Can you read that at the back of the room?

How a couple of books have radically changed my PowerPoint presentations.

I do a fair number of presentations. I speak to our internal teams, to our clients, and to attendees at conferences. While I feel that I have pretty good content, I want to do a better job of conveying my message in a more engaging way. One of the unexpected benefits of joining Navantis is that we have a great library of books on many tech and non-tech subjects. When I saw books about creating better presentations: “Slide:ology” by Nancy Duarte and “Presentation Zen” by Garr Reynolds. I checked them out.

These books are beautifully laid out (as you would hope) and cover a number of topics on presentation planning, design and delivery. I have a long way to go to truly learn their techniques and incorporate their design advice, but I am a guy who likes to find solutions that follow the 80/20 rule: I like to get 80% of the value of an ideal solution for 20% of the cost (in time, effort or dollars). So here are the two things that I learned that I was able to incorporate quickly, and that have made a huge difference:

  1. People can either listen to you talk, or they can read your slides. Since you are there anyway, they may as well listen to you.
  2. PowerPoint gives you access to a pretty wide selection of great looking, free images.

Notice that the essential element of point 1 doesn’t deal with rules that I’ve seen on-line like the 1-6-6 rule, which says: 1 concept per slide, max 6 bullet points, max 6 words per bullet. The whole idea is to minimize or remove words altogether.

Now, if you present a lot, you may think: Ok, I may say a bunch of good stuff in my presentations, but I need to be able to leave something behind that people can read, so they can remember what I said. Or you sometimes need facts and figures to back up your statements. This leads to what Reynolds calls “sliduments” – ugly creatures that are neither great for presentations nor a really good document either.

What I do with my decks is make them as good as I can for presenting, but I put detailed explanations, references, footnotes and links into the speaker’s notes. That way, the ‘leave behind’ presentation (or a print-out of the deck using the ‘notes’ format), gives everyone the detail that they need, along with the images that remind them of the concept that I was talking about.

Don’t get me wrong; doing this is not easy. It can more than double the time that it takes me to put together a deck. I also need to practice my presentations more, because the slides are no longer cue-cards that remind me of what I wanted to say.

The second point is that when I started working on these types of slides, I had to go sites like iStockPhoto to purchase images. While the images I needed were only a few dollars each, it could add up to more than $50 for a deck.

I know that most of us are pretty familiar with the often silly or overused clip-art that Office has been giving us for years. But I was pleasantly surprised to find that office also has a huge library of really good, free photo-images. They can be accessed from within PowerPoint, but they can also be accessed directly from here:


The three images above are taken from the Microsoft Office Images Library. I have used them to imagine that I was presenting on ‘effective presentations’. I would talk about my goals as a speaker to avoid confusion and boredom, and work towards engagement with my audience.

The trick to getting at these images from within PowerPoint is to turn off the search from showing you all the clip-art and animations, and just show you the high-quality photographs. This is how to make this work:

It’s important to have a broad selection of high-quality images. It can really undermine the quality of your presentation if you take images from the web and then stretch them to fit; they become fuzzy and pixelated, which is distracting to your audience. You want to avoid anything that will distract from your message. The other reason not to just grab stuff from the web is that you may be infringing on someone’s copyright. It’s wrong, and you don’t want to get a lawyer’s letter when you post your deck publicly to SlideShare or some other site.

The other reason that you need a really good selection is that while a slide full of words does not make for a great presentation, a slide with an image that makes no sense to the audience can be even worse. Instead of concentrating on what you’re saying, they’re concentrating on the question: Why am I looking at a picture of a mountain range when talking about content types? Some of the toughest work that I do with this type of presentation is to be creative about finding illustrations that evoke the point that I’m trying to make without causing the attendee to spend too much time thinking about it. (If the Microsoft Office image library doesn’t have anything I can use, I still end up going to a stock photo service to find something that will work. It’s a small price to pay for a high-quality presentation.)

Presenting these types of decks requires more preparation time so that you can deliver the content smoothly even though you don’t have all the words on the screen to guide you. There is a feature in PowerPoint that many people don’t know about. It is called “Presenter View” and it allows the presenter to use the projector (or other screen) to show the slides, while showing the presenter a special view that allows them to see the next few slides, and the speakers’ notes. Here is how you enable this view:


To use this view, you have to choose “Extend” not “Duplicate” when you plug the projector into your laptop. The fastest and simplest way to make sure you have the right setting is to press the “Windows+P” key combination. (This is also a handy way to switch back to “Duplicate” mode when you need to run a demo.)



