardly readable even from a short distance. Laurent Haug, founder of Lift, said during the opening session that he encouraged people not to do “badge hunting” during the event, meaning looking for specific people to which pitch your project, etc and instead embrace a more open social approach to meeting other people. In any case the name size was impractical even for meeting people you knew but couldn’t remember her name (“Is it him or not? Mhh… let’s look at his badge… oh wait, I can’t read what’s on it!”).
- Having just one contact point between the lanyard and the badge meant that in 50% of the cases you couldn’t even see the attendee’s name, as the badge had turned towards the inside. This is a very common problem during conferences. A simple solution: use lanyards with two hooks that prevent the badge from turning. I reckon this is often not possible (eg.: lanyards provided by a sponsor) and in many events that I have organized we had the same issue… and will have in the future.
A nice idea which was not thoroughly executed: together with the goodies bag you got a set of stickers that you could apply on top of the badge (see photo). Unfortunately this was not officially communicated by the organizers and few people got it, most of them during the last day (including myself) after seeing other delegates doing it.
Communications Before the Event
Lift communicated through their various channels, mainly: event blog/website, email to registered delegates, social networks (Facebook, Twitter). Communications and information on the website were clear and useful. a “General Info” pdf was provided for download. It included all basic information (venue location, opening hours, contact info, etc) plus maps, bar & restaurant recommendations and miscellaneous activities to do during your stay (boat trip on lake Geneva, visits to other cities, gift recommendations, etc).
Communications After the Event
One week after the event I got a survey email. Photos, videos and other news were made available through the website and social networks.