What a whirlwind trip to Austria for two nights and one day!
I went over to Graz to speak at Fifteen Seconds one of the best conferences I have ever had the chance of speaking at as well as attending. No expense was spared pulling together 200 interesting speakers from all over the world, incredible interactive exhibition spaces, a market of local unique Austrian brands to go shopping between sessions, amazing local food and fantastic Spring weather.
Fifteen Seconds had areas dedicated to science, mobility, technology, culture, growth and start up world and had a mission to inspire and engage every curious mind.
To be honest I had never heard of Graz when asked to talk at the conference. It’s 2.5 drive from Vienna, a really gorgeous place with a historic town centre, river and a Schlossberg Mountain right in the centre of the old town. Apparently the conference is the biggest thing happening in Graz all year so it was a very big deal to have 200 speakers and 6,000 delegates in town.
The organisers had enlisted many of the local Uni students to volunteer which was a fantastic experience for them and also as a speaker for us to learn about the area, ask local information and discover a little more about the young people of Graz.
It was a long travel day heading from Siena to Florence airport, (thanks Ben for driving me there). Then a flight from Florence to Vienna and was met at the airport by one of the volunteers and a few other speakers. They organised gorgeous new self driving BMWs filled with water, red bull and lots of local sweets and we heading down the highway to Graz for the 2.5 hour journey. I had a ball getting to know my fellow speakers and Christof, our volunteer.
On arrival we were late for the opening speaker party so a quick change and Christof was waiting to drive us to the venue which was on a rooftop overlooking Graz, lots of very good local wines and food as well as a local DJ. A fun night mingling with other speakers and sponsors.
The conference was at Stadthalle Graz and the opening was 1030am, nice and civilised. I met my volunteer who drove me to the venue where I was greeted by my ‘speaker handler’ for the day who organised my check in, drinks and meals, photography session and anything else I needed. I could get used to this!
I could feel the excitement in the packed main stage area as the conference was about to open, standing room only, lots of people seated on the floor and standing on the bars around the room. The countdown began, light, smoke, fireworks and strobe lit up the stage which was backed with 30 shipping containers for projection.
Lots of young delegates, casually dressed and quite a lot with no shoes, Austrians seem to be very casual! This made me feel overdressed in my dress and leopard heels so I decided to head back to the hotel to put on a maxi dress and converse for my talk. This gave me a chance to walk back to the hotel through the old town and enjoy a tiny bit of the surrounding neighbourhood. It’s a spectacular city, very Sound of Music and would be stunning in Winter too. I of course stopped for a strudel.
I heard some terrific speakers all day and for the first time also experienced a ‘silent conference’. In order to have four stages in one of the halls, two stages were silent which had the audience wearing headphones to hear the speaker. You did not even need to be in the room to hear, you could listen on a channel even if you had to leave the room or go to another area of the conference, so people all over all venues were wearing headphones. Thankfully I did not have a silent stage for my session as I’d find it really hard to engage with an audience wearing headphone with some of the people listening from other areas.
My session on ‘How to build a digital community’ went well and I filled the room even though it was a 6pm session and I was competing with drinks and networking.
The Speaker party started at 9pm, and I headed over there to meet some more fellow speakers and ended up spending most the night chatting to one of the nicest guys I have ever met, Bobak Ferdowsi. I had no idea who he was when I sat down next to him until someone else referred to him as NASA Mowhowk Guy and I googled him from the other side of the bar. Amazing who you meet at conferences…
Reflecting on the last few days as I travel back to Italy. It is so unbelievably inspiring to attend events such as these. I always pick up some new hints and tips, get inspired to start new businesses and change the world. And of course meet some amazing people, some of who stay in my life long term.