If you call a conference inspire, it had better live up to its billing. So the key question is – ‘Was the audience inspired’? Read on and find out.

As a brief aside, I’m soon to give an important lecture for which I have to travel to Australia. This conference has taught me an important lesson. If you want to inspire, be visual. I’m sure all the presenters had important things to say. But after leaving the room, who do I remember? Simple: The ones with a punchy visual presentation.

Let me give you a run down of the highlights for me:

Rovio’s interview by Mike Butcher of TechCrunch Europe stuck with me. This pairing seemed to work. It was an entertaining talk, and the big takeaways for me were Rovio’s focus on milking a hit rather than trying to create a new one. The contrast was drawn between them and their fellow countrymen at Nokia, who squandered the position of global brand leader by (allegedly) being lazy and focussing on volume sales whilst Apple focussed on being amazing. They’ve simply never caught up their position in the market. The interview style was visually plain, but the flame-red sweatshirt with the Angry bird face kept my eyes ahead and my attention focussed. The lessons are still bouncing around in my mind, weeks later. So I guess that one was inspiring.

Rory Sutherland from Ogilvy was a stand-out, as expected. He majors on behavioural economics – as you’d expect, from an advertiser. A cornerstone of his talks seem to be the creation of perceived value. If you’ve never seen him before, catch him on TED talks, as he really is first-rate. With the stage presence of a top-flight stand-up comic, coupled with the business insight of someone who’s truly ‘made it’, he’s a speaker you can’t afford to miss. Definitely inspiring.

The globalisation talk also grabbed my attention. Buried within some relatively dry information were some really powerful visual presentations of the globalisation movement. More on that later…

From the second day, I was particularly captivated by presentations from The Foundry on digital post production techniques for the movie industry. There’s a strategic concentration of such firms in London, and they have a community set up around Soho. Surprisingly, the digital start-up scene and this one rarely seem to collide. The two centres of Soho and Shoreditch might well be far further apart geographically, for all the business interaction which occurs between them.

One of the odd features about this conference was the weight applied to social issues. There were a chunk of talks concerning social development and goals. Whist worthy, I had the feeling that this had been somewhat overdone, and the audience appeared to be paying less attention to these talks than to others.

However, one stand out from the field in 3rd sector was the Jolitics talk. If someone set up Bebo, they’re worth a listen. Even if Bebo isn’t particularly amazing, the ability to sell it for £850M was. The new Jolitics venture is perhaps best described as twitter meets politics. People have the opportunity to ‘tweet’ political policies, which others can debate and follow. What for me was really groundbreaking, however, were two other features. Firstly the facility for MPs to reply collectively to many similar letters, thus increasing the quality of engagement, and also the ability for people to ‘follow’ political representatives, as one might follow Stephen Fry on Twitter. Truly disruptive, and certainly inspiring.

Time taken for the breaks was pretty extensive, and for me the day could have been shortened a bit. Nevertheless, there were some great sideshows. I spoke to a number of start-ups with some really cool ideas. Some of these firms I’d seen before, but others were new to me. For some particular highlights, check out Market Invoice (factoring), HipSnip & Colour DNA (social product recommendation) and Intern Avenue (internships). A really good crop with almost no filler to bulk out. This was perhaps the area of the conference which was best executed, in my view. At least 4 out of 5 stars for inspiration here.

Overall, the conference for me seemed to lack direction somewhat. It gave the impression of a tech conference gone upriver, rather than a general business conference. It seemed to be a little unsure of what it was, and what it was for. Was it to inspire tech gurus, or business leaders? Was it to sharpen the minds of those seeking funding or growth? I guess that the answer is ‘all of the above’. And therein perhaps lies the problem. To inspire, you’ve really got to deliver a powerful, focussed punch to the lazy, tired brains of delegates. I think the opportunity to inspire was, to an extent, lost in this fog.

But what did the delegates think? I didn’t talk to all of them, of course. But one thing I did notice was that a huge chunk of the audience was working on laptops, ipads, etc. Maybe there were a huge number of journalists reporting, or maybe people were just distracted by other stuff. I looked around at key moments, to gauge the level of engagement. At the better moments, most heads were tipped up, attentive to the stage. Often, too many were bowed towards glowing screens. Were they listening? I looked for flickers of emotion. You can’t be inspired without emotion, right? Too often, it seemed that the speakers were talking to what may as well have been a Boeing full of businessmen, click-clacking away, oblivious to the world around them. Maybe I should blame the rudeness of the delegates? Isn’t this the equivalent of bottling a band off stage at an unruly gig? We’re all too British to throw things (although I was tempted to throw an Angry Bird at Rovio). Is death-by-Macbook the grown up equivalent of being booed off?

Was I inspired? Well Blippar certainly inspired me. I can honestly say that I’ve not seen anything which has blown my socks off so cleanly for quite a while. The idea of an entirely new world of augmented content springing up before my eyes has never seemed so appealing. Why? It was the way that the augmented reality seemed so real. It seemed that you were looking through the device, rather than at it. The only comparable equivalent was Google’s star map, but that is nothing like so visual. I can’t wait till Blippa’s world becomes full of exciting and useful ads, but also (and perhaps more crucially for their brand) some quality art. Art? How can you sell that? Simple: If Buckingham palace was covered in graffiti from Banksy, you’d take a look – wouldn’t you? I certainly would. That would hook you into any brand related content they additionally had.

So the visual presentations were the ones which really got me. Sure, Mike Butcher’s interview of Rovio was pretty competent. But the hook to hang those memories on was the bright, red, angry bird top being worn. The machine-gun, entertaining pitch from Roy was exactly what keeps you coming back to see him, but the visuals are what allow be to pull all the memories together. Finally, the country-size-by-GDP map in the development talk, which I saw for the first time here, is a lasting image which brings home the metaphor of Africa as a skinny, emaciated continent.

Was I inspired? Sometimes. Was it worth it? If you’ve got the budget spare and you are prone to being inspired by great minds giving rather generalist presentations. But judging by the rest of the audience, you might want to bring a laptop to amuse you in the less inspiring moments. The madding crowd appeared to have thinned considerably by the second day, with the seating block furthest from the entrance only about half full, maybe less. Perhaps people were so inspired after the first day they had to take bedrest to recover. Or maybe they were just left wondering whether they’d got anything applicable from it to justify a second day away from the office.