By Tristia Hennessey

The buzzing excitement of a long-awaited conference experience was carefully balanced with necessary and thoughtful precautions for our current pandemic state. My hat goes off to the organizers and facilitators for their efforts in making this event go off so seamlessly and effortlessly, especially now that logistics are so much more complex than we are used to. Especially thoughtful touches were the daily health screenings and the colored bracelets indicating level of comfort with proximity to others: red for no touch, yellow for elbow bumps and fist bumps, green for hugs and high fives. It was nice consider and accommodate to people’s varying levels of comfort during this difficult and confusing time.

The Las Vegas environment itself was busier than I had been expecting, but perhaps not considering there was also 2 other conferences, Lady Gaga concert, a boxing match and several other high profile events going on at the same time. Service in Vegas and at the host hotel, the Mirage, continues to be excellent, if you are a conscientious and rule-following traveler. Having recently been to Iceland to see the erupting volcano (which was spectacular), I found the decorative volcano outside the Mirage to be a little moment of joy for me.

The Expo

The expo was lively with positive vibes and plenty of folks searching for talented developers and designers, or content development organizations. The booths were on occasion engaging, colorful, and inviting… and other times somewhat lackluster. Swag seems to have taken more thoughtful turns with less emphasis on impractical, decorative items and more emphasis on daily life and sustainable living, with items like reusable bags, water bottles and travel mugs, pens, notebooks, conference survival kits, and reusable straws stealing the show.

The Food and Entertainment

Food at the event was acceptable. Lunches weren’t amazing, but reasonable box lunch options for a variety of tastes, with occasionally wacky side dishes like fruity garbanzo beans and plain quinoa. Coffee service was generous but thick and syrupy.

We didn’t have time for much outside the conference and expo, but we did manage to fit in a few exquisite dinners and a fun show. We had incredible sashimi of some fish I could barely pronounce, oysters, another variety of grilled fish with lemon and capers and grilled eggplant, zucchini, and peppers, with pungent blue cheese olive martinis at Milos one night; then on another night we had crispy mixed seaweed salad, tuna on crispy sticky rice, tender and fluffy pork buns, and mouthwatering Hamachi sashimi with tiny jalapeño slices and finely diced red pepper, lightly finished with a delicate citrusy soy ponzu sauce at Kumi when we celebrated our DemoFest win.

We saw Michael Jackson’s Cirque Du Soleil – a fantastic tale of 4 dancers making their way through the world to fame, their struggles highlighted through Michael’s classic hits, accompanied by a team of acrobatic performers, aerial yogis and talented dancers entwined with colorful props and costumes, exaggerated by the brilliant lights and smoke effects.

The Sessions

Sessions were a delightful mix of seasoned industry experts and refreshing newcomers, covering a broad variety of topics like xAPI, XR/VR/AR, Evidence-Centered Design, video, animation, gamification, and so much more. Debbie Richards, Jeff Batt, and Kristen Torrence all had spectacular sessions I was grateful to see, among a slew of others.

I only wish there was a extra day to fit everything into! There were so many more sessions I wish I had the opportunity to catch, but there was unfortunately only so much time between networking (and meeting some amazing people and long time heroes) at the expo booth, preparing for DemoFest, and catching the sessions I did manage to slip away for. I look forward to getting caught up a bit more when reviewing the session powerpoints over the holidays (over some spiked egg nog and cookies, of course).