And here is how the presenter view looks on your laptop during your presentation: (You can see the main slide – including animations – the speaker’s notes in the window on the right, and the time and presentation length, as well as the next few slides at the bottom.)


I hope that you will be able to find this information and these references useful in your own presentations. I am now trying to think about how to take my presentations to the next level. Nancy Duarte has a new book out called “Resonate“, in which she talks about how to take your audience on a journey with you, and transform them in the process. That may sound overly ambitious for a technical presentation, but aren’t we all speaking on topics that we hope will transform our audience into more capable developers, administrators, or users? I think that there is a lot we can take from this that will make our presentations more effective. Happy presenting!

Posted in Training/Conferences | 1 Comment

The report of the community’s death was exaggerated

The title of this post paraphrases Mark Twain who wrote this when his obituary was published in the paper. Today, Mark Rackley (the SharePoint Hillbilly) wrote a post asking: Is the SharePoint Community Past Its Prime?

In my reply below (too long to be a comment on Mark’s blog), I state my case that he is completely, and utterly (ok, maybe not utterly) wrong:

Growth is always tough. Things were fine, and then they changed. Waaah. <– that’s a general comment, not meant to call-out Mark (though he does cry like that, I’ve seen him).

Like Mark, I worry about issues like sponsor fatigue. But then, I see them all come out, in cities (or suburbs) large and small. They must still be getting value out of the opportunity to put themselves in-front of a group of interested and dedicated potential customers.

I worry about opportunities for new members of the community to speak. But (most recently) at SharePoint Saturday events in Houston, Detroit and Chicago, I have seen great new speakers from the local community. At home in Toronto, I see local speakers ‘cut their teeth’ at user-group meetings in a friendly and relatively low-pressure environment. Yes, there is an ever-growing group of ‘high-reputation’ speakers who are in-demand because they are either very engaging, have great content, or both. This is good for the community as well, as it provides examples to aspire to.

By the way: A side-note here. Sometimes as speakers who go to many events, we may think “Oh, that guy with his same old message”, but for the attendees who are new, and haven’t heard that message yet, it still is highly relevant. Long-time community members have to realize that there are new people joining every day, and what is ‘old hat’ to you is a startling revelation to them. (This is not an excuse for speakers to stop adapting or innovating in your sessions.)

I have felt the sting of not being accepted to speak after taking time to submit. It’s easy to become complacent and build up expectations. But an occasional jolt is not a bad thing. The community is growing – sometimes you need to up your game, and sometimes it just comes down to a tough choice, made by a volunteer who’s doing their best in whatever spare time they can squeeze out of a day. So far, I feel that Mark’s points are things that we should keep an eye on, but are not as bad as he makes out. Sure there are bits of drama here and there. And there’s an occasional jerk who wants to show you up in a session (or, maybe he’s not a jerk – just confused about what you are saying, or weak on social skills). As speakers – especially experienced speakers – we need to know how to handle those people without being rude. Sometimes we need to admit that we may be wrong or that we don’t know.

I completely disagree with Mark about the conference question and who runs a legit conference and who doesn’t. I’ve mostly only been to Best Practices conferences, SPTechCons, Summit (in Canada) and SharePoint Saturdays. I don’t think I would be able to tell if a conference is exploiting the community or not. If they treat the speakers well, and deliver value to attendees, I don’t get what the issue is. If they don’t do either of these things, they won’t get speakers or attendees to come back. (But I’ll admit that maybe I’m missing something here that I have not directly experienced.)

I won’t say much about the MVP program comments. I love being an MVP, but I don’t know how it happened that I became one (I never expected it). It does sometimes seem a bit random. I think that Microsoft could do a little bit more to recognize those who clearly contribute to the community. But, when we complain about Microsoft, don’t forget that at many of those SharePoint Saturdays and conferences you go to, Microsoft’s name is near the top of the sponsor list. As someone who organizes volunteer run SharePoint events, it would be much harder without the support we get from Microsoft including money and prizes. I don’t know how Mark envisions Microsoft taking on a much more visible role without us all rising up and complaining that they’re trying to take over our grass-roots community.

