Its Monday morning, and I’m back in Utah. It snowed last night, which is a pretty stark comparison to the weather a week ago at MadWorld 2013 in San Diego. What a great conference! If you followed my Twitter or Facebook feed you already heard me say that this was the best technical conference that I’ve ever been to. I really hope to be back next year at MadWorld 2014.
So here is my post-conference postmortem.
MadWorld was held at the San Diego Hard Rock Hotel, right downtown in the Gas Lamp Quarter. It’s a hip, modern, 4-star hotel. The first thing you saw as you entered the hotel was the floor-to-ceiling backdrop behind the check-in counter featuring the MadWorld 2013 logo in some type of recurring video loop. Right there you knew that this conference was going to be something different.
We checked into our room (Christina and our 7-month old came along for fun) and took the elevator up to our floor. The room was amazing. We had a sitting area with a couch and chair, with a large flat screen television and a stocked mini-bar (not a temptation, actually, because the price of a candy bar started at $4). In the bedroom section, we had a large king size bed — the nicest hotel bed I’ve ever slept in, another large screen television, and a Juliette balcony overlooking the Gas Lamp Quarter. The shower had two heads – one in the standard location and one coming directly overhead out of the ceiling. As a tall person, I especially appreciate showers that accommodate my height, and I loved this shower.
The first night, a small welcome gift arrived in our rooms from MadCap. They gave us a MadWorld bottle opener, MadCap M&Ms, and a welcome card. It was a small touch, but something that just made the day nicer and showed a polished finish.
Additionally, the hotel was literally across the street from the light rail station, and we were able to take the light rail on several occasions to get around San Diego.
The sessions were all held in conference space at the Hard Rock Hotel. MadCap went all out. Each of the rooms had a color on the printed schedule, and there were colored lights along the walls of the rooms that corresponded to the room’s color. Hard Rock has televisions built into the wall at each conference room, showing you the room schedule for the rest of the day. At various locations in the hotel, you could also see what rooms were being used by the conference and which sessions were currently being held in which rooms. The chairs were comfortable, and the atmosphere in general was very well done.
If I had two wishes for the conference next year, the first would be to make the presentation screens higher, so that more people in the room could see the whole slide deck; and second, provide conference wi-fi in the presentation rooms.
No matter how cool the conference is, the quality of the conference comes down to the presentations that are being given. I’m an advanced MadCap Flare user. I’ve been using Flare since version 2, and providing training and consulting services on Flare since version 4. I have the MadCap Advanced Developer certification, and I’m an MVP in the Flare forums. Yet, despite all I know about Flare and other MadCap tools, I still found sessions I wanted to attend, and I learned new stuff at the conference. There were four tracks ever hour: beginner, intermediate, advanced, and tool agnostic. I generally attended sessions on the advanced and tool agnostic tracks, and I found that the presentations I attended were given by people with excellent domain knowledge and experience. I felt like I was learning from people who really understood their subjects and had relevant, useful information to teach us.
I’d rank the presentation sessions as good to great, and the feedback I got from most people was the same. I didn’t hear a single person talking about a session they didn’t like. (Most conferences do have sessions that people don’t like, but I certainly didn’t hear anybody complain at any point about the sessions, so I think that is a good sign.)
Food / Non-session meetups
MadWorld provided lots of food and good networking opportunities outside of the classroom sessions. There was a full breakfast both mornings with fantastic fresh fruit (including fresh berries, melons and grapes!) and good selections of eggs and meat.
MadWorld provided lunch both days of the conference, and that was very good and gave attendees a chance to talk to each other and get to know one another.
There were mixers on Sunday evening, Monday evening, and Tuesday evening with drinks and appetizers provided by the conference. This was a great opportunity to talk socially with other attendees, as well as MadCap staff, which were everywhere during the conference, which leads me to the next section — MadCap Staff.
The MadCap staff were everywhere at the conference. They were at all the sessions, all the non-session events. They had a room set up staffed by employees where you were welcome to bring your project and get one-on-one help with the problems you were facing in your project. They even hosted a session for people to share their complaints about MadCap products–and took that feedback to incorporate requests in their project planning. At the mixers, it felt like MadCap staff were making sure everybody felt included and nobody was sitting alone. In short, the staff were a major part of what made this a great conference.
Door Prizes and Collateral
The door prizes at MadWord were interesting. When they first announced that they had boy prizes and girl prizes, I’ll admit that I was a little bit nervous, as that could go wrong in so many ways. No need to worry, though. The first prize was a “girl prize” and was a very nice, very expensive handbag. The next two prizes were gender specific: one men’s pair and one women’s pair of Prada sunglasses. The next prize was a men’s watch. Then they combined the names and drew several gender neutral prizes, like an iPad mini, a $500 Amazon gift card, and a Microsoft Surface tablet. Finally, they raffled off two custom-made (by Mike Hamilton, none the less!) electric guitars. (They were essentially a Zagg-style invisishield wrap on the face of the guitars — they were very cool. For the two winners, MadCap was willing to ship the guitars to them, since they would be difficult to get home on an airplane.
The conference collateral added to the overall feeling at the conference. The room key cards were emblazoned with the MadWorld logo. Everybody got a MadWorld t-shirt. The Lanyards and badges were very nice and very professional-looking. There were pins to attach to your lanyard for each of the MadCap tools you use. The theme of the conference was everywhere from the information packet to the room lighting, to the “rock star” invitations to the special events.
As a MadWorld presenter, MadCap flew me to San Diego at their expense, picked up my hotel tab (for an upgraded room), provided free full conference registration, and included hotel VIP service (a special check-in and check-out counter with free drinks, and nightly turn-down service in the room. All I paid for was my airline baggage, and a couple of off-site dinners. That is the nicest presentation package I’ve ever had at a conference.
I really loved presenting at and attending MadWorld 2013. I can’t wait until the 2014 call for proposals — I’m already getting my ideas ready. I hope that you will join me next year at what I’m sure is going to be another amazing event. Start planning for it now… At the conference MadCap said MadWorld 2014 will again be in April next year. This is one conference I know I’m not going to want to miss.