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Recently we had a great time covering and watching this year's Meet Magento UK, packed full incredible talks, insights and lessons that are not only helpful to developers and merchants now but will help inspire and shape the next generation of eCommerce.
Today I have the privilege to bring you an exclusive interview with one of the Magento communities finest contributors, a champion of PWA, the organiser of MMUK, CEO of JH and one of the nicest most genuine people, ladies and gentlemen in what has been called the greatest interview of all time I give you Mr Jamie Huskisson!
So when you put out the announcement asking for speakers to submit their talks and you get all these "papers" landing in your inbox what does the process of selecting the speakers for the event look like?
There are different ways of breaking it down as it’s several things that come together to select our speakers:
- We have our call-for-papers, which typically attracts seasoned speakers inside the ecosystem that have spoken at other conferences (as well as some that would like to do so, that are new speakers)
- We have our scouting, whereby we attend a lot of events, listen to a lot of talks/podcasts - and share our favourites. That gives us some x-factor in finding people that you wouldn’t expect to see but also unearthing some raw talents at meetups/local levels that perhaps have only spoken to crowds of 5-30 before
- We actively enquire with people that we think will have expertise in an area, to encourage new speakers that have never spoken anywhere before to come forward
- We speak to Adobe to talk about the topics we want to see covered and work with them on the best people to represent this
- We work with any sponsors that will be talking, to ensure that it’s not a sales pitch but genuinely useful to our audience
All of that and quite a bit more allows us to put together an incredibly diverse line-up of topics, speakers and a great conference. It’s often 9 months of conversations that lead to our line-ups and we mix all the above sources to find the best result.
Waw, that's an incredible amount of work! And obviously, it doesn't end there as I imagine after exhausting all of these avenues you would still need to whittle down the list of applicants. Do you have a checklist of criteria or something similar you use to choose who will be on the lineup?
It’s less a checklist it’s perhaps more around fitting the style and the theme that I want for the event each year.
I said in our keynote, that each year of Meet Magento UK is a year for JH to say “this is what you should already know, to be at the top of the industry, and here’s what you should be focusing on to stay that way” - and you’ll see that repeatedly in our speaker selection. We want the best of the best, but I strongly believe that doesn’t mean picking the same speakers you’ve seen at every other event.
OK, now you have your line up for the event, the agenda has been announced and we're busy here at Hussey Coding typing away and making graphics but before the event, how much of the finished talks do you get to see before you go live?
We trust our speakers so it’s often left up to them but we will check-in with them throughout the lead-up to the event. Experienced speakers, they almost always turn up on the day, do their thing and it goes just fine. Other speakers want to do several run-throughs. Some will want to write their talk a week before the event so they don’t overthink it. Everybody has their style, and it’s important that speakers are supported in a way that allows them to flourish, not just make them fit a system that works for you as an organiser.
New speakers especially, you want to support them with encouragement and dive in wherever they need that support. From slide design to pace, to just sitting in a rehearsal to listen to the talk ahead of time to reassure them that it’s great or provide feedback. You do what’s required to ensure they know they’re doing a great job.
Obviously this year was very different from other years due to lockdown and all that comes with it and you guys made this bold step in moving the whole conference online, what was the easiest part of that process for you?
The JH team, by far. As soon as I mentioned we were doing the event for charity, we found our purpose and ran with it. There wasn’t a hesitation.
And finding an excellent production company to help us make the quality-bar we had set for ourselves happen. XSEM did a wonderful job on production, and they deserve a lot of credit for helping us make our vision come to life.
What about the most difficult part of the online move?
The event platform, and finding one that works best. Frankly, each event platform, even the ones being released now, they’re all five years behind where they need to be. They’re all “done in a couple of months” minimum-viable-products that need a lot more events to be held on them to be more seasoned and polished.
and was there ever a point where you and team JH said; "let's just cancel the event" and if so, what was it that changed your minds?
Absolutely. When we saw the quality of everything being done elsewhere, we didn’t want to add to the noise. The experience would suck, it would be a glorified webinar, and it would be a let-down for our speakers. It had to be something worth doing, a quality bar needed to be hit, or we weren’t going to do it. We knew if we were going to do it, we’d have to make that happen and do a lot of things people just weren’t doing in their events to step above the level of quality we had seen.
We don’t get out of bed to do s**t work, and we believe the MMUK audience expects the best.
I think it's safe to say that MMUK exceeded expectations and as always was an event not to be missed! and speaking of the event I assume that the 2 new tracks (solution and platform) were created in response to the event moving online, are there plans to keep them moving forwards into next year and beyond?
We’ll see. We added the two new tracks for different reasons:
- Solutions track, which focused on technology partners in the ecosystem, gave more ability to raise money for charity (because it made sponsorship more attractive) but also allowed some fantastic case-studies to flourish which we didn’t have room for in our merchant track
- Platform track, which focused on Magento’s features and services, allowed us to fulfil the number 1 piece of feedback we get every year which is that we don’t have enough Adobe-employed speakers on stage. This is a tricky one, as we’re not a conference for product demos, we feel you can get those anywhere. But every single year, it’s our top feedback - people expect to see it, and there’s not a good enough public avenue to learn about maximising features of the platform
Will we keep them? Let’s see. A lot of limitations on track numbers and sizes come directly from the limitation imposed by the physical venue you choose, so it will depend on how things shape up for 2021.
and lastly, for you personally, what was your favourite part of the day?
My favourite part of the day, which is the same every year, is grouping back together with the JH team and discussing how everything went. There’s a moment where the MCs of the tracks, all the people that worked so hard at JH to pull together the hundred details that go into the event and myself all gather to just enjoy that post-event glow.
This year, especially with £84,000 raised for charity and so many people in our society benefiting from the event, that moment felt particularly wonderful.
I can never thank the JH team, our MCs, speakers and sponsors enough. It’s a team effort to do what we do.
And thank you to all of you for joining us today for one of my personal favourite blogs.
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