Speaking as a speaker who speaks quite a bit (say that three times) I think the most important thing that we can do is to be welcoming to new members of the community. Don’t sit in the speakers’ room at conferences; attend sessions (especially those of new speakers), encourage them and invite them into the circle when sharing a pint. Don’t create a rift between ‘us old-timers’ and ‘those noobs’. I think that SharePoint as a product has a lot more maturing to do, that our clients need help from knowledgeable people and that anything we can do to help nurture and grow this community (the most amazing I have ever come across in many years of IT work), the better.

So Mark: Waaah, waaah, waaaah. Now that you’ve had a good cry over the changes you’ve seen and worried about, dry those tears and go back to having fun, learning, teaching and being one of the all-time, all-round heroes of the SharePoint community!

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SPTechCon: Sing(apore) for your supper

Waiting in front of La Famiglia Giorgio

Ok, that title is a bit of stretch. Here’s the explanation: Richard Harbridge and I gave a full-day workshop on Information Architecture that included over 400 slides in 8.5 hours. If that’s not ‘singing for your supper’, I don’t know what is. Then, on the last night of the conference, we went to La Famiglia Giorgio in Boston’s North End for dinner. This is a fantastic, family-style restaurant that we ate at last year based on Andrew Connell’s recommendation. We waited outside for more than an hour, while seeing that there was an empty table just sitting there.

The cops make us move away

The cops make us move away

At one point, the police and a few guys in suits and earpieces made us move up the sidewalk while a convoy of vehicles with tinted glass and flashing lights stopped in front of the restaurant. We found out that it was the Prime Minister of Singapore and family coming to La Famiglia for dinner. (We were finally seated very soon after that, so you could say that we ate dinner with the Singapore PM.)

Richard and I have known each other for a long time and we have many overlapping ideas on how to get to SharePoint success. When we were accepted to speak at SPTechCon we thought: Let’s combine our topics into a monster, all-day workshop. We started collaborating via online meetings where we used MindManager to map out our goals, topics, examples and user exercises. Anyone who knows Richard knows that he is an ‘Idea Inflationist’, a term I coined to describe his tendency to take the germ of a little idea and explode it into a full-blown extravaganza. If we had used all of his (admittedly great) ideas, we would have required at least four days for the workshop.

Grouping using sections allowed us to manage this large deck

PowerPoint Sections Screen Shot

Actually getting all of our slides into a single deck really went into high-gear in the two weeks before the event and I flew in to Boston on Tuesday night and went to Richard’s office where we worked until midnight to make sure everything flowed and that we’d be able to get through most of what we wanted to cover (without running out of content early). [By the way, check out the ‘sections’ feature of PowerPoint 2010. It was a life-saver for this large deck.]

Richard & I presenting

Richard & I presenting


When we delivered the workshop on Wednesday, we were surprised and gratified that the 35-40 people who started with us at 8:30 am were still there at 5:00 pm. We lost a couple at lunch, but picked up a few more. Richard and I have different presentation styles (Think luxury sedan vs. Formula One race car), but I think we blended well and we got really great feedback from our attendees. Here’s information about our session and links to the deck:

In addition to speaking, I attended a bunch of really great sessions. SPTechCon has a great roster of speakers and every time-slot had two, three, or even more sessions that I wanted to attend. Making the choice of what to actually go to was tough. The ones that made the biggest impact on me were Scott Jameson’s (Jornata) and Jeff Fried’s (BA Insight) talks on search. I think the proper use of search is one of the most neglected elements of typical SharePoint deployments and, paradoxically, the one that could have the highest ROI with a relatively low resource investment. Look for future posts from me where I crib liberally from Scott’s and Jeff’s presentations.

The Thursday night party hosted by Microsoft, Jornata and Axeler was a lot of fun and a huge success. I think the open bar may have accounted for a few late-starting attendees the next day.

Kim wearing her "Groovin" shirt

Kim wearing her "Groovin" shirt

On Friday, I gave away my last two “Groovin’ with Ruven” t-shirts. Kim had seen me speak at SharePoint Saturday in Houston and said how much she enjoyed it (in front of a bunch of really great co-speakers), so I HAD to give her a shirt. I gave the last one to Geoff Varosky: Partially because he’s just such a great guy, and partially because I knocked over his drink (and it was after last call, so he couldn’t get another one). I have to decide if I’m going to make up any more of them, or take Christian Buckley’s advice and move on to “Shmoozin’ with Ruven”. What do you think?

