What I Learned From Building a Conference in 35 Days
Back in December of 2012 I hosted the first ConnectorCon while I was still working in business development at an educational technology start up. I had been to a conference earlier that year that I was not impressed with and I thought it would be cool to try and do something better. So on November 5th of 2012, I posted this blog, created a page for people to buy tickets, and got to work on coming up with the topics that would be presented. I had no idea if any of it would work, but I figured I’d at least give it a shot. I learned a bunch of lessons from my experience and surprised myself with what I actually pulled off. Some of these lessons are below. I hope they help you in starting something today.
Lesson 1: Saying you’re doing something publicly works – Off of the initial blog post I had a number of people contact me and ask if they could be involved. I also reached out to others I had met over the years via email and sent them the blog post. Many of these people decided that they wanted to be involved and offered to help in varying ways. After announcing it on my blog it was real and if I didn’t do it, I was going to look pretty silly, which meant I went in full force.
Lesson 2: When you have crazy limits, your creativity is forced to be limitless – I didn’t have a space, I had almost no budget, and I had very few early sales when I first announced the conference. This forced me to constantly think creatively about how to solve these problems. I met up with someone who had an event space and he offered me the use of the space as long as he could talk about his company at the beginning of the day. I had no problem with that and I had space nailed down. I reached out to people who were looking for speaking opportunities and was very upfront about the fact that there was no budget for paying speakers but I could let them attend any other sessions during the day and continue to spread the word about their services. Some of them said yes and some people said to come back to them when I had a budget. I then went to anyone who had already bought a ticket and encouraged them to tell more friends. Eventually more people started to buy tickets and I was able to afford some of the printed materials and packets we had on hand as well as water for our guests. I really wanted to provide lunch, but I just couldn’t, so I informed participants that they could go out and get lunch and bring it back to the venue and get to know one another. To my surprise, a lot of people were fine with that. No matter what came my way in terms of blocks, I just asked if there was a way around it and some people were willing to help and others weren’t. I never let a no stop me. I was doing this.
Lesson 3: When you’re building something for everyone to benefit from, the product is always better than if you are building something for your own gain – My focus in starting the conference was around people having a safe space to connect and get to know one another. I wanted a conference environment where no one looked at someone’s name tag and made split decisions about how valuable that person was to them. I wanted an environment where panelists, speakers, and participants all spent time with one another and most importantly, I wanted an event where participants got the opportunity to learn new and awesome things and could share their viewpoints with one another. If my focus was on making as much money as possible or promoting myself, I doubt I would have received the level of support that I did. When you make your goal around something bigger than yourself, you find people willing to align with that vision.
Lesson 4: Be ready to roll up your sleeves, because you’ll be doing the bulk of the work – During the first conference there was a lot of packing of envelopes, creating and printing programs, and trips to the store for supplies the night before. During the day me, my wife, and one young volunteer cleaned up trash and made sure the space looked good. Throughout the days leading up to the conference, I was spending any hours I had when I wasn’t at my day job answering emails, confirming speakers, and scheduling panels. The fact of the matter is if you want to get something done and you don’t have a staff, it’s on you to do it. So roll up those sleeves.
<strong>Lesson 5: You’re never “ready”: Were there a ton of things that I wanted for the first conference that I didn’t get? Yes. Did it really matter in the end? No. If I had waited until I felt I was ready the conference would never have happened and it certainly wouldn’t be where it is today. This is what our page looked like in 2012 and this is what our most recent conference looked like in 2014. We’ve made some great strides, but I am always looking at how I can keep improving it and making it even more awesome the next time around. Had I not taken that initial risk back in 2012, none of the things I have done with the conference would have been possible.
So here’s a little experiment that I think will be fun. Feel free to comment on this post and commit to something in front of everyone who decides to read it.
What will YOU commit to creating and starting in the next 35 days?
I look forward to seeing what you come up with.