SharePoint Evolutions 2014 Bus Tour – Summary so far

Due to scheduling commitments, I had been unable to submit sessions for this years Evolutions. These commitments changed and I was very pleased to be invited by Steve Smith (And allowed by my bosses at Trinity!) to step in and fill some spaces on the first week of the End Users track at this years SharePoint Evolutions 2014 bus tour.

The large majority of my sessions to date have been aimed at the ITPro audience, so End Users were a slight departure from my usual session. In theory this should be an easier session to produce, however the term End User can cover a wide variety of experience levels, from the SharePoint user who stores documents, right up to the Power User who plays with HTML/CSS and designs awesome visualisations on the platform.

Session Summary

I think I gauged my session at around the right level, certainly the comments that I received from attendees at the end of the session and during the following breaks supported that. If you did attend and something didn’t sit right for you, please send me a quick message on Twitter so I can understand what didn’t work for you.

My session looked at the common requirement for knowledge sharing in the form of providing an FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) list. We started with the Basic Evolution of a single site collection, single list and talked about some of the foundations that we needed in place to keep one eye on the future, and why we would want to do that. In the demo, we then created the list from scratch and looked at some of the out of the box options to assist users in working with that data.

In the intermediate evolution, we took the design a step further and looked at how we could start to integrate search both into our FAQ list item, to show similar questions and also how to start integrating our FAQ entries into the Enterprise Search centre using Result Blocks.

In our final Advanced Evolution, we looked at taking this a step further and enhancing the user experience through both form and function. We applied Display Templates to the Related Questions search to better visualise the questions and also to our result block to provide a more eye catching display. We changed the styling on the list view to make the list of questions themselves much more visual and changed the behaviour of the list by popping up our FAQ entries in a modal dialog. This modal dialog helps keep the user focussed on the FAQ list itself by reducing the context switching and we also focussed the users attention on the actual important content, by removing the excess information that SharePoint adds to a list item display form such as headers and addition fields.

[important]I’m planning on getting all of these demos recorded when I return from holiday, about the same time that the full evolutions tour finishes, so those attended that receive my slides with a link to this post, should see my videos linked here. If you don’t, keep an eye on the twitter hashtag #EVOCONF as I’ll tweet once they are ready for viewing.

###Quick Update### – A slight mess up on my part.. I recorded my demos and then annotated them in Camtasia which threw a wobbly when I tried to created the videos for publishing. Basically I recorded the source video at the wrong size, so I know need to either re-process the videos, or re-record the demos.. I’m hoping to do this asap!


SharePoint Evolutions 2014 Bus Tour – An awesome Experience

I only had the opportunity to take part for the first few days of the tour this year, but it’s been an awesome few days with the guys from Combined Knowledge really looking after the speakers on top of organising a first class conference tour.

I don’t believe anyone has organised anything similar in the past, 12 cities in 12 days with a different schedule, different speakers and different sponsors at the majority of the stops. That’s 48 different speakers delivering over 240 sessions covering Technical, End User, Business and Product Integration. An amazing effort I think you’ll agree.

So just to give you an understanding of what it was like to take part, here’s my 4 day conference diary covering the first few days of the conference. I’m now at home absolutely worn out, but some brave souls are in it for the long haul and doing all 12 dates.. For that, I salute you!

Day 1 – Sunday 8th June

I left home in Kent about midday and headed into London to catch a mid afternoon train from Paddington to Cardiff Central. Arriving just after 5 and a short cab ride, I checked into my rather lovely room at the St Davids hotel and Spa in the Cardiff Docks area, a nicely regenerated region of Cardiff.

After taking a stroll around the new wetlands area, we saw the tour bus pulling in after it’s first leg from the Combined Knowledge offices in Lutterworth. This bus will be home for the new few days as we travel between venues and the guys at CK had pulled out all the stops.

Apparently this bus was last rented out by the Stranglers during their UK tour!