My final presentation on Explaining Metadata was the second last presentation of the conference. Kudos to attendees suffering from a major case of information overload: Around 80 of them showed up for this session!

Dessert from Bova's

Dessert from Bova's

After an exhausting week, it was so nice to hang out at dinner with Mark Rackly, Kat Weixel, Corey Roth and Jim Bob Howard. Yes, we had to wait for dinner, but it was worth it: The food was great and the restaurant gave us our appetizers for free because of the wait. Kat’s dinner was all appetizers, so her bill was $1.68 for her Coke! We then went to Bova’s 24-hour bakery for dessert.

Thanks to Dave Rubinstein, Stacy Burris, Katie Serignese and the rest of the BZMedia team for putting on a great show and being extremely helpful when solving some minor glitches. I hope I’ll be lucky enough to be invited back for the next one.

Posted in Training/Conferences | 2 Comments

A Sense of Insecurity

Scott Jamison posted a blog follow-up to a session I recently presented at SPTechCon in Boston. I explained how you can drop a document into a document library, at which point the content organizer takes over and moves the document to new location in that library, that site, or even in another site collection.

During the session, someone asked if the person uploading the document needs to have permission to place that document in the new location. I said ‘I don’t think so, but I’m not sure’. In Scott’s post, he verifies that ‘no’ is the right answer, but that raised a new question from Greg Clark: The ability to work around the security model is undesirable, no?

I can see some useful benefits of the content organizer being able to move a document into a location that one normally doesn’t have write access to, but it does cause some unsettling thoughts:

What if the destination doesn’t have versioning turned on. You could overwrite an important document and ‘invisibly’ change it to say whatever you want. Also, you could be putting unverified information into a location that normally has fairly strong governance about what gets exposed at that location.

You can mitigate the issue of stealth upload by requiring approval before a document becomes visible to a wider audience. However, the one saving grace of this ‘hole’ is that name of the uploading user is recorded in ‘Modified by’. So, while this could happen due to some user accidentally or unwittingly breaking the rules, it will not be anonymous: Everyone will know who-done-it.

There may be other ways to deal with this, and I’d be happy to hear ideas from anyone who has more details.

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

SPTechCon Recap (and download links)

I’m back home after a wonderful and exhausting SharePoint Technical Conference.

I go to these conferences for three main reasons:

  1. To learn (there’s no better way to avoid pain than learning from the hard-won knowledge of others)
  2. To speak (giving back to the community, and learning from my audience)
  3. To spend time with an awesome group of wonderful people (a great mix of old friends and new)

SPTechCon hit all three points for me. I went to great sessions with Laura Rogers, Mark Miller, Andrew Connell, Gary LaPointe, Randy Drisgill, John Ross, Mauro Cardarelli, Joshua Haebets and Steve Fox.

I presented three sessions, and a quick glance at the evals (and chatting with attendees) leads me to believe that I provided good value to those who took the time to attend.

And, finally, this was an event with a great collection of SharePoint people (speakers, attendees and sponsors) who know how to have fun both during and after work hours.

My Sessions

My first session was “Mind Mapping tools for the Information Architect”. There are no slides because I use Mind Manager to present, but you can see a PDF of the main map and all examples here:

The tools that I demonstrated in that session were:

MindJet Mind Manager:
Balsamiq Mockups:
Bizagi Process Modeller:
Microsoft Visio 2010:

My second session was “Explaining Metadata to Your Stakeholders” . You can download my deck plus I’ve posted the tools that I’ve developed. I do this because? ____________ (My attendees know the answer to that question)

My third session was “Metadata Management with (Oh No…!) Folders in SharePoint 2010”. This was mostly a demo session, but I find it annoying whenever I download a deck that has three intro slides followed by a slide that says “DEMO” with no further detail. So, my deck has screen-shots of almost every screen that I demo’ed.

NOTE: In my third session, quite a few people were interested to hear about how my VM was hosted “in the cloud” using Amazon EC2 Web Service ( The cool thing about this service is that you only get charged ($0.50/hr) while your machine is on. Turn it on for MultiMegaLogoSMJPGthe session, turn it off again after; costs a dollar (plus bandwidth and storage, but they are very reasonable too). Go here for a great blog that gives instructions on how to do this.

