I attend quite a few SharePoint conferences, and I’ve never been to a bad one, but they all have different approaches and emphasize different things. The SHARE conference in Atlanta next week definitely has a different approach than other conferences.

SHARE Differentiators

Why do you go to a SharePoint conference? I go for three reasons:

  1. To attend sessions where I will learn from the real-life experiences of others
  2. To see innovative new ideas that I would not have thought of on my own
  3. To meet and talk with people to informally share ideas, stories and information 

First of all, the focus is on business and only business. There are no technical sessions. The advantage for you, if you are interested in the business side of SharePoint, is that all the sessions are of potential value, giving you more options to select a full schedule of sessions that have a high degree of relevance for you.

The second thing that makes SHARE (@share4business) different is the investment that the Eventful Group makes in planning a program that will be useful and relevant. They do this months before the event by organizing focus group meetings with SharePoint business executives and users around the country.

At these events, the facilitators drill deeply into the issues that business stakeholders worry about and the topics that they would most like see presented. The organizers then compile the results of the research into a document that is shared with all the potential speakers. As a potential speaker, you need to align your submission with the research, ensuring that you will be presenting material that is directly relevant to the conference audience.

The first time I submitted to speak at a SHARE event I got a real surprise: They sent my abstract to a review committee composed of focus group members for feedback. I have spoken at many conferences over the past five years, and the SHARE events are the only ones that have returned my session abstracts with comments and suggestions. I loved this! It allows me to adjust my sessions to make them more directly relevant to my audience. Only after the review committee agreed with my edits was I accepted to speak.

Now that we know how SHARE makes sure the sessions are relevant to their audience, let’s look at how they meet my other requirements.

Learning From the Real-Life Experience of Others

In addition to regular sessions that have been crafted to match the needs of the audience, SHARE also includes a number case study presentations. Many of the talks are done by the individuals or teams who have actually delivered the SharePoint solution at their companies. They share their highs and lows on the path to success. Attending a session where you learn one thing about an approach that leads to a dead-end can make your whole conference worth-while, especially if you were considering taking that path.

Seeing Innovative New Ideas

Sometimes you can be stuck on a project, trying to think of new ways to solve a problem. Seeing the creative ways that others have solved the same problem can spark all sorts of new ideas for your own implementation. In other cases, you may see something that seems so simple and obvious once you see it, but that you would never have come up with on your own.

Meeting and Talking to Other "SharePointers"

The SHARE organizers go out of their way to make it easy and comfortable for you to meet your fellow attendees. They know that the value you get from the conference comes from more than just the formal presentations; you may have a casual discussion with a fellow attendee or a speaker where you learn the crucial thing that makes all the difference to your project. You will also get a list of the names and emails of your fellow attendees which will help you with later follow-up.

As a speaker and participant in the SharePoint community, I’d like to emphasize the idea of building informal relationships with your fellow attendees. I have spent well over two decades in the IT industry and I have never had an experience quite like being part of the SharePoint community. The willingness to share (pun intended) goes above and beyond the norm.

Please make sure you attend the after-session social events, and don’t be afraid to join in conversations with attendees and speakers: Inject yourself into the SharePoint community! You will make contacts who will be able and willing to give you the benefit of their experience at a crucial moment.

There is a fourth reason that I attend a SharePoint conference: To have fun. Having an enjoyable experience at an industry conference may not be considered to be a crucial element, but it sure is a nice bonus and the level of customer service offered by the SHARE team is second to none. It’s truly a pleasure to attend one of their events.