Four Takeaways From a Major Tech Conference

Author: Dave Lutz, CMP       


Thousands attend Microsoft Ignite 2019 at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando (Photo Courtesy of Microsoft)

Living in Orlando provides me with the opportunity to get event-design inspiration from Disney, Universal, and other entertainment attractions. I also have the chance to go on site at the Orange County Convention Center to observe some of the largest and most innovative conferences in the country. In November, I got to visit one of the events on my bucket list: Microsoft Ignite.

While most conference organizers don’t have a Microsoft-sized budget, some of the innovative experiences Microsoft Ignite offers can be reimagined on a shoestring. Here are a few that struck me:

1 Arrival — The registration area for this 28,000-person conference had a much smaller footprint and was staffed by fewer people than I had expected. I learned that 60 percent of all badges were printed on-demand at the airport. Like hotels, more conferences are reimagining the welcome and check-in experience. Look for ways that you can remove friction from the check-in and credentialing experience, while simultaneously setting the tone for a welcoming conference culture.

2 “The Hangout” — On one end of the show floor, Microsoft designed a very large area that included 12 large projection screens. Each screen was streaming a different breakout session happening live in a nearby meeting room. There was a mix of theater seating and picnic tables. Attendees used headphones to tune in to any of the 12 streamed concurrents that met their learning needs. This is a brilliant way to handle overflow for large conferences and/or to provide a unique watch-party experience.

3 Amplification — It’s not uncommon for a conference like Ignite to have more attendees tuning in virtually than in-person. Microsoft created a Podcast Center that had five built-for-purpose plexiglass podcast booths. Podcasts were recorded live on the show floor to leverage the thought leadership in attendance. The podcast interviews were viewable by the attendees and were a great example of an emerging way to amplify your conference content using different media channels.

4 The Un-Expo — The most impressive area that Microsoft built was “The Hub,” where attendees could test out Microsoft products and have conversations with partners and innovators in the tech space. It spanned the majority of the West Building’s expo space — about one million square feet.

When it comes to reimagining your trade-show floor, there is a lot we can learn from Ignite, and other large customer conference experiences like Dreamforce and Oracle OpenWorld. Each have designed “hub” experiences where you won’t see pipe and drape, bright white lights, or a clean 10’ x 10’ grid. Instead, you’ll experience an abundance of learning theaters, interactive experiences, turn-key demo kiosks, and soft lighting.

Watch a YouTube video on transforming your expo into a networking and learning destination, by Velvet Chainsaw Consulting’s VP of professional connexity, Sarah Michel at

Dave Lutz, CMP, is managing director of Velvet Chainsaw Consulting,

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