A few people told me they liked my invented company for illustrating taxonomy issues: Multi Mega Industries, the world’s number one supplier of missiles, produce and soap.

The Conference

The conference itself was well run. Thanks to David Rubenstein, Kathy Bruin and their capable team for always being there (I had a few special requests).

With a sell-out of over 1,000 attendees, the rooms were sometimes overcrowded and hot, and the show floor was constantly packed (which was good for the vendors, I heard). Next year, SPTechCon will be at a larger venue which will be better able to accommodate the large numbers of attendees.

The Community

It was great seeing old friends and meeting new people.

KaraokeA lot of the ‘fun’ of this trip centered around Mark Rackley (the SharePoint Hillbilly). The constant crew included John Ferringer, Brian Jackett, Brian Hunt and Tasha Scott. Along the way we’d pick up Michael Doyle (@SharePointNinja), Geoff Varosky, Joshua Carlisle, Susan Lennon, Sean McDonough and Erica Toelle (one of my favourite people). In an action packed evening we had Japanese Hibachi for dinner, then moving on for drinks (and figuring out the stained glass caricatures at John Harvard’s in Harvard Square. It was great to finally meet Andrew Connell in person (he was channelling Maverick from Top Gun that evening). I met a new friend – Shelby Boyd – followed by memorable karaoke at Maluken.

Speaking of new friends; on the first night while checking in I met Steve Pellegato. We immediately hit it off and had a great dinner at an Irish pub and IMG_0178then went off to find Mark.

It’s always great to hang with the “frequent flyers club”: Joel Oleson, and Paul Swider. Along with Christian Buckley (nice chats about life and family), Fabian Williams, Mike Ferrara, Geoff Varosky and Jim Bob Howard we had a late-night tour of Quincy Market. This was after a great dinner of Afghan food with Joel, Mark Miller, Brett Lonsdale and Sara Windhorst, Marcee Henon and Dux Sy.

La Famiglia GiorgioOn the final night Joel drove us (the usual suspects plus my fellow Torontonian, Rob Windsor) to an Italian restaurant in Boston’s North End  called La Famiglia Giorgio which came highly recommended by Andrew Connell. We had a delicious and huge dinner. It was a little crowded: We squeezed 8 people into space for six, including Jim Bob sharing a spot at a neighbouring table (it was the kind of place where that was OK).

It had been many years since I had spent much time in Boston. It’s a great town that I really enjoyed. The icing on the cake was a giant regatta on the Charles on a crisp and sunny fall day.

My SPTechCon experience was wonderful in all respects and I thank all those who helped make it that way: See you at the next one in San Francisco!

Posted in Uncategorized | 6 Comments

Best Practice: Attend the Best Practices Conference

Sometimes, when I am a few weeks away from speaking at a conference, a friend in the town where I’m going may write to me to say: What times are you speaking? Maybe we can meet up right after your session. I have to let my friend down gently and tell them: Sorry, I’m not just there to speak, but to learn as well.

There is no better place to put this into action then at the Best Practices Conference coming up this August 24-27 in Washington D.C.  The number and quality of speakers is truly amazing. I always advise my clients to attend this conference. I tell them they will be surprised at how rapidly they can advance their knowledge about what is possible with SharePoint and how much they will learn from others about how to do it right. I even tell them that, if they possibly can, they should send two people as there are so many sessions that they are sure to be sorry about missing one or two in each time-slot.

Now some of you may tend to knock the term “best practice”; we all know that every situation is different and that a best practice in one scenario can be a worst practice in another. So, don’t take the title to mean: Everything we say is the one-and-only best practice FOR YOU. Rather, listen for speakers to talk about their experiences and their emerging best practices based on that (often painful) experience. Then, correlate their environment and experiences with your own, and choose and adapt what you have learned so that you can apply it sensibly in your own environment. By the way, most speakers are savvy to this issue and will often fill-in the blanks for you, stating the circumstances when something they recommend is not a good idea.

There is another great thing happening at this conference: The incredible growth in the number of speakers who are women. I have seen presentations by most of the women speaking at this year’s conference, but I’ve never seen so many of them presenting at one conference. (Check out for more info if you are a woman looking to grow your career in the world of SharePoint.)

One last thing: SharePoint conferences are a lot of fun. Make sure you come out for “SharePint” in the evening. You’ll be able to chat informally with your fellow attendees as well as the speakers. These are people you’ll be able to e-mail with your toughest questions in the future.

