3 things Google I/O and Microsoft Build can learn from a conference like NDC Oslo

A little over a month ago I compared Google I/O and Microsoft Build from the [technology agnostic] attendee perspective. Since then I had a privilege to speak at and attend one of the best independent developer conferences in the world — NDC Oslo.

As all three conferences are somewhat comparable in terms of size, length and price, I figured it would be a good idea to look at the two major corporate developer conferences through the independent conference’s lens.

Again, it doesn’t make sense to compare these conferences on the merits of content, as they cover their respective niches. I will concentrate on the logistics and organization aspects instead.

So, what does NDC Oslo have to teach the other two?

#1 The A.D.D. room

NDC Oslo has up to 9 parallel tracks at any given time. In some slots it’s hard to decide which talk of the 9 you want to see the most. Other times the room for your chosen talk is full by the time you get there. And then there are rare moments when none of the 9 are must-see yet some feel intriguing.

In all of these case the famous “Overflow room” at NDC (nicknamed the ADD room) comes to the rescue. You get 9 screens and a device to switch sound in your headphones and you can watch any of the talks you want and switch to a different one any time without offending the speakers by walking out.

#2 All-Day Food

At NDC Oslo there are 10 (or so) different food stands where food is available all day long — ranging for literally freshly cut greens to slow cooked goat and everything in between.

This is obviously a scary proposition, if you can’t restrain yourself. But it makes the whole experience way more enjoyable. And not because you can eat like crazy, exactly the opposite.

At Build and especially at I/O the experience of getting the food is comparable to what I remember from the USSR days. People who paid thousands of dollars to attend a conference shouldn’t “fight” or stand in huge lines to get some mediocre meal. Serving the food all day eliminates the anxiety and makes the whole experience way more satisfying.

#3 Humbler keynotes

I understand this isn’t going to happen as both Microsoft and Google treat these events as a great opportunity to present themselves to a wider world in the best possible light. But the level of production that goes into preparing and running the keynotes is comparable to a concert by some major popstar.

Why do I care? Well, because I’m paying for it one way or the other. In addition to production costs there’s the whole renting a huge room for 4 days just to use it for a few hours thing. It’s a bit better at Google I/O as breakout sessions are held in the amphitheater as well, but at Build it’s just a huge wasted space.

NDC Oslo, on the other hand, wastes very little extra space for the keynote (just the stage) and it’s basically a regular talk just by a very prominent speaker.

Again, I understand that the goals for the keynotes are different but I’m “the customer” and I am there for the content not the massive production.

#4 Two-sided badges, two straps or bust

Attendee badges at NDC Oslo are not particularly good — the text is small, there’s no twitter handle and its hard to differentiate between speakers, exhibitors and other attendees. But they do one thing right — there are 2 holes in the badge where it attaches to the lanyard. This little “trick” prevents the badge from flipping to the wrong side all the time, saving people the embarrassment of forgetting the name of their new (or old) friend.

As I see, Microsoft has fixed it this year:

Making it probably the best conference badge in the industry. Your turn, Google.

#5 Helping those in need

NDC Oslo does a great gesture of making a gift to charity on behalf of the speakers. Since most of the speakers at I/O and Build are Google and Microsoft employees respectively, it wouldn’t work there. But donating a small portion of every ticket sale to some nice charity would go a long way for both those in need and helping your attendees feel better about themselves.

That’s it for now. I’ve definitely seen great ideas at other conferences that are worth “stealing” but I wasn’t making a list back then. Have you seen any great “feature” at a conference you attended? Let’s share and discuss!

More by Alan Mendelevich

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