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The Art of Conference Reunion: Keynotes and Keynote speakers

Will you rather invite Bill Gates as a keynote speaker or your good, old friends?

Will you rather invite Bill Gates as a keynote speaker - or your good, old friends?

A conference or business meeting side trip in a fancy location is half the fun when you’re alone. Food, scenery, culture and adventure are best enjoyed with friends. However, not all of your friends work in the same business. Neither do they have travel budgets. Or, for example, the academic merits to get accepted on a scientific conference in the Dutch Antilles.

This article will initiate you in the Ancient Art of Conference Reunion.

Keynote speakers – what was that about, again?

A keynote is the note used for tuning in an orchestra, a choir, or an instrument. Keynote speakers are used to arouse attention for a topic, or for an event. They tune in the audience (or at least the conference registrations), to phrase it that way.

There are several classes of keynote speakers:

  • Celebrities and other famous people
  • The well-known experts, veterans of nobel prize winners, known for a topic or a field
  • Educational or motivational speakers
  • Humorous speakers, used to loosen up the audience

Keynote speakers are, first of all, invited to travel to a conference to make an event look more attractive to prospective paying participants, the press, or other groups. Second, a paid-for keynote speech is a good way to shake hands with those famous and important people out there in front of the whole conference that otherwise would never talk to you. Third, keynote talks are a cool way for you and your friends to make sure that you keep partying together on various occasions by providing keynotes to each other’s events.

Choosing keynote speakers right

The event dictates the best use for a keynote speaker. Political events often place the speaker at the end of the conference, such that his or her appearance is staged by the other speakers, with the celebrity, or most important person, appearing at the end as the event’s climax.

Scientific and technical conferences and work meetings often begin with keynote speeches. Some conferences, particularly such where many good friends who are members of a particular organization meet might have keynote speakers opening every conference session on an arbitrary topic. Yes, there is certain inflation in keynote speakers – and surely you’re already sensing where this article is headed.

If you’re able to control the conference program, then you’ll have a serious word on what topics, and which persons should get on the keynote slots. If the event is part of an association, then it will be generally easier to place friends who are members of the association (e.g. “we must distribute keynotes proportionally, otherwise some members will be unhappy”). Sign up for membership!

On the other hand, any no-matter-how-irrelevant-conference-on-the-future-internet-in-twenty-years will happily accept any IT industry speaker from the reality quadrant, preferable from a company with a known name. Any bit of theoretic or irrelevant research looks better with a token practitioner sponsoring the conference, or throwing a visionary keynote speech. Make sure your industry friends will be able to use PowerPoint in the most pathetic ways!

Getting invited

Keynote invitations are your own free ticket to cool events. Check your assets – market share, turnover, patents,  citation index, or, if nothing else available, the professor title on your business card. Professor beats Dr., unless the latter is employed in a famous research institution. Find out what favors can be traded for keynote invitations!

Proven tactics are:

  • Trade favors with other friends, inviting each other for keynotes on some association’s conferences. Result: Lots of international travel!
  • Trade favors with industry (e.g., provide subsidies to them through commonly executed research projects), and expect in return invitations to those fun industry conferences with umbrella drinks and fancy dancers.
  • Recommend public administrators of your choice to their bosses, and expect to be put on public conference panels in return – free travel to various capital locations, such as for example  Bruxelles!
  • Pick conference communities in constant hunger for public recognition (Open Source, Linux, NGOs), and provide your academic or other title that might beautify their program. Get a free trip and travel to their conference town in return.

Risks

Be aware that after a while, you will get seen as a keynote slut speaking around for everybody and on every topic. In academic circles, people might become well aware that it’s you and your friends who keep meeting and keynote speaking on this conference series all the time. And most likely, they will start gossiping, too, e.g. about the astounding facts that, even though the articles get reviewed “blind”, it will always be the keynote speakers’ and their friends’ PhD students who get accepted to the conference.

Do customize your keynote presentations! If you keep traveling around with the same bunch of old presentation slides or Power Points, while explaining that “what matters is what you say along the slides” … you might find yourself running out of travel budget and travel excuses soon (unless you’re Steven Jobs, of course)!