I really hope I see you there: You will learn WAY more than you expect, you will meet a lot of great people and you’ll have a lot of fun as well.

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Hi-Fi? Lo-Fi? WTFi?

Erik Swenson has published a post showing his phenomenal collection of wireframes for SharePoint 2010. I remember when he showed me his SharePoint 2007 wireframes in Montreal last year and being blown away.

Erik’s approach is to go super Hi-Fi. By that I mean that he creates exact, faithful reproductions of the SharePoint interface in Visio. But, since Erik is not allowed to share these widely, you may want to consider another approach: Instead of creating Hi-Fi wireframes (and investing the incredible amount of work required), try the Lo-Fi approach.

I prefer this course of action, because, depending on the phase of the project, I don’t want clients to think too much about how it will ‘actually look’, but more about ‘what function/element belongs where’.

The tool I use is super fast and easy (and cheap), and you can even use it interactively during client workshops. It is called Balsamiq Mockups (

And, just when you think this can’t possibly get any easier, along comes Gordon MacLeod (a fellow Torontonian) who has created a bunch of pre-built SharePoint elements that you can download for free from here:

I have heard great arguments for both the Lo-Fi and Hi-Fi approaches, and they both have their uses. For me, fast, schematic and interactive wins out.

Happy wireframing,


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SharePoint 2010 – Decks, Highs and Videotape

It’s been a couple of weeks since the SharePoint Conference in Las Vegas wrapped up and I’ve had some time to recover from the #ShareFlu and think a bit about what I saw and heard.

Four-lane escallator highway

Four-lane escalator highway

Microsoft used SPC09 to take the wraps off of SharePoint 2010, the next version that will be released in the first half of next year. The embargo on information before the conference coupled with the incredible growth of SharePoint over the past couple of years made this a highly desirable ticket, and the show sold-out with over 7,000 attendees. It was great to see a lot of people that I’ve met at conferences where I have spoken before, and to meet a lot of my twitter friends in-person .

For the most part, SharePoint 2010 offered more than I was expecting. Many pain points from 2007 were so well addressed that I was thoroughly impressed. But I am not going to recap all the new features of SharePoint 2010; there are tons of sites and blogs out there that cover that. I will just tell you about about a couple of high-points for me, and a few lows as well, and give you my take on what remains important (but not discussed at the conference).

I am very excited about Access Services for SharePoint 2010. In my ancient past, I developed a lot of MS-Access applications for clients large and small. Access was a great platform for delivering powerful solutions very quickly. It had a great forms editor, report writer, query engine and development language. It was easy to prototype quickly and then customize with code where required. There were some major downsides: The database used a file-share which was susceptible to corruption. In the corporate world, the IT department hated Access because the projects were usually done outside the control of IT and mission critical data was sitting on someone’s desktop with no backups or disaster recovery plan.

SharePoint 2007 has been an ‘almost but not quite good enough’ platform for developing simple apps. It lacks validation, referential integrity, table joins and other elements that would make it a great tool for building quick solutions. A number of these issues have been addressed in SP2010, so very simple applications are now easier to build with out-of-the-box SharePoint. But, there is still a gap between very simple apps and custom applications that require a developer. If it works, Access Services will fill that gap, allowing power-users/developers to quickly develop applications with reporting, querying and custom forms and reports that can be stored in and shared from SharePoint. These apps will be developed in Access but available to users from the browser. The best part is that IT will love it too because now, mission critical data will live inside of a corporate system that is professionally managed and backed up. (Data storage will still be an issue, and teams may have to justify their use of a custom app from within SharePoint, but these are political, not technical issues.)

I was also very impressed with the new taxonomy management features. Along with improving records management features in SP2010, we are getting much closer to an enterprise platform.

The items that disappointed me were mobile access to SharePoint (the demo was a real dud) and multi-lingual capabilities (with the exception of multi-lingual capabilities with taxonomy elements). For our clients, we rely on third party tools for multi-lingual solutions and it looks like we will have to continue to do so with SP2010.

