I spent the first part of this week at the MAKERS conference in Rancho Palos Verdes, CA. The conference, which arose out of a documentary project telling the stories of trailblazing women, offered a good excuse to get out of snowy Philadelphia and into a lovely resort on the Pacific Ocean.
It was also one of the most star-studded, yet intimate conferences I have ever been to. The PA Conference for women last November had Madeline Albright and Hillary Clinton and people like that, but with thousands of people there, you couldn’t get anywhere close to them (except the founder of GoldieBlox, who I got to interview, and was excited to see win the Intuit small business commercial in the Super Bowl...) In this case, with only 450 of us, I sat at a table for comedy night with Rachel Roy. Geena Davis was standing near the bar when I was getting a drink. I saw a vaguely familiar woman and realized it was Mae Jemison the astronaut. We sang Happy Birthday to Gloria Steinem for her upcoming 80th birthday, as led by Marlo Thomas and Jane Fonda.
So, that happened. But I don’t go to conferences to write blog posts with bold names. Why do we go to conferences? This is a question I wind up thinking about every time I go to one, whether I’m speaking or there as press (which I was in this case).
There are downsides. Conferences can be expensive, but beyond the money there’s the time. It’s difficult to do any sort of focused work. Travel is stressful. My flight home from LAX to PHL took off, but many people’s did not on account of the impending snowstorm. With my husband in Europe and me in LA, there is a fine margin for error on these things. There are a lot of conferences these days, and it’s always difficult to know where the conversation is centered — where the “cool kids” are, as it were — and what will pay off.
In this case, I got a lot out of MAKERS. I went to get fodder for upcoming articles, and I came away with plenty of that from interviewing the business leaders who were there. I also talked to a couple of high powered women for Mosaic — my book on how professional women with kids spend their time. Hopefully I’ve found a few more people who will keep logs for me, and encourage their networks to do so as well. And I reconnected with a few people I know already (Amanda Steinberg of DailyWorth, Julia Boorstin of CNBC) or have interviewed. I made press and PR friends while there. I even learned that a business I dreamed up for a forthcoming, post Cortlandt-boys novel, Juliet’s School for the Domestic Arts, bears a striking resemblance to an existing business: The Charleston Academy of Domestic Pursuits, whose founder I met at breakfast. Go figure. I wonder if I read a profile of her a year ago? Maybe reading their forthcoming recipe book will give me ideas.
In this digital age, when many of us work from home and often work as soloists, too, there’s something to be said for getting out and meeting people. I practiced being my most extraverted self for two days and kind of enjoyed the brazenness of walking up to random people and saying hello. Doing different things sparks ideas. Getting out of your normal environment — and the sparkly Pacific is a bit different than snowy Philly — makes you see things differently.
And hey, Jennifer Aniston sightings are fun, too.
What conferences do you go to, and why?
Photo: Yesterday I woke up to this. Today I woke up to shoveling 12 inches of snow off my driveway.