Social Connections V – or the story of a STRESSful city

The 5th Social Connections in Zurich last Friday was a great success. It is always a joy to see when things come together and they certainly did this time!

I flew out of Schiphol airport on Wednesday night after dropping off my car at the massive car park to meet up  with the rest of the Social Connections team in the Zurich airport arrivals lounge for a short commute to the hotel. A celebratory drink ensued as this was the first time in over 4 months we’d been together. Most people don’t realize this but all the organizing of these events is done primarily through social media, mail, a Greenhouse community and Skype. Due to the geographical dispersion of the team (England, Wales & The Netherlands) most of us only get to see each other during the events themselves so in a sense they are our little reunions too.

Thursday morning started with a very early arrival at the IBM Client Centre at the “Vulkanstrasse” (“vulkan street” or as the English SatNav hilariously called it: “VulkanSTRESS”) for our first glimpse of the venue.

We’d seen pictures but it is almost impossible to get a really good impression and always a bit nerve wrecking to not have seen a location until you get there. Luckily it turned out to be a fantastic location with more then enough room for our 11 sponsors and the 185 people we were expecting.

First thing required was to prepare one of the three auditoriums for the Michael Sampson Masterclass on collaboration strategies that would kick off the two days of Social Connections as the first of the 16 participants for this masterclass were expected to arrive around 8:30am At 9am sharp the masterclass started.

At this point it was time to start inspecting the materials that had been ordered and delivered to Zurich ahead of time and start preparing for the Friday event. I won’t go into details but it involves a lot of tedious work folding folders, creating & sorting badges, checking and back-checking lists, then editing those lists and checking them again and handling lots of mails with last minute questions from participants. Culminating in setting up the sponsor area and sponsor booths and discussing the best possible layout and locations for each of the sponsors (the closeness to the catering forms an important factor).

You might be surprised but this took a 7 person team (thanks Brian, Klaus and Nathan!) most of the day. So after a full day of preparations it was time to head over (through Zurich rush hour) to the other side of Zurich for a short inspection of the Friday night dinner venue, and another traffic jam filled mad dash back into the city to the hotel. Where I had just enough time to change clothes – and head back down to the hotel lobby for the Speaker/Sponsor dinner. Our speakers & Sponsors are what makes Social Connections possible so having this complimentary dinner is our way of saying ‘thanks!’ to them. It was great to see no less then 47 of them where there for this occasion and that many of them were first time speakers/sponsors. I my eyes that diversion shows just how vibrant this community really is!

At around 1am it was time to head back to my room for some last minute mails (things I thought of during the dinner) and one last round of editing of my slides and then it was time for lights out. The alarm would go off at 6am.

Arriving at the IBM Client Center at 7:15 on Friday morning, it was time to get ready. Instruct the volunteers, help sponsors to their stations, welcome speakers and guest and getting ready for the opening. After having told the speakers several times to NOT forget their AVG and power adapters it of course was no surprise that I had forgotten it myself. Luckily Michael Sampson – organized and perceptive as he is – produced one before I even noticed I had forgotten it.

The day was started by a welcome by Stuart McIntyre, a few notes from me on the days logistics and a general welcome by Peter van Buul, Sales leader for IBM Switzerland. Followed closely by an excellent opening Keynote by Heidi Ambler, Director of Social Computing at IBM.

It is very special sitting there looking around and realizing that the day that we’ve been working on for so long is finally there and that people from all over the world (we had people traveling in from locations as far as South-Africa, Japan, Australia, Russia and Saudi-Arabia!) are there to enjoy it. That really is the moment when you realize what you are doing it all for!

The day flew by in a flurry of conversations, checking up and making sure everything was ok which unfortunately also means that I didn’t get a chance to see many of the sessions myself. I made sure though that I got to see the great “Pardon the interruption” panel with Louis Richardson, Michael Sampson, Brian O’Neill, Sandra Buhler and moderated by Stuart McIntyre as well as Helen Crumble’s excellent Case Study session on SSP’s -no pilot- implementation of IBM Connections. After closing the program off with the Keynote by Michael Sampson on collaboration strategies & adoption it was time for a group photo (a tradition started in Amsterdam) and then the drinks reception and speed sponsoring.

There were some excellent prizes to be won during the speed sponsoring although some prizes posed a bit of a problem (how do you get a bottle of excellent Tasmanian wine safely back to Japan?!? And what do you do when you win a Swiss army knife but only have carry-on luggage?!?) but all was solved in the end (the wine was consumed, the knife will be send by mail).

Social Connections wouldn’t be Social Connections if it didn’t include a ‘social’ component too so after the speed sponsoring a double decker bus was ready to bring those that had registered for it to the Lake Side restaurant for a fantastic dinner with a view over lake Zurich. A great way to have some quality time discussing the day with those you’ve just met. At 22:45 the bus waited for us to take us back to the IBM Client Center & hotel while others choose to head into town for some extended Zurich night life.

At 23:30 we dropped off the last people at the Client Center with the bus and returned to the hotel lobby bar. And that is the moment when you sit back as a team, smile at each other and finally relax. It’s done, and it was marvelous.

Organizing these events is a long and not always easy process. It involves lots of discussions, phone calls, mails, thousands of Skype conversations and a fair amount of sleepless nights. It also involves a team of people to do this as this absolutely is a team effort.

I feel very fortunate to be a part of this excellent team that helps organize Social Connections. It’s the diversity and different angles we all bring in that make each one such a success.

So a big Kudos to Stuart McIntyre, Simon Vaughan and Sharon Bellamy for allowing me to be a part of that amazing team for the last three Social Connections. It’s their friendship and humor that have often kept me sane & going and seeing them is as if we never said goodbye…

also a BIG thanks to all the volunteers (Sandra, Rachel, Brian, Klaus, Christian, Nathan and many others…), to the speakers (without whom we wouldn’t have a program!), the sponsors (who make it possible) and not in the least all the participants… You make Social Connections a success!

I got home from the many ‘stresses’ (that SatNav kept cracking me up) of Zurich on Saturday feeling a bit lost and lonely. I will have to wait another few months before I get to see my friends again. Luckily I don’t have to miss them completely and Facebook, Twitter and Skype have already fired up again (after going quiet for a few days while we were onsite).

Social is what keeps it going and Social is what makes Social Connections tick!

 

If only I could remember where I parked my car now….

 

 

 

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