Nicola looks back on the past 20 User Meetings and discusses Vienna set for 2024.
Berlin will be our 20th (official) User Meeting! And, it just so happens to be our biggest meeting to date. I went down a real rabbit hole writing this article, lots of great memories, too many to write about, but there are a fair few below (with some serious stuff thrown in).
Before I take us on a trip down memory lane, we have made the decision to give annual User Meetings a go, so our next one will be at the Austria Trend Savoyen Hotel Vienna between the 3-5 October 2024, exactly one year after Berlin; the booking system will be available from November. This will be a smaller hotel compared to the MOA in Berlin – our biggest challenge now, is trying to find hotels with a big enough ballroom. Yes, we could host the meetings in a convention centre and have loads of space, but we would lose the essence of the User Meeting; everyone being together in the same place with a space for business and a bar for pleasure! So, we will continue to search for hotels in Europe, some will be bigger than others, and some smaller, but what we do know, regardless of the size of the ballroom (as long as it’s bigger than 1,000 sqm) we can organise a very successful meeting for our members!
Looking back, I remember my first meeting in Lisbon 2007, I was a fresh-faced 19-year old still trying to work out what I wanted to do for a career. I loved working for a company where I got to help organise events in lots of different countries, it’s definitely been my favourite part of the job — the organising part that is; some of us are naturals at networking and some of us (me) are not. Quite often I had to be pushed into a room full of hundreds of people with my boss (Peter Annis) whispering in my ear ‘mingle, now!’, but I have got a little better at it after 16 years of practice.
The meetings started back in Prague in 2005, before my time, (and I know some of you are reading this saying ‘I went to one long before that!’), but in its official ‘User Meeting’ format the first was in 2005, and we had 75 delegates from 53 companies, compared to the 500 delegates we host today!
I was talking to Peter, and he told me some funny stories about some of the really old meetings, obviously none of these are stories about people who had too much fun and far too much alcohol (I mention no names, you know who you are!).
One story in particular was when our founder John Bass (God bless him) was organising the meetings alongside his business partner at the time, Ian, and during the organisation of one of their meetings they fell out and refused to hold the event together, so agreed to split the meeting in two. John took half the delegates to one hotel for a meeting and Ian took the other half to another, obviously the event did not go so well as half the people were unable to see who they wanted to meet, but completely by coincidence, John and Ian booked the very same restaurant for the farewell dinner (what are the chances?). Whilst the delegates were pleased to see each other, John and Ian not so much!! This was ironically in Vienna, in 1999 — I promise the meeting in Vienna next year will be much better organised.
The reason John and Ian fell out on this particular occasion was because they could not agree on the direction of the User Meeting; one wanted a very structured meeting and the other wanted free flowing conversations with no restraints. Hopefully they would both be pleased with the evolution of the User Meetings; we have definitely taken elements of both ‘personalities’ and put them into the meetings we organise today.
One of my favourite memories was Barcelona in 2009. BearingNet used to do presentations about new features on the site, and Gary Jenkins would get so nervous having to stand and talk in front of lots of people. I remember having to run to my room and get a couple of miniature bottles of vodka from the mini bar to give him a confidence boost before his speech… it worked though, 10 minutes later you could not get him to stop talking!!
I messaged our shareholder Jenny Palling and asked for some of her favourite memories (most of these are ‘you had to be there’ moments, but if you were, these will make you smile).
• The pool and weather in Rome (and the speedos) — the sunny meetings always make people smile
• Trying to lift one of our sponsors VERY heavy table down the stairs in Madrid and paying people on the street to help us
• The furry animals that took over Atlanta whilst we were in town, we went to a restaurant and there was a man dressed as a huge bull sitting at the bar
• The Warsaw and Riga hotels with their casinos and clubs
• Stupidly hosting a winter meeting in Berlin in 2011 which meant none of our American delegates could attend due to the snow
• Looking out of the window where we were directly located next to the Pentagon at the Washington hotel, and our event manager telling us that as we were looking at the Pentagon opposite, someone there was watching us, watching them! Plus, the vultures that lived on the ledge of the room where we had the farewell dinner…
My least favourite memory was March 2020, a week before the Berlin User Meeting was meant to take place, I was sat on the sofa with my seven month old son next to me, watching the news about this new virus, Covid 19. I was trying to work out what was the best thing to do; go ahead with the meeting and hope for the best or cancel the meeting because we did not want to be on the news with the headline “BearingNet Super Spreaders in Berlin”. We had no choice really, and in hindsight it was the right thing to do, but wow it was a lot of hard work!
Whilst Covid 19 has impacted many industry events, the BearingNet User Meetings are going from strength-tostrength and I think it’s because we listened to what our delegates wanted; no speeches, no presentations, just time for them to meet each other, talk business and catch up with old friends. All the other organisations that are now copying the User Meeting formula by hosting their own meetings know that the User Meeting way is the best way to network — the saying is very true, “the best form of flattery is imitation!”
Now I know some of you are reading this and saying to yourself ‘see I knew it, the BearingNet meetings are nothing but a party’ and whilst, yes you are correct that the delegates do have a really good time and return home with lots of stories, they also know the meetings are brilliant value for money. They are the only place you get to meet that many distributors to talk business with, in the whole entire world!!
I’ve been lucky enough to see quite a lot of the world with BearingNet, and I have made some great friends on my travels — long live the User Meetings!