Finally, after seeing all the whiz-bang new features, I thought about the impact on my job as an information architect. I help clients figure out what their pain-points are, what they want SharePoint to do (if SharePoint is even the right solution), and how they will structure their sites, their navigation, their documents and their pages. I didn’t see much that would change what I do  and how I do it. All the great new features and technology means that actually building SharePoint solutions will be faster and simpler, and we’ll be able to come closer to the ideal that the client is looking for. However, jumping into the new version of SharePoint without understanding “what do we need and why” will lead to just as many messes and outright failures as with previous versions.

It was great seeing everyone in Las Vegas, I’m looking forward to seeing some of you again at SharePoint Saturday in Virginia Beach on January 9th. I’ll be speaking there about my techniques and tools and how to use them to deliver successful SharePoint projects.

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Why are SharePoint conferences so much fun? (My Best Practices ’09 recap)

I just got back from the Best Practices 2009 conference in Washington D.C. and I was sitting here asking myself why SharePoint events are so much more fun than just about any other IT related event I’ve attended over the years. I think it may come down to “collaboration about collaboration” that makes the difference.

When I talk about SharePoint with non-SharePoint IT folks, I always feel like I’m being self-serving when I tell them that “SharePoint is different from any other technology or product you’ve worked with”, but it’s true. For example, if you are an expert in Exchange, or SQL Server, you have a pretty circumscribed set of capabilities that you need to implement. That’s not to say that these products aren’t complex, or difficult to install and maintain properly, but that the “knowledge space” is something that you can draw a circle around. SharePoint is not a product that you can draw a circle around. Even those who come closest to being able to call themselves experts – the Certified Microsoft Masters – are only scratching the surface of the difficulty involved in successfully implementing SharePoint because of the political and social complexity involved in figuring out what your customer wants SharePoint to do and then delivering against that.

So, we need each other. The product is technically large and complex and getting the architecture right is tricky, but much more than that, we need each other to bounce ideas off of – to collaborate. For example: I attended Jennifer Martinez’s session on Blogs and Wikis. The room was full and the audience was desperate for information on how and when these tools are appropriate. Even better, the audience shared their experiences to the benefit of all. And there you have it: At SharePoint events, what you hear from the audience, what you learn at lunch and dinner (and of course, at the bar) are the most valuable elements. In a sense, we are all experts in our own little areas; we’ve tried stuff and we know what worked and what didn’t. We have a strong desire to share that information with each other, because we know how badly we need it ourselves.

Because we depend on and need each other, we interact with each other and we socialize with each other and we get to know and like each other. We do most of our socializing and interacting on Twitter and FaceBook and Blogs, but when we all get together in one place at one time, it’s like all the separate little flames of light come together and create a bonfire (Ok, that was really sappy, but I’m not deleting it: It sounds right to me).  Because we spend so much of our time trying to help our clients to collaborate, we have become experts in collaboration ourselves: We don’t hoard our information, we share it, knowing that by doing so, we will be paid back multiple times over. We exhibit our own best practice!

One of the things that make each of these events fun for me is the growth of the group as an ever wider circle of people come together. Three people that I knew on-line but had never met were Lori Gowin (@LoriGowin), Dan Usher (@usher) and Sarah Haase (@sarahhaase); it was great to get to know them in-person. On the night of SharePint, I had a great dinner with Michelle Strah (@Cyberslate) and Imogen Jolly (@imogenjolly), two people whom I had never met before that day. We got Imogen hooked up on twitter during dinner (I love my iPhone). Talking with Evan Burfield and team was an amazing experience and one of the highlights of the week.

[Note: When you see @Name, that denotes the person’s twitter ID. e.g. – I’ve included the ones that I know]

SamePage Alliance Logo

As many of you heard at various sessions during BPC09, Andrew Woodward (@andrewwoody), Dux Sy (@meetdux), Paul Culmsee (@PaulCulmsee) and I (@RuvenG) have formed a group called the SamePage Alliance based on our similar thoughts and ideas about how to get to success with SharePoint. After months of conference calls, MSN chats and e-mails it was great to get the team together to discuss ideas and strategy in-person. Special thanks to Dux for his incredible hospitality to us foreigners (from Canada, England & Australia).

I am really proud to be a member of this group: Dux had the highest rated single session of the entire conference for his tour-de-force presentation on Project Management. The rest of us each had double-solo sessions with Andrew scoring the highest rated overall. I was third and Paul was fourth for double-sessions in the SharePoint Track (there was a SQL Server track as well). We had planned to run a mini-conference of our own just before BPC09, but did not reach our minimum number of enrolees. We took advantage of the free time to arrive a few days early anyway and we had a set of great meetings. The number of people attending each of our sessions at BPC09 (and the great feedback) makes us feel that we are delivering information that people need and want; we just have to find a better way to get the word out. Watch out for future information from us.

