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main takeaway: be brave

First, a confession: I’m still processing and remain a little overwhelmed from last week. Alt Summit was a bit like a going back to school (stomach butterflies), learning how to swim (keep your head above water), and the ultimate networking event (meet, greet and repeat x300) all mixed into one big blender for three straight days.

Second, a clarification: Because of my event planning background, which includes planning conferences and working with speakers, and currently as a social media consultant this post was really tough to write. In large part this reflects what I saw and experienced through that lens. Trust me, I tried hard to remove it to remain neutral, but it proved a bit too hard so the below is simply my opinion.

Third, the content below: I was asked so many questions before leaving – and since returning – it seemed easiest to write it up like a Q&A. So, with a deep breath and without further ado…

Alt Friday Afternoon - biz card boards

the business card boards

1. Uh, a blogging conference? Seriously? Yes. This is a real thing. Alt Summit is a blogging conference for those in creative fields. The attendees include writers, photographers, crafters, artists, prop stylists, food stylists, designers, fashion stylists, Etsy shopkeepers, and so forth (for simplicity’s sake, I’ll call this group “creatives” from here on out). Attendees also included those who provide consulting services in areas like image, design, event planning, branding, marketing, and social media (and called “consultants” in this post). While there is an unbelievable number of people who work in their creative field as a living, there is an equally large, if not larger group, ranging from lawyers to stay-at-home-parents, who blog and create as their second job and creative outlet.

2. So why did you go? Alt Summit is right up Sparrow Soirées’ alley. I went with three goals in mind: 1) network with other creatives and consultants; 2) further my own skill set, brand and business both in creative and administrative ways while finding a better balance; and 3) get ideas to help my clients further their brands and grow their businesses.

Alt Friday Morning - round table

attending a roundtable session

3. And did you? Ummm, for the most part, yes. The networking was crazy and at times it was downright daunting. Usually by mid-afternoon I found I really needed to step away to recharge in a quiet space. The buzz over the business cards was no joke. The creativity shown was amazing, and that’s an understatement. On the upside, I made some truly great connections and keeping my fingers crossed for some good collaborations.

For furthering my skill set and so forth, I learned a lot thanks to three different sessions led by (1) Hillary Rushford and Whitney English; (2) Erica Domesek; and (3) Camille Styles, Megan Reardon, Alix Tyler and Meg Keene. I realized I needed to embrace this blog as a much needed creative outlet. I picked up the key message about being brave and start taking certain risks to help grow Sparrow Soirées. I learned it’s important to allow and accept change to happen, but more importantly it’s ok if others don’t embrace the change the same way I might. Bottom line: trial and error is all part of this deal, but I won’t know until I try.

The balancing act is hard as discussed in Hillary and Whitney’s session. I mainly work from home, run Sparrow on my own, and a often there is a tyke – or two – working on their own project next to me or playing with trains under the table while I type. Late nights and early mornings to work are inevitable. Even though I know there are others in the same proverbial boat, running this business has been filled with a lot of very lonely moments. Alt Summit helped me find a group filled with encouragement, honesty, and they just get it. I picked up a few other golden nuggets here and there too; all very exciting. However for the time being I’m going to keep those cards close to my chest and hopefully unveil them over time as I’m ready.


attending the friday night mini-parties with andrea (@legalmssunshine) & kim (@designlifekids)

4. And the third goal? Admittedly a hard part about a conference like this is the huge range of attendee experience and knowledge, which creates a unique challenge for the speakers in covering their topic. With that said, I didn’t find as much as I has hoped to pass on to my clients from the sessions. I did however find more benefit in speaking with fellow consultants and some of the conference sponsors.

For the panel sessions, I think it would’ve been incredibly beneficial to have specialists in the general field/topic being discussed act as moderators. They could’ve given additional input and taken the pressure off the presenters to act as both moderators and panelists; allowing them to speak to their own blog’s experience. It felt like some speakers, who are primarily bloggers, may not have been able or prepared to give additional examples, speak to wider platform trends, or offer tips within the session’s topic. A moderator could’ve helped bring these items up in the conversation. The same goes with offering ideas for management tools to help lighten the daily load.

For example: there was one session in particular where you could just see a wave of shoulders slumping and hear the collective gasp over a budget used on a particular social media platform. The opportunity to translate what was just said into something much more attainable for the attendees was completely missed. It broke my heart to see this helplessness across the room and it was so hard to keep still. I was waiting for one of the speakers to take that golden moment and offer another example or solution to help level the playing field between the panel and audience, but other questions were being asked and the opportunity was quickly disappearing. So I raised my hand to hopes to give a quick example of how a much smaller budget can still help grow an online presence. Adding to my already shaken nerves (did I really just raise my hand? did someone really just hand me a microphone?!?) I was asked if I had a question by a panel member shortly after I introduced myself. I cannot remember how I responded because I was so nervous and trying to stop from visibly shaking. But I was finally able to get it out: it’s completely possible to grow an online community with a tiny fraction of that amount and used the example of a current client’s platform and his community growth. After the session, I was approached by a few of the session attendees. They asked a lot of great questions related to what I had said earlier and I showed them a quick example of a platform option or management tool that might help them lighten their workload. Each thanked me profusely for taking the time to talk with them, but I stood there afterwards thinking, how could solutions and tools – the basic how-tos – not have been part of that specific presentation? I ran into this same situation in a few other sessions too and I was surprised over the lack of necessary detail not covered – all of which would’ve made some of these sessions contain golden ticket moments.

