I have just returned from one of the most impressive conferences I’ve ever attended. Google Zeitgeist Europe (not to be confused with Google’s search trends service) is an annual 2-day conference, which began in 2006, and is by invitation only for around 400 of Google’s strategic partners in the EMEA (Europe, the Middle East and Africa) region. This year’s Zeitgeist was held at The Grove in Hertfordshire, an impressive English estate about 40 km’s North-West of Central London.
Thankfully, it wasn’t a trade conference and Google products weren’t pushed down your throat as you might’ve expected, although there was some obvious tie-ins with certain products like YouTube and of course very strong branding throughout the event. The agenda was somewhat TED-like with a diverse mix of technologists, politicians, scientists and entrepreneurs as speakers.
Lauren, my lovely wife-to-be, accompanied me on the trip and we arrived a couple of days early so that we could visit her sister in London and do a bit of sightseeing along with some modest shopping (1£ = R15!?). A real highlight was getting to see the Lion King at the Lyceum Theatre on the West End (thanks Rose!!!) as well as stopping by the London Google office for a tour and free lunch.
After a memorable few days in London, we made our way up to Hertfordshire the day before the conference officially started. I played a round of golf at The Grove’s championship course while Lauren had an even tougher time at the day Spa. A cocktail party with cuisines and entertainment from different parts of the globe, which represented the diverse backgrounds of the delegates, capped off the day’s proceedings.
I knew this was going to be a serious conference when, early the next morning, a number of black helicopters roamed the skies and sniffer dogs wearing reflective jackets explored every crevice of the hotel. As we would later find out, British PM Gordon Brown would be opening the conference (read the transcript of his speech) and other notable speakers that would take the stage included Queen Rania Al Abdullah of Jordan, Sir Salman Rushdie, and Google co-founders Sergey Brin & Larry Page accompanied by CEO Eric Schmidt.
The gala dinner at the end of the first day was nothing short of phenomenal and featured a bevy of entertainers that had all been discovered on YouTube. One of my favourite performers was Beardyman, a British beatboxer, who had the crowd entranced by his super-human vocal skills.
Skip halfway through this video to see his performance:
There was a large video production crew that filmed all the sessions at the conference and of course these videos are all available on YouTube in the Google Zeitgeist Channel.
This highlights video summarises the event quite nicely (I am in the shot at 2m49secs):
All-in-all a very slick and memorable event and I and we look forward to going again..