And inside it was true Rock Star comfort!



Steve and the gang had provided copious amounts of refreshments, sweets and nibbles and games to play to keep the speakers amused during the fairly lengthy journeys between venues!

For those that couldn’t cope with the excess, the bus also provided sleeping accommodation on the top floor, as well as a quieter lounge at the rear of the upstairs.

After helping unload the bus, we freshened up and headed for the first speaker dinner of the tour. The St David’s provided some excellent food and drink and a great opportunity for the speakers to catch up with old friends and meet those they hadn’t met before.

I was really happy to catch up with Matt McDermott and Dan Holme, both of whom had travelled over from the States to take part. (Matt was very bravely doing all 12 dates, along with Penny Coventry, Mike Fitzmaurice, Paul Turner and of course Steve and the CK crew).

Day 2 – Cardiff event, then onto London

The first day went really well, with over 70 attendees and a great venue. I was really please with how my session was received although I did under estimate how long the last demo would take and had to switch into the Blue Peter one 5 minutes before the end of my session. The recorded demos will show the full playlist!

Steve did grab me for a short interview outside the venue to introduce my session, something that he’ll be doing with a different speaker each day of the tour!

I didn’t get any pictures around the venue, but there will be a whole load on the conference website soon I would imagine!

After packing up, we had another great dinner, then boarded the bus to London which took a lot longer than intended thanks to the closure of the M4, arriving just after midnight! But what did we care, have you seen that bus?


Day 3 – London event, then onto Cambridge

After our late arrival and the (slightly drunken) unloading of the equipment from the bus, we crashed in our rooms ready to wake bright and early to set-up for the second event of the tour in London. This venue was much bigger with  around 250 visitors expected.

Split over several floors, the session rooms were a bit of a trek away, but the exhibitor hall in the conservatory was great.


My company Trinity also sponsored a stand here (as we will be at Birmingham and Manchester), with Lee (my boss) and Simon from Sales manning the stand.

I wasn’t speaking today so took the opportunity to attend a few sessions and represent the SUGUK on the booth kindly provided for our use by Combined Knowledge.

Then almost as soon as we began, it was time to pack up, head for dinner and then board the bus to Cambridge where we arrived shortly before midnight!

Day 4 – Cambridge event, then home!

An early start for me in Cambridge as I had the first speaker slot on the End User track today. After a quick breakfast I got set-up in my session room and then had time to catch the keynote from Steve. Again the session went really well with all of the demo’s working as planned.

This session was nicely interactive with some great questions during the session and further discussion at the end. it was great to hear from members of the SUGUK Cambridge user group that were planning to come and see me when I speak there about Display Templates on July 15th. (

Once I’d delivered my session I was really able to relax and attended a business session, listening to Ant Clay talking about Disruptive Governance and also Mirjam van Olst talking about SharePoint 2013 Analytics. (Some great ideas for Display Templates were seeded during this session!)

imageAgain the day was over almost before it began and we finished packing up and loading the bus before walking through Cambridge to the venue for that nights speaker dinner. The food and cask beer was awesome, especially the posh pork crackling they served with the beer!

Unfortunately Chris O’Brien and myself had to run before sampling the desserts as we both had trains to catch to make our way home. I was sad to leave, but also grateful to be going home to my family too.


In summary

It was a great experience and I think we were able to deliver some great content to people that ordinarily wouldn’t be able to attend a SharePoint conference in it’s usual form. Steve did say during the Keynote on day one that the Evolutions conference will be back next year in it’s usual April timeslot in London, so we’ll be back to the usual 3 days conference format then, but I do hope that he considers running the Bus Tour again another year and I’ll hopefully be able to attend for longer and present more sessions. I guess the next 9 days of sessions will help Steve make up his mind on that.

I wish all the rest of the speakers, those already on the bus and those joining it in the coming days to have great fun, enjoyable sessions and happy smiles from the Demo Gods!


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