Posted in Digital workplace, Internal comms, Intranet

Coffee and prawns with Wedge

I’ve been fortunate enough to attend two Intranet Nows, including the most recent this month.

It’s such a friendly and informative event, I felt compelled to ask a few questions to Wedge Black, the man who’s been there from the very beginning.

How did Intranet Now come about?

My memory fades, but it involved alcohol.  I remember discussing with Luke Mepham of Intranetizen that someone should put on an independent intranet-focused conference. It was suggested that person should be me!

I was also encouraged when Martin White suggested the UK was in need of an intranet conference.

I didn’t know how to plan and manage an event, which meant I could just do what I wanted. I sent a tweet about needing help and Brian Lamb, who I had never met, was quick to say ‘yes’.

I blogged about my thoughts and plans, put out a little video, and we were lucky enough to find a London hotel that had a cancellation.

So, I launched Intranet Now with Brian in 2014. When he left fours year later to focus on website UX, I invited Lisa Riemers to join me.

Photo from Intranet Now on Flickr

Did the first one go to plan?

Although it was a bit rough and ready (someone fell off the stage!) it was well attended and the unique format of five-minute lightning talks went down a storm.

I had modest expectations and they were nicely exceeded. At the time, I’d been on Twitter for eight years and had found a good community of comms and intranet people. That was very important for selling tickets.

Of course, something goes hilariously wrong every year. I remember prawns being served for the morning break instead of pastries, exhibition stands failing to turn up and speaker notes being unavailable (each speaker did a marvellous job without them!)

Why was digital workplace strategy the theme for the most recent one?

Even if our digital communications and collaboration work is brilliant, it’s not always seen as valuable by stakeholders and leadership. We have to marry our daily tactics to the overall strategy.

I love seeing how practitioners improve the digital workplace, or extend its functionalities, to meet people’s needs while delivering value to the organisation (I apologise for saying ‘delivering value’).

I don’t like seeing comms people sending stuff out because a director told them to, or seeing intranet managers uploading another PDF sent from HR. I like knowing we’re doing our best to achieve shared goals, aligned to a shared vision.

What caught your eye this year?

I liked how some speakers talked about content, and the importance of good content management and communications.

Suzie Robinson has highlighted the themes better than I could, and my Intranet Now partner, Lisa Riemers has shared her remembrances too.

It was a bit of a blur for me. I’m anxious throughout the event and was up for 21 hours on the day. The party afterwards is always fun.

Photo from Intranet Now on Flickr

How has the event changed over the last six years?

No more venue hunting! It was a major stress early on. Hotel conference centres were so expensive and we couldn’t book things in advance because we couldn’t guarantee another conference next year!

We settled on America Square in 2018. They have a personal, caring service unlike other hotels we experienced. Nothing is too much trouble for them.

We’re happy to play with our format and not everything we do works! But at the heart of it, we offer 15+ lightning talks (now upped to nine minutes each) that cover real work from organisations of every size, plus an interactive afternoon of workshops and discussions.

Everyone is a participant, nobody is an ‘attendee’. And we’re thrilled to be highly valued by our partners and guests.

What do you enjoy the most about it?

Producing Intranet Now makes me feel nicely involved with the amorphous internal communications and intranet communities. I love being able to bring those together.

I like inviting people to speak too – it’s nice to be able to compliment someone by saying you’d like to see them on stage.

On the day, aside from the attention my shirts get me, I like making sure things go well, although Lisa Riemers is fast at fixing glitches, and our volunteers know what they’re doing too. It can sometimes seem that that day runs itself!

Lots of people help make the day a success, but it’s the speakers that are the stars and of course the agenda has got to showcase topics that are relevant.

Wedge and one of his fine shirts. Photo from Intranet Now on Flickr

What’s your favourite conference lunch?

I like small square desserts, preferably two or three of them. Something chocolatey and something citrussy.

I don’t actually eat much at any conference as I always seem to end up talking with my mouthful.

I’m getting better at networking – luckily I can ask anyone how they’re finding the conference, but I know it can be hard to socialise. We’ve designed Intranet Now to help meet people. I think everyone should leave with a new friend.

What advice would you give to someone organising their first conference?

Whether it’s an internal employee event or an external event, you need a vision and purpose, an understanding of your audience and consideration for your stakeholders.

Create something people want and give very clear instructions, so nobody feels confused or left out.

We needed around three months to sell tickets. It feels good to give yourself longer, but people often buy them last minute.

Photo from Intranet Now on Flickr

Attending, and speaking, at conferences has all been because of Twitter for me, and meeting people has solidified my network.

I would encourage anyone to get away from their desk and share time and experiences with your peers. Conferences are great for revitalising your approach to work and developing relationships.

Will there be another Intranet Now?

Every September I say to Lisa “never again”, but somehow things come together and we have a splendid day filled with positivity.

So, against my better judgement, Intranet Now will be back on 2 October 2020.

Save the date!

Thank you to Wedge for taking time out to answer the questions. He’s on Twitter @Wedge and works for Clearbox Consulting.


Digital communications professional.