Sitting at Denver’s airport, lamenting how I managed to book a flight with a time window that pretty much mirrors the time window for tonight’s Blue Jays-Royals game. No WiFi on plane, so I am pooched.
The first stab by Four Winds Interactive at a thought leadership conference wrapped today at noon, after a day and half of sessions and speakers that was generally built and framed around digital signage and the technologies that already or will influence the industry and projects.
The last few conferences I’ve been at, I’ve been speaking or, in the case of DSrupted, madly running around as the organizer and host. So it was borderline awesome to just sit and listen.
My overall take – a great start. It was very well organized, and managed like a real third-party for-profit conference, run out of the convention centre and using a big third-party AV team, full catering and even nice little touches like a voice of God announcer, intro music for the speakers, and vertically focused break-out sessions.
Four Winds works with a LOT of vendors, so there was a bit of gathering of the signage clans going on, with senior guys from a pile of complementary tech companies, notably display and systems integrators.
There were some great speakers, and a few that had the potential to be great, but missed a little on the context thing – as in, “This is interesting, but I’m blanking on how I’d apply it to my signage efforts …”
Those are things you learn first time out, and get easily corrected.
I’ve been to and spoke at Four Winds user conferences, and this approach was infinitely better than the endless product demo/waterboarding of the old way. CEO David Levin joked that if he’d been left to his own devices, he’d probably have done two days of product demos. But he also conceded what his CMO and events people put together made far more sense.
Ironically, Levin’s opening keynote was, in many ways, the best session I saw – a methodical exploration of how Four Winds uses its own platform for staff communications and motivation. There was a pile of relevant information out of that session, and I will write about it separately.
Many or most of the speakers had some connective tissue to Four Winds as partners or clients, but the sessions were much more about what organizations were doing, and not rah-rah sessions for FWI.
Levin said at the closing there was more than enough reason to do Forward again, a year from now. They had 200-250 people there, and many/most paid real money to be there.
Would I go again?
Yup. I learned stuff. That’s my main measure. I’ll write some separate posts about some of the sessions. It was also great networking, with lotsa cocktail and a crowd that was manageable in size. I see people at big events and we chat for 30 seconds. Here, I had 30 minute chats.
Who should go?
I suppose anyone looking to get up the curve on current thinking and new technologies. You have to go in knowing this is invariably a business-building event. While the sales effort around the company’s products and services was admirably muted, the FW guys are of course going to be intrigued by any attendee who would be a potential customer or partner.
That said, what third-party industry conference have you been to that didn’t also have a pile of biz dev and sales people sniffing around for potential business.
A bigger crowd sounds great, but there’s a lot to be said for keeping the numbers down.
With one under the belt, a lot more clients will be game to speak, and there may be pressures to give them speaking slots, even if what they have to share isn’t all that interesting.
A drive to cover all the costs could probably get sorted through a micro trade show in the hallways during breaks, but those things rarely seem all that good or effective.
All told, I’m glad I came down (even if it means I now miss the ballgame, dammit!)
Dave Haynes is the founder and editor of Sixteen:Nine, an online publication that has followed the digital signage industry for some 14 years. Dave does strategic advisory consulting work for many end-users and vendors, and also writes for many of them. He’s based near Halifax, Nova Scotia, on Canada’s east coast.