Know your goals – scientific reputation, maximum press impact, or maximum airline loyalty mileage!

And finally… consider the risks of the Researcher-in-the-Middle-Attack before talking all too much about other people’s results and achievements!

And now for something different…

Scheduled to give the keynote address at an important convention, the CEO asked one of his top employees, Schwartz, to write a punchy, twenty minute speech for him.

After the big event, the CEO returned and he was furious. “What’s the idea of writing an hour long speech for me?” he bellowed. “Half the audience got up and walked out before I was finished!”

Confused, Schwartz replied, “Sir, I wrote you a twenty minute speech. I also gave you the two extra copies you requested.”

And yet another one…

A famous mathematician was to give a keynote speech at a conference. Asked for an advance summary, he said he would present a proof of Fermat’s Last Theorem – but they should keep it under their hats. When he arrived, though, he spoke on a much less interesting topic. Afterwards the conference organizers asked why he said he’d talk about the theorem and then didn’t. He replied this was his standard practice, just in case he was killed on the way to the conference.

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Como, Italy

The city of Como, located in Lombardia, Italy, is the capital of the Como province. The city itself is located at the Lago di Como, close to the Swiss border. Como is the administrative centre of the Ticino area and thus a magnet for residents of Switzerland and Italy. It is visited by tourists staying all around the place. However, not only tourists enjoy Como and its surrounding. Como has also a famous conference centre, which makes the city an interesting destination for the customers of ABC4trip.eu. Due to the closeness of the Alps and the Lago di Como, the city enjoys a pleasant refreshing climate, even in hottest summer days.

One of the wonderfull pedestrian walks in Como, Italy

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In the first century before Christ, the Como area became part of the Roman Empire and a prospering history began. The spirit of an old Italian city can still be felt and makes Como such an interesting destinations.

What to do

  • Como has a marvellous city centre that is always worth sightseeing and taking some pictures for the working colleagues at home. However, you should avoid generating enviousness by signalling that you have not attended the conference but meanwhile enjoyed other things. Take care of your EFIX data and -when being in doubt – “correct” and “optimize” them before distributing the photos. A short guideline on that topic can be found here. Do not miss visiting the cathedral and the tiny churches all around the city centre.
  • Make a trip with the funicular to Brunate and enjoy the view above Como and the lake. Sporty project workers can also take the trekking path and get some workout before re-joining work.
  • Make a boat trip across the lake and enjoy the scene passing by.
  • Go shopping. Como has marvellous fashion stores, where you can get good deals and if you are not addicted to that stuff, just remember your next-of-kin or colleagues and bring some presents for them.
  • Do not miss the market hall in Via Sirtori, only a few meters outside of the city wall. This is the best place for local products. You will find a large variety of Limoncello, pastry and freshly made pasta.
  • Are you interested in silk? The silk museum is famous and a “must” agenda item for all fashion people.
  • For those who like casinos, we recommend a trip to one of the largest casinos in Europe, located in Campione D’Italia. Due to historical reasons, this little Italian village is an enclave in the Swiss Canton Ticino and only about 28 km away from Como.
  • Make a trip to the Lago Maggiore.

Where to stay

If your budget allows a classy hotel, check the Palace Hotel for a good deal and ask for a room with sight on the lake.

Getting around

The closest airport to Como is Milano Malpensa, but Milano Linate and Lugano are also suitable options. However, Lugano encompasses crossing an international border and the Swiss Customs , which might bring you into trouble with your gifts that you intend to bring home. Check the Swiss customs regulations before booking the flight.

The easier option in terms of public transport is surely Malpensa. Como is served by Trenitalia with regular connections to all northern Italian cities, as well as the Swiss part of Ticino. Como has a public transport system that confesses more than 10 urban lines taking you to all important destinations. The website of ASF Autolines provides all up-to-date information on ticket prices, lines and timetables.

