I’m in the room – are you?
Photo by Jaime Lopes on Unsplash
I’m not really a big fan of online or remote interaction – frequently exacerbated by my failure to properly harness new technology. But needs must and, for me at least, working from home is going to be my new normal for the foreseeable future, so I thought I’d better start embracing it! Back in November I attended my first ever virtual conference – the IRM MDM and Data Governance summit. I’ve been a regular attendee at this event for more than 10 years as a delegate, speaker and sponsor. This is not a paid advert by the way - based on my personal experience I would say to anyone that this is a really valuable peer to peer learning event for data management professionals. As such I wanted to get the most out of it, to try and recreate the in-person experience and catch up with people in my network. So I committed to ‘be in the room’.
I remember a keynote from a previous IRM event, delivered by Nigel Risner:
He challenged the audience to be in the room. “Do you live your life in the present or past tense? If you are in the room, be in the room. If your mind is elsewhere you might as well leave now.”
I can’t recall everything he said – I was somewhat distracted by the multitude of animal hats he was wearing and the fact that at the end of it I think I concluded I was a Dolphin……but I did leave my phone in my bag and try to pay proper attention to the speakers and presentations that followed.
So on November 3rd 2020 I booked 2 days off for personal development in the work calendar, switched on my Out of Office notification, logged out of my work email and sat down with the conference agenda, circling the sessions that most interested me. This included a virtual wine tasting guided by a sommelier (@diegosomm) from Argentina – yum! I treated anything marked on the agenda as a networking break as just that – not a catch up with email opportunity. I had some lovely video chats with people in the breakout rooms. And I popped along to the sponsors area to look at what solutions were being promoted, now that GDPR is ‘old news’.
It is much harder to ‘be in the room’ in a virtual environment. The platform format helped quite a lot with that. Sessions were auto-scheduled and if you were late for the start you missed the first few minutes . I think if everything was ‘on demand’ I’d have found it harder to commit the time. The presenters were on video – they couldn’t see you, but the fact that you can see who’s talking makes it easier to listen. You could type in Q & A in real time so there was some ‘live’ interaction. And, unlike the in-person event, this time I could download the whole presentation the next day – not just the slides. So often it’s the commentary that sparks the light bulb moment – not the words on the page. On the concluding panel session someone also pointed out that if you’d chosen a session unwisely (I’ve sat through some ‘big data’ ones in my time where the presenter could have been speaking in a foreign language for all that I understood) you could just switch over – no more needing to do the walk of shame and try and sneak out of the rear doors.
So did I prefer the virtual platform to the in-person event? No - but I did enjoy it and I think that was down to the fact that I committed to “be in the room”. Whilst I was having a lovely time catching up with past colleagues I should take this opportunity to apologise to my current ones as I really did put the day job aside for two days – but I have some great Argentinean wine recommendations if you need them!
Mary Drabble is the Principal Data Governance Analyst at Standard Life Aberdeen, leading a team embedding the organisation-wide Data Governance Implementation Framework. Mary has a proven track record in Master Data Management, Data Governance and Data Quality tools, methodologies, architectures and processes. Prior to taking on an end user role, as a consultant with more than 15 years’ experience in Information Management, she helped clients across all industries in a wide variety of engagements ranging from Analytical to Operational data and information management solutions.