Heather Smith signing a copy of her book at Xerocon
Heather Smith

Are three Xerocons better than one?

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Australian accountant, tech enthusiast and author of 'Xero for Dummies' Heather Smith attended all three of the ‘global’ Xerocons in 2022 and gives AccountingWEB the lowdown on what worked (and what didn’t) from the shows.

19th Oct 2022
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Due to a series of unexpected, serendipitous events, I found myself attending all three of this year’s Xerocons, held in London, New Orleans and Sydney.

Almost as soon as my adventure came to an end, I was asked the same question repeatedly: which show was the best? I can’t just pick one – it’s more nuanced than that. There are lots of elements that make up a good show, so I’ll pick different parts and comment accordingly. 

As I attended all three Xerocons I’ll be focussing them, but most of what I say applies to all the events we’re now attending after almost two years at home.

Finally, I recognise that much time, thought and effort goes into producing Xerocon and other events, and my comments are from a place of kindness, experience and wanting the best outcome for the community. Thank you to everyone involved.

Content

Quality content is really important to me and a key reason many people take time out of their busy schedules to attend a conference. 

A number of factors led to New Orleans topping the content ladder for me. The schedule was easy to understand, it was easy to get to the sessions, and there were a lot of excellent industry speakers who I got to hear from for the first time – and I do like hearing from people who are not trying to sell me anything.

With all three events, I would have liked more details ahead of time to help plan and coordinate the day. I want to know the session details and the speaker bios. It’s also really helpful to know the experience level the content is being pitched at. More than once I settled into a deck chair, only to realise the session was content I’d heard a decade ago. This left me in the difficult situation of contemplating how to awkwardly roll out of the deck chair and try to find another session without disturbing anyone. 

Several of the break-out streams of the Sydney Xerocon were structured horizontally when they should have been structured vertically. The sessions I wanted to attend were all on simultaneously, while there were significant time slots for sessions that were not my area of interest.

Many of the sessions across all three shows were also overly scripted. Why? As an industry, we discuss the importance of being human and authentic, so why not apply this to presentations or panel sessions? We are an intelligent audience. We want spontaneity, real people and raw conversations.

Like a good story, conferences have an energy flow. They have to start with a bang and sweep attendees into the sessions, but ultimately it’s an accounting conference, so we expect some necessary but lower-energy ‘dry’ topics. Through the two days we go up, we go down, it twists and turns. But then, in the end, it needs to go up. It needs to be something memorable, something summing up all of our feelings and experiences, and Alex von Schirmeister did this with the final talk he gave in London. 

He was at a slight advantage – an economic and political crisis combined with a heatwave, the confusion of navigating the venue and the exhaustion of dancing the night away at a wrap party that was held on day one left us depleted. However, he gave an inspiring, emotional wrap-up of the event, propelling us, as superheroes, back into the real world to save small businesses and the economy.

Venue and layout

A dull but necessary part of any conference is making sure the venue and its layout work for the show you’re trying to put on – not only for the people attending, but I think the best ROI for vendors is also linked to the layout.

Because the majority of the New Orleans and Sydney events were in a single large room, you could stand at one corner and get the lay of the land, and this made it easier to understand.  Given Sydney was the largest show of the three, packing in more than 3,000 people, it needed to have a larger layout.

The longer I was at the London Tobacco Dock venue, the more confused I became. I have no spatial awareness. I’m not a boy scout. I tried to study the maps before the event and plan my route, but I found them difficult to understand.

After the event, it was explained to me the layout was two ‘H’ letters on top of each other, rather than a long double-decker room with other areas branching off from the sides, but it reminded me most of Diagon Alley in Harry Potter.

Interestingly, the smaller vendor stalls were on the main thoroughfare in the London event, so you were always walking by them, while some of the larger vendor stalls were tucked away in the rooms.

Product announcements

Apart from the Xero Go announcement in London, the shows were light on major product news. My feeling is that we can’t expect something massive to be announced at a Xerocon. As it’s not a desktop solution, with the goal of the update being on a disc shipped once a year, product updates come out on a regular basis, and this is the way we as users want them to be. 

Whatever is announced at these shows is probably more for journalists and attention-grabbing headlines for people who don’t really understand the nuances of the industry and the products the accountants and bookkeepers in the trenches of the industry want.

Tips I picked up at Xerocon

I’m referencing the conference, not the content here. The first two tips came from my fellow tech enthusiast Sharon Pocock

  1. Sharon took photos of every single presentation slide and then shared them with me via Google Photos. It was both a great reminder of sessions I had attended and a summary of sessions I had not attended. I will definitely adopt this in future and encourage maybe a collaborative sharing area for photos – especially when things are not recorded.
  2. Spa day after the conference. Pampering and relaxing while debriefing from the conference with colleagues before returning to reality! You deserve it. I sometimes think people don’t take enough time to reflect on their experiences.
  3. Avoid the lunch queue and take along a packed lunch.
  4. Create a new email address for each year and sign up for conferences that way. You can monitor it for the year and then close the whole email down and maintain some control over your inbox.
  5. Consider going to a destination conference and taking time before or after the conference to enjoy the city.

Final thoughts

As I said earlier, I can’t just pick the best conference as there are elements of all three that I enjoyed and appreciated (and elements I didn’t).

Clearly, without a doubt, the winner is me. I feel extraordinarily grateful and privileged to be in a position to attend all three Xerocons (and survive intact!). It’s a bucket list item that any accounting tech-loving person never expects to do. 

I’ve connected with fabulous people, heard inspiring stories, built networks and nurtured relationships. I’ve been energised by being present and enjoying every moment of attending the Xerocons and the events and activities around them.

Above all, after attending the events I feel extraordinarily hopeful for our future. Accountants and bookkeepers who embrace the power of technology have the power to positively impact the small business economy and change the world.

For a full account of Heather’s ‘Tour de Xerocon 2022’ - complete with rankings - you can visit her website.