Where to eat

The city centre offers all varieties of food from large American fast food companies to traditional local delicacy. The very best option is to watch where the local people are enjoying their lunch-time, inspect the menu and make the So many brands of Limonchello will make the choice differentchoice spontaneously. One of the specialities of Como is Polenta. This popular dish, traditionally eaten in the winter season, consists of white or yellow cornmeal, butter, water and salt. It is served with mushrooms, meat, cheese or fish. We recommend trying polenta with Alosa agone, which is a typical fish species for the northern Italian lakes. If you do not find a suitable restaurant, check the “Ostria del Gallo” in Via Odescalci. You will find a picture of that place in our gallery.

What to bring home

  • Limoncello, a liquor with lemon aroma, is one of the local specialities. Before just taking a bottle at the supermarket, check the brand and its taste (the yellow colourant is not necessarily an indicator for quality).
  • Italian cheese, salami and ham are always worth a try.

Maps Como is well mapped in Openstreetmap and all tiny streets seem to be included.

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East Coast of the Lago Maggiore incl. Ispra, Luino and Laveno

One out 14 wonderful chapels in Santa Maria del Monte

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Some of them are as big as a church

Some may ask themselves why a website for project workers has a post on the Lago Maggiore, which is widely known as a holiday destination.  Well, who said that projects and research do not correspond with nice locations?

One of the most prominent research institutes of the European Union is the Joint Research Centre (JRC) in Ispra,  Lombardy, Italy.

Consequently, workshops and meetings get organised in / around Ispra, and project workers would definitely miss the most interesting things at the Lago Maggiore and in the Italian Lakes region by simply flying in, joining the meeting and leaving.

This article will help you to find nice locations, get some culture, recommend one of the rare, nice beaches at the Lago and – if you like – get some physical exercise (which is mostly a problem for frequent flyers and those who work day and night).

Lago Maggiore, the westernmost of the great northern Italian lakes, stretches out from Switzerland towards Milano. it is located conveniently between the region’s highest mountan summit – Monte Rosa – and Lago di Garda.

What to do

Do you want to get in touch with some culture?

  • Make a trip to Santa Maria del Monte. This  picturesque little village belongs, due to its pilgrims way with 14 chapels, to the  UNESCO world cultural heritage. The chapels were built in the 16th and 17th century and are dedicated to different aspects of the Christian faith. When already being there, think about making a hiking trip to Monte Tre Croci, Forte Orino and back to Prima Cappella, the starting point of the pilgrims way.
  • Most tourist guides recommend the Borromean Islands close to Verbania. However, the trip did not convince our travel group, but it should be mentioned that the islands are there and that you can visit them. Be aware that the passage by ferry and the admission price are quite expensive.
  • Visit Angera with its mighty fortress. Angera is pretty close to Ispra and just across the lake to Arona. Some ladies and children might not prefer the fortress itself but the museum of dolls and automatons which is located in the fortress.
  • The anchoritism Santa Caterina del Sasso, close to Reno, is always worth a trip.  Check our gallery for a picture of that place.
  • Make a trip to Milano.
  • Make a trip to Locarno.
  • Or finally, make a trip to Como which is a nice location  for shopping.

Do you want to go shopping?

  • Milano and Como are nice shopping places and the latter one is not necessarily pricey.
  • Do you like Bassetti? Think about a stop-over at the Bassetti Outlet in Cuveglia, Via Provenciale 5.
  • Visit the market of Luino which is open each Wednesday. Local products are sold to acceptable prices but finding a parking lot tends to be a problem. Think about using ships and ferries when coming from other villages around the lake.

Do you want to get some physical exercise?

Especially in summertime, you will not have to many other hikers with you on the mountains around. Even on the hottest summer days there is always a nice wind blowing to give you some refreshment. Therefore, we have tested some trips which we offer for a download in the gpx-format coming along with a short description. None of them needs special skills but all will give enough sportive activities to melt the good project meals away from your hips. However, hiking shoes are always strongly recommended.

