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Microsoft Inspire Preview: Virtual, But Way More than Just a Few Online Keynotes

Microsoft Inspire 2021, the company's partner conference that is being held virtually for the second year in a row due to COVID-19, kicks off this week.

Conference registration is available here.

The main event starts Wednesday at 11:30 a.m. EDT with a keynote from Microsoft CEO and Chairman Satya Nadella. Nadella normally provides a broad overview of the company's strategic direction and partner opportunities around those goals at the conference, which closely follows the July 1 start of Microsoft's fiscal year.

Microsoft has high hopes that the free virtual event will once again draw significantly larger partner audiences than the traditional in-person, paid event brought in.

"We reached a much broader audience [last year] than we've ever had with our Inspire conference," says Rodney Clark, who will be appearing Wednesday at his first Inspire as Microsoft Channel Chief after being named to the role in April. "We had 115,000 attendees last year, 67 percent of which were attending for the first time."

That's an order of magnitude increase in attendance versus in-person, although it's impossible to replicate the intangibles and engagement levels of an in-person version of the event, with its parties, dinners, exhibit floor and hallway interactions.

Nonetheless, Microsoft is making an effort to present a rich event online. The 45-minute Nadella talk is one of more than 260 scheduled sessions in the catalog. Many of those sessions are three-peated because the global show, once known as the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference, is rerun twice for viewers on other continents. Nadella's keynote, for example, kicks off a second run of the conference at 9 p.m. EDT and starts the third run at 3:30 a.m. EDT on Thursday.

Narrowing down to the sessions in one geography, the catalog currently shows about 85 unique sessions over the two days of the conference. (The third run of the conference lasts into Friday, East Coast time.)

Session types include keynotes; theme sessions, which are like mini-keynotes; connection zone events, which include Microsoft-led sessions, panels and sponsor- and partner-led talks; breakout sessions; and then a cluster of on-demand-only sessions. Microsoft's conference platform for registrants allows attendees to build a schedule of sessions and to participate in one-on-one meetings.

The rest of the initial bloc of keynotes on Wednesday begins with a session with Microsoft Chief Commercial Officer Judson Althoff, who will talk about what he calls "Digital Optimism" and how technology will "play a central role in the world's recovery." Following Althoff is a three-part keynote with Clark; Nick Parker, corporate vice president of Global Partner Solutions; and Charlotte Yarkoni, COO for Cloud and AI.

The second day starts once again at 11:30 a.m. EDT with an hour-long "Into Focus" keynote featuring a broad array of Microsoft executives discussing cloud tools, recent Windows developments and opportunities. Closing out the Day 2 keynote bloc is Microsoft President Brad Smith.

In the first run of the conference content, sessions wrap up at 4:45 p.m. EDT on Wednesday and at 6 p.m. EDT on Thursday.

Posted by Scott Bekker on July 12, 2021 at 1:45 PM


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