The keynote presentation was by Arpan Shah. It was great that he came out to speak, but with the NDA still in effect and the big SPC just a month or so away, there was not a lot of new information. The one element that I found really exciting (with some reservations until I see it actually working) is Access Services for SharePoint. This will allow a user to create forms and reports in MS-Access and then upload them to SharePoint where they will be accessible from the browser.  MS-Access is a very much loved and hated product: Loved by users who can build a database application quickly and hated by IT who has to deal with mission critical data on uncontrolled systems. This just may be the solution that brings the two sides together.

I found Virgil Carroll’s (@vman916) session on multi-lingual SharePoint to be very valuable in confirming that Microsoft’s out-of-the-box story on multi-lingual is just not very good.

Zlatan Dzinic (@ZlatanDzinic) was another person who was new to me. I’m sorry I missed his session on records management, but found a lot of similarities between us during his taxonomy talk. Zlatan is a great guy who I look forward to getting to know (despite the fact that he talked non-stop through one of my presentations!).

If you could not be there in person at the event, Mark Miller (@EUSP) from did a fantastic job of getting the word out by setting up live-blogging facilities and live streaming. Thanks to everyone who contributed to this effort which was led by the ‘Bama Girls: Lori (@LoriGowin) , Cathy (@catpaint1) and Laura (@WonderLaura). Bamboo Nation was also working hard to get the word out. Thanks to John Anderson for doing such a good job blogging many sessions (including one of mine!)

There are too many other great people to mention, but I couldn’t be done without a shout-out to the Late Night crew: Brett Lonsdale (@brettlonsdale), Sara Windhorst (@sharepointsara), Mike Ferrara (@mikecferrara), Richard Young (@spdick), Dan Usher (@usher), Laura Rogers (the ineffable @WonderLaura), Cathy Dew (@catpaint1) and various others that I’m too tired to remember.

This was my third BPC and it was once again very well organized and run: Hats off to Mark Elgersma and his team, as well as Paul Schaeflein, Ben Curry and Bill English for a great event.

You can read more BPC09 recaps from others here:

Lori Gowin

Paul Culmsee

While I was at the BPC conference, I found out that I will be attending the SharePoint Conference in Las Vegas this October. I’m looking forward to hearing all about SharePoint 2010, meeting my friends, making new ones and continuing to learn from my community – I hope to see you there!

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This is NOT your Daddy's SharePoint Conference

Ensuring SharePoint Success - Mentoring Workshop

Ensuring SharePoint Success - Mentoring Workshop

I love going to conferences. I get clues for new approaches, tips to save time or try a new feature and, sometimes, a bit of deeper insight that turns me into a better consultant and helps me to make my clients even happier.


If I am still below the ‘knee’ of the learning curve on a topic, a conference just doesn’t give me enough to go on. I could sign-up for a training course, but that means trying to find a course that matches my exact needs (they never do). Given the lead-time for developing a course, these can sometimes be out-of-date or pitching to the lowest common denominator. Often, they are more focussed on technology rather than solutions.

To the Rescue…

We (Dux Sy, Paul Culmsee, Andrew Woodward and I) are doing something different. So different in fact, that we had a hard time figuring out what to call it.

It is part:

  • Conference
  • Mentoring
  • Coaching
  • Workshop
  • Consulting
  • Training

And it is entirely focussed on delivering successful SharePoint solutions from the point of view of the:

  • CIO
  • Project Champion
  • Project Manager
  • Project Lead
  • Information Architec
  • Decision Maker
  • Program Manager
  • Business Analyst

In three days of intense workshops and discussion sessions (including optional dinner discussions), we will talk about what has worked in multiple SharePoint installations that we have worked on. Note that we will not be giving you the “formula” for success, as every project is different. Rather, we’ll be giving you the tools that will let you create your own success formula.

It’s in the Washington D.C. area from August 19 – 21. It will cost you less than a thousand bucks to register, there will be less than 30 people there and it will be intense: You will get real news-that-you-can-use value out of it.

You can read the details here:

I hope we see you there!

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