  • Make a panorama trip above Lago Maggiore, starting in Vararo, close to Laveno. Get there via SP8 and enjoy the narrowed streets. Take a parking lot close to Bar Alpino and just follow the GPS trace. This trip lasts about 4 hours without stops and overviews about nearly the whole lake. On the last part down from Passo Barbè, you might benefit from hiking sticks but you can easily do without them  if you take some time. Download the trace from here.
  • Have you ever seen a village which cannot be reached by car? Just make a hiking trip from Piero via Monteviasco to Curiglia. You get there via Luino and Curiglia – and again narrowed streets will lead you to your starting point. Leave your car in Curiglia and make a relaxing walk down to Piero. Here you will have the most important choice of the day: Untrained persons should take the cable railway, hikers with more ambitions may go for the more than 1000 stairs for getting up to Monteviasco. When arriving here, imagine that this village cannot be reached by car and that the residents have only the cable railway or a helicopter for bulky luggage – which is a total difference to what we call modern comfort. After the sightseeing part, the rest of the trip is enjoying the view and watching old stone houses falling into disrepair. Download the trace from here.
  • When being back from the mountains, think about going swimming at the Lago Maggiore. The tricky part is where to find a) a beach and b) a beach that one can also call a beach. One of the best might be the beach in Caldè (part of Castelveccana), which has nearly a sandy one and you will also find a parking lot nearby – both important criteria in that area. Find the beach under the following link.

Go fishing :-) Fishing permits are sold in tourist offices around the lake. A permit costs for a day around 10 € and has to be paid at the post office.

Where to stay

Lago Maggiore’s lodging opportunities are numerous.

However, being a crowded touristy area, not all offers on the lake will be satisfactory.

  • If your workshop does not already happen here, check Casa Don Guanella in Barza d’Ispra. The place is pretty cool and offers spiritual environment with all facilities that a conference place needs.
  • Closer to the JRC is Albergo Le Terrazze. However,  the biggest advantage of this place is that it is close to the JRC. Probably better check some fora regarding the service before booking.

Getting around

The local traffic and transport infrastructure is an art in itself.

Before talking about how to get around, it is probably better to talk about how to get to Lago Maggiore.

  • Depending on where you are coming from, Malpensa International Airport, as one of the airports of Milano, will be a good option. Getting from the airport to Ispra takes less than 20 minutes and your host will be able to assist you with taxi transfers. Another option is getting there by train via Milano and taking train or bus to the lake. The probably most interesting way in terms of marvellous views is getting  there by car, especially in the summertime when the interesting mountain streets are open. When coming from the direction of Zurich, check whether Grimselpass and Nufenenpass are open. You will not need to be an experienced driver for this route but when having good weather conditions, the marvellous views cannot be beaten.
  • The golden rule at the Lago Maggiore how to get around is  rent a car. There is also a train line running at the eastern cost of the Lago Maggiore but trains do not run so frequently and you might also need a bus connection to your destination.

Where to eat

There are no limits on the amount of Italian food that can be earen around the lake. You just need to find a nice restaurant!

  • When you are already in the area of Luino, do not miss having a meal in Ristorante – Bar “Al Cortiletto” in Via Roma 43 in Brezzo di Bedero. From our point of view, they serve one of the most delicious Pizza quattro formaggi and Calzone farcito one can get. However, this might be a very personal and bias view. So make your own judgement and go there.
  • The water sides of many cities, such as the harbour area of Caldè, offer nice restaurants which are worth a try.

What to bring home

  • Limoncello, a liquor with lemon aroma,  is one of the local specialities. Before just taking a bottle at the supermarket, check the brand and its taste (the yellow colourant is not necessarily an indicator for quality). In some cases it is just a marketing trick to make tourists buy the stuff that local people would never touch.
  • Italian cheese, salami and ham are always worth a try.

Maps

  • We tend to recommend openstreetmap.  However, the available material at the Italian cost of the Lago Maggiore still  needs sustainable revisions.
  • Check google maps for useful data.

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How to optimize your travel cost

In most cases, not all costs of business trips are covered by your organisation. This article describes some tricks how to reduce uncovered spending and how to improve work-life-balance during the trip.

The first step is to evaluate under which conditions the overall costs for the trip can be reduced without losing comfort. Travelling from and to project meetings often happens in prime times when many other business trips are made. Think different and check whether tickets are cheaper when travelling at the weekend or other slots with less attractiveness.

