I have been to a lot of conferences over the years, and the one I just got back from was among best of all of them: Stream Asia 2011. The event took place at the Club Med in Phuket (Thailand) and about 200 people were invited to join this 2-day unconference. Best of all, WPP paid for everything! They rented the whole beach resort, so there were no other tourists around to distract us from our sessions.
Because it was an unconference you never know in advance what exactly will happen and what sessions will be presented. At the beginning of the conference the participants have to decide what they want to speak about and make sure they get a speaking slot. I had two speaking slots, one with Sarah Harden, Larry Namer, and Deborah Mei about what games traditional media is playing when it comes to digital, and one that I did by myself about the future of ecommerce. I also particpated in a couple of sessions and discussions related to online games, Internet in Indonesia, China, Facebook, and innovation & entrepreneurship. Most of the sessions were really good, especially because some of the topics were non-bloggable/twitterable so people could speak freely, and of course because the topics fit to my personal interests.
There were also some plenary sessions, among other a Q & A with WPP CEO Sir Martin Sorrell. He was very open about how he views the advertising world, his clients and his competitors. The only problem was that his talk took place right at the moment that the earthquake took place in Japan, meaning that many in the audience (incl. me) were paying too much attention to the Japan events on Twitter and Facebook. In a way it was a bit surreal, Martin talked a lot about Japan (I won’t repeat what he said, I think it was off the record) while he was not aware of what was happening there but many in the audience were.
Another very good session was with the renowned conductor Itay Talgam about conducting music and leadership. I did not know him before Stream, but got to know him a bit on the ride from the airport to the resort when he coincidentally sat next to me. For one thing he is very modest, in the bus he just told me that is a musician! During his talk he let us look at how conductors conduct their orchestras, something I never really paid attention to. Very interesting to observe the differences between some of the world’s top conductors, esp. the final one in which Leonard Bernstein (Itay Talgam’s teacher) conducted an orchestra with his eyes, eye brows and mouth. But, as Itay stated, this is not how you get started in conducting!
Of course a major part of this kind of events is the networking. The people that were invited were a good mix of advertising people and their clients, people from traditional and new media (incl. Facebook, Yahoo! and Google), entrepreneurs and VCs. Almost everybody you met to was interesting to talk to and I met a lot of cool people. Several of my business friends were also there and it was good to catch up with them as well.
The evening program was also quite something. Among others there was a gadgethon where people could show off their gadgets. Some really cool things were shown, among others the iPad 3 (ask Scott Spirit about this one, it was made in China), and iPhone with a TV antenna, a demonstration of the Motorola Xoom, and some gadgets that people put together themselves. There was also Powerpoint Karaoke, where you have to do a presentation based on a powerpoint that you have not seen before, leading to some hilarious situations. And of course here was the Stream Band consisting of Stream participants, playing until deep in the night.
The event was very well organized by WPP, despite it being an unconference things went very smoothly. The resort was nice and quiet, the right atmosphere for a conference. The food and drinks were very good, so good that I ate way too much and also had quite some wines and beers over the past 2 days. The only thing that could have been better was the wifi. That’s more the problem of Club Med than of the organizers, who even managed to set up their own Stream Asia network during the event, but it was still difficult to connect. In my room there was no connection at all, so I did most of my work at the swimming pool!
All in all I look back at a great event with excellent participants and good content. Glad I took the time out of my busy schedule to join this conference, it was absolutely worth it.
All my pictures of the event are here on this Flickr set