(In all of this though there’s the silver lining, so stay tuned in for it in future posts.)

5) Other than that, were there any other “YAY!” or “meh.” moments? Yes to both. I’ll tackle the “mehs” first since it’s always nice to end on a positive: 1) I was a little sad to see the roundtable sessions had been removed from Saturday since they had been on the previous year’s schedule. I understand it’s a huge commitment for those leading the discussions, but it was still a disappointment since there were so many great options to choose from Thursday afternoon and Friday morning, along with the Design Camp options, and it was impossible to attend even a quarter of them (there were 33 options if you included all the Design Camp options). I think a Saturday morning roundtable session, without the Design Camps, would’ve been really beneficial. 2) Not so much a “meh” but more of a “blerg”: there wasn’t a list of all the blogs and businesses represented at the conference. I realize there could be issues of listing attendee names and emails, but just a straight forward alphabetical list of the attendee blogs and/or businesses with their home state listed, would’ve helpful in knowing who was present. It would’ve also been a great way for the attendees to show support of the various shopkeepers and artists, either on Etsy or elsewhere, that were present in their business endeavors.

Alt Wednesday Night - balloon

blowing up the prize balloon at the cricut and small fry sponsor dinner.

6) And the “YAYS!”? Oh my goodness! There are way too many to list, but here are a few highlights:
-Possible Girl-Crush: Hearing and then having a one-on-one with the opening keynote speaker, Garance Doré was incredible – and later having an off-the-cuff chat with her nearly blew my mind. She’s funny and completely down-to-earth. I’m not saying we’re exchanging Christmas cards or anything like that, but I greatly appreciated the time she took to chat.
-Possible Girl-Crush, part 2: Christy Turlington Burns’ undeniable passion and fight for Every Mother Counts. Enough said.
-Unexpected Surprise: as a cab pulled up at airport’s queue, I quickly asked if anyone else was heading to the same hotel. A person suddenly waved her hand, said, “Me!” and made her way through the line to join me. After we jumped in the cab, we introduced ourselves by first name. About two minutes later, I had a small freak-out (hopefully it was mainly inside my head). I suddenly realized I was sharing the ride with Camille Styles, who I have long admired as an event planner turned into self-made brand. It was so hard to contain myself and not suddenly play a round of 20 Questions.
-Oprah-Like Moment: I was so excited to attend the sponsor dinner hosted by Cricut and Small Fry. I really enjoy reading Small Fry on a regular basis and the three ladies who write it always seemed like the kind you’d want to meet up with for a happy hour and chat over a glass of wine (and are they ever!). After dinner, we were told to blow up a balloon and then pop it since there was a prize inside it. Each dinner attendee was given with their very own Cricut Explore! All I could think of afterwards was Oprah singing, “freeeeee Circuits for evvvveryyyyyone!” Cannot wait for it to arrive! (Just trust me, this will make life a bit of a dream in prepping decor.)
-Kindred Spirits: Last but not least, the ladies and gents I met are insanely talented, unbelievably gracious, knee-slapping funny, and just downright amazing (and some have an awesomely wicked wit like none-other). There were some I had starting chatting with in Twitter or Facebook prior to the conference and when we finally met in person, it was like seeing an old friend. I would list them all out so you could follow their blogs and/or work, but I’m so scared of accidentally forgetting someone. Please return often though since it’s highly likely I’ll mention them in future posts (if it’s been tagged with “Alt Summit” you’ll know that’s how we met) and hopefully work on collaborations with some.

7) So would you go again? Yes, I think I would, even though it’s a bit pricey. I got so much from the networking and the sessions I mentioned above in #3, even though I personally wished for a little more depth in some of the other sessions and roundtables I attended. Two main points about Alt Summit: 1) I don’t know of any other opportunity allowing me to ask some of my favorite creatives and consultants, in person, how they get out of a creative funk, how they handle online negativity, or what path they followed to end up where they are today, and actually have a conversation about it. And 2) the creative field, especially when blogging is a part of the business, can be lonely as I mentioned above. It’s just part of the beast since we spend a lot of time in front of a computer. So as hooky as it might sound, Alt is a breath of fresh air and literally brings in the confetti-filled balloons we all need to perk up. The caliber of the keynotes and sponsors were stellar in my opinion; I was able to take a lot away from each one. And again realizing fellow attendees get what you’re doing and understand the struggles is priceless in so many ways. Even with all the rah-rah it creates (and at times I wanted to escape it), I think it encourages a lot of people to keep at their creative work and passion.


business card boards, roundtable session & balloon blowing images from the alt summit flikr boards, by justin hackworth & brooke dennis // for more of my pictures from alt summit please visit my instagram feed!

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