In many cases the reduced ticket price will cover additional costs of another night in a hotel and travelling can be arranged more relaxing. Check two or three combinations and your boss might approve sponsored short holidays in one of your favourite destinations.

Secondly, check beforehand which cost categories will be covered by your organization. Some organisations for example cover costs for taxis only under certain circumstances, such as unavailability of other public transport options. Check whether you can share a ride with project partners who do not face the same problem. They often take you with them as it does not produce any additional cost for them and you have a relaxing ride with the opportunity for doing some business with them in a relaxed setting.

Thirdly, does your organization cover real cost or do they reimburse only a lump sum? Many organisations do not reimburse real cost but  pay lump sums for meals. This practise does normally not cover your real cost in business settings. The amount of the lump sum is mostly linked to the country you are travelling to and whether your staying for less then 24 hours or more. Knowing about the problem can be used for extra agreements with your local host or your hotel. Check with them whether they can issue a bill for all used services without putting a price tag at each single service. By doing so, you can enjoy your breakfast and lunch with your project partners in a relaxed setting without any additional costs that have to be covered by you.

Fourthly, some working dinners are of such a strategic importance that your boss will approve the cost, regardless what the normal cost model of your organization is. If you see an added value in attending the meeting, send an email to your boss for getting the approval.

Experts in the field recommend the following: Try to avoid any doubt that your organization will have to pay for your personal pleasure. Otherwise, you might have to explain why you had a single beer with your project partners on the hotel bill or you will be involved in discussions whether a sandwich during a flight counts as a full meal.

When being in doubt which costs will be covered by your organisation, check with the persons in charge in your organisation before starting the planning.

Think different and have in mind that you are travelling for your organisation and not for fun – at least primarily.

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Reykjavik, Iceland

Viking settlement memorial

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Symbolising the arrival of the Viking settlers, the memorial sculpture on Reykjavik's shore promenade display's Iceland's pride in their heritage.

Iceland’s capital city with its university, businesses and infamous financial district calls for meetings. The town is relatively small, but hosts nearly 50 per cent of the country’s population in its close vincinity. A new concert and congress hall is currently under construction, and will certainly call for congresses and conferences soon.

Reykjavik is a typical Scandinavian town with high security, relaxed atmosphere, and tidy roads. Scandinavian tax levels and beer prices are up to expectations, too.

Cultural heritage is presented in museums and galleries, while a local swimming pool with hot tubs offers a cheap alternative to the fancy and pricey Blue Lagoon in walking distance.

Tour operators offer pick-up service from hotels and hostels. Their tours offer the full portfolio of Iceland adventures as day trips: Sightseeing excursions, scuba diving the mid-atlantic ridge, glacier walks, volcano sightseeing, Iceland pony riding or jeep trips to nearby geysers, waterfalls and hot springs.

Summertime presents the conference and meeting visitor with a number of festivals, of which the music open air festival in the streets of Reykjavik in August is the biggest.

What to do

  • Use city swimming pool. There is one in nearly every vilalge, as drawing the warmth from the earth is cheap on Iceland, and the weather calls for a hot bath more often than not.
  • The Sculpture Museum contains a vast collection of Icelandic sculpting art.
  • Visit the Hallgríms church. The white, modern protestant church is made of concrete columns that resemble volcanic basalt rock found all over Iceland. Catch a view of the town and surrounding mountains and glaciers from Hallgrímskirkja’s tower
  • Visit Perlan (a combined museum/shopping mall/water reservoir).
  • Walk the promenade and the shopping road (Laugarvegur) near the harbor and conference center.
  • Visit a volcano, or at least a geyser and a fumarole field.
  • Local waterfalls and nature in general are  nice – and the Hengill volcanic park is just 30 minutes away.
  • Check out local elves and trolls (preferably elves, trolls tend to be unfriendly). Iceland has a government agency for the preservation of elves, which employs negotiators to make contact with the more mythical residents of the island.

