#MAKERS2014 and the question of conferences

photo-124I 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.

6 thoughts on “#MAKERS2014 and the question of conferences

  1. I love conferences for most of the reasons you mentioned. I mostly attend conferences centered around my profession (libraries) and I love connecting with co-workers from across the state and from other states. I find myself inspired and re-energized when I return. Because my trips are tax payer funded I always have to write a post conference report for our board and I always try to come away with 3 takeaways/action steps to implement. So not only do I get personal fulfillment from engaging with colleagues, but I am very accountable to translating what I learn into personal success as well.

    1. @Alissa- that sounds like a smart idea for all of us, even who aren’t using taxpayer funds for conferences. What are 3 actions/takeaways? If you can’t come up with that, it probably wasn’t worth going!

  2. Each year I almost always go to one huge conference in my field, but it’s more about getting attention for the work my group is getting rather than anything I get out of it personally. