Beautiful city, great speakers, all the Microsoft content, plenty of drinks - that is the way to spend a couple of days. At the start of June, I was one of the over one thousand people who attended the Scottish Summit in Glasgow, a Microsoft Community event that has been running for several years now but was the first year back in person since the start of the pandemic. Here are a few of my thoughts as I head back home.
The importance of accessibility for all
It is always important as you come away from an event like the Scottish Summit to reflect and work out what it will mean to you afterwards, what you have taken away from it. The biggest thing for me was easy - the importance of accessibility and making life easier for everyone, not just must people. The opening keynote was one of the most special I have ever seen as Connell McGinley spoke of his story as a deaf person in IT. The things that we take for granted like making a call or knowing when you are being asked a question suddenly become very different. One point that hit home is the ease at which we can accidentally exclude people - Connell was chosen as the person who sat in the data centre early in his career as the noise of the fan was thought to not affect him. It is these sort of exclusions and assumptions that we should all challenge in our selves.
The fact that Connell can now be so involved in IT is a huge win for the power of technology tools now as Microsoft Teams and captioning helps to make it more seamless for all to be involved. Small changes to our habits, enabled by the tech that we use can make a much bigger difference for others and is something we should all try. The applause for the session was lead by Dona Sarkar who asked us all to use the British Sign Language applause with our hands raised in the air and twisted, almost jazz hands style. The site of the crowd with their hands up was just beautiful and the number of people that continued to do that during the two days of the summit was inspiring.
The accessibility theme continued through the rest of the conference with many sessions having sign language interpreters to make them available to all. There was plenty of tech sessions too, covering Power Platform, Microsoft 365, Dynamics and Azure. However, it was the non-tech sessions that I really took a lot away from, especially the panel sessions organised by Microsoft up on the 9th floor. The mental health session was incredibly open and the panellists shared some truly horrific stories of how they have been treated and the journeys they have been through. It was so helpful to not only remind me of things to do but to also learn more about the right and wrong things to do. I took away the most important things were to speak to people with mental health struggles, not to make assumptions about how they want to be treated and to try not to make statements that could be a trigger. Rory Neary also gave a fantastic session on his own mental health challenges and his own reminders not to blame the trigger itself. Looking forward to continue the discussion on mental health as Rory joins CPS and sharing with others the tools and techniques that Dona Sarkar talked about in her closing keynote on how to discuss mental health at work.
Talks and talking
For the tech sessions, I will be honest that I missed many of the ones that I had intended to see. Why? Because I was chatting with people too much! Chatting about Viva, chatting about licensing (yes really) and an awful lot of chatting about life. People often talk about finding your tribe and that is what these events feel like. The chance to meet that virtual community that you have found in real life and find out that they are like that in real life too. It is hard to name all the people I enjoyed chatting with but I would like to mention Damien Bird, Zaid Zaim and Kathrin Borchert because I had either not met them or only briefly met them before and they were just the loveliest people. Real events open up the circle of people you meet and I truly hope that stays true with these three as well as the other awesome people I get to be with.
As well as nattering and building connections, I did also have the chance to be involved in three sessions. These were all sessions that I had run with others virtually in some way but this was the first time we'd tried in person. What was great was how interactive they were and how we managed to get the audience interaction running nicely with them. I am a big believer in the virtual/hybrid world and the enablement that it brings and so it's less that we should all move to in-person and more that we should look more at those things and how we can do it more in the virtual space. Being there keeps you present so looking at your meetings and sessions, think about how you can disconnect from your other distractions. Think about how you can feed those cues to the people speaking without distracting too . Think about engaging with them at the right times as well. As a coordinator, think about giving people time while also making sure they connect to it. Realise that while there may be focus on one person, there are others to look at too. As a speaker, think about how you can move around and change the focus to keep the audience interested - swap from faces to presentations to other screens. It was great to be able to stand in front of others and I look forward to doing more but I also want to take that learning to use virtually too.
Learning from how others speak as well was important. The different styles and seeing how the audience responded to those different styles. People rarely leave on their camera when watching virtual events but you can see the reactions and what engages people far more in person. My simplified views often take over in my head and think that all talks need to be exciting and energetic throughout but watching how others pace their sessions, bring in points to think about alongside sharing specific things, change up and down the sort of things that are being shown. All of these really help with how I can become a better speaker and a better consultant as well.
As the recordings of some of these sessions become available, I will update this post with links.
The informal fun (as opposed to the formal fun)
I can't not mention the socialising. I feel like we may have helped fund Brewdog in Glasgow for the rest of the summer with the amount we were there but it was amazing to have big groups that you could just float about and chat to familiar faces. People are so friendly and welcoming at these events and open to new faces. I wrote previously about how hard it can be when you see familiar faces but the groups at these events are incredible so get chatting with them, make those connections and you never know where it will take you. The stories I heard over the last few days of new roles happening because of people knowing each other and building those relationships are a great way to justify the fun that you get to have to the poor family who are left behind as we travel to these events. I would like to say a big thank you to my wife and mother-in-law because I could not do things like this without their backing.
Back on the socialising, it seems a suitable point to end on a celebration. The highlight of many of these events has become the infamous pub quiz run by the legendary Andrew Bibby, Tricia Sinclair and Keegan Stanton and under the supreme leadership of Zoe Wilson, our team (Haggis and Chips) were champions! Not a bad way to round off a tiring but rewarding, inspiring and fun few days in Scotland.