Where to stay

  • The City or Downtown hostel are clean and affordable. The cheapest way to stay in town. Clean hostels, organized in Hostelling International. The brand new Downtown Hostel is in the heart of the old town, while the classic City Hostel with its campground resides approx. 2 km from the center and new conference hall. Rates are between 2500 and 3500 ISK per night. The City Hostel is located right next to the city swimming pool – the cheapest way to enjoy Icelandic themal bathing, with admission fees of ca. 3€.
  • City campground next to the city hostel  (make sure to bring a tent that won’t get brought down by strong winds, as well as an appropriate sleeping bag).
  • One of the many business hotels in the center and around the harbor. More pricey, they offer the usual standard to the business traveler.

Getting around

Usually, you’ll enter the country through the Keflavik airport, 50km south of Reykjavik. Some people who bring their own cars or campers along use a ferry from Europe into Reykjavik. However, for the sake of a business meeting, it will be airplane travel (hopefully not disturbed by volcanic eruptions).

  • Within the city: walk or use the local transportation!
  • Into the country: From 15.5.-15.9., the public long distance bus network will get you to many plances in iceland.
  • Use a rental car – some offers are quite cheap leately, particularly with companies that rent out well-used cars, e.g. Sad Cars (based at Kevlavik Airport).
  • Get picked up by tour operators or guides at your hostel or hotel. If you book the classic day trips to the Golden Circle or the glaciers, you’ll be transported by the tour operator.
  • Never hitch-hike in Iceland. When locals resort to driving, they usually pack their cars with the whole family and dog. Success rates are very low. Plus, you don’t want to be left out in the weather for days. When you have to walk to places, you realize that Iceland is bigger than it appears on the map.

Where to eat

  • Restaurant Balthazar is centrally located on Hafnarstraeti 1-3 in the town’s bar and party district. A bistro and café at day time, the place turns into a night club and cocktail bar at nighttime. Their menu offers barfood (burgers, steak, fish & chips), fish, pasta and some Icelandic dishes. Plokkfiskur, a potato-fish-gratin, is highliy recommended!
  • The small sushi take-away Sushibarinn in Laugavegi 2, tel. 5524444, offers fine sushi made from Icelandic seafood. Particularly whale sushi and whale sashimi from Icelandic-caught mink whale, and Iceland horse (pony) meat are a specialty not served anywhere else.
  • Make sure to have the most expensive beer you can find. Even if you feel abused initially, the most expensive Beck’s you ever had will make a great story and will pay off in the long run. Hard Rock Cafe Reykjavik used to be a great place for this, as it had the most outrageous beer prices ever. Sadly, it is closed now. Beer and wine are not on sale in regular shops, only in the monopoly shops, like in most nordic countries. The shop in Reykjavik is located across the street from the main post office in the downtown area.

Brennivin - an Icelandic aquavit

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Brennivin uses a traditional poision and acid bottle used in pharmacy stores in the good old times. The producer reacted on the Icelandic alcohol prohibition by filling these bottles with his 'poison'. Brennivin is not for those faint in heart, or sensitive in their taste buds. Best enjoyed at -15 C right from the freezer.

What to bring home
Typical Icelandic souvenirs – other than volcanic rock, volcanic ash, and photos – are to be found in Reykjavik’s art shops and galleries. However, some specialties are worth some extra attention.

  • Brennivin, Iceland’s answer to Akevit/Aquavit. Best enjoyed at -20C (calms down the flavor buds). The glass bottle is actually an old poison bottle inspired by old pharmacy bottles – which, according to the legend, was a reaction of the producer to increasingly restrictice alcohol regulation in the last century.
  • Dried fish snacks, and salt fish. The fish snacks are enjoyed best with beer, while the salt fish is a great raw material for dishes such as Bacalao and Plokkfiskur.
  • Jewellery, pottery or fashion from the artist’s shops around Laugavegur (the shopping road) and Skólavörðustíg (the road to Hallgrims church).

Maps

  • Actually, Google Maps doesn’t offer too much detail for anything outside the city center – see below. It seems that Iceland is best enjoyed with a decent topographic map, along with the free maps available all over Reykjavik in any palce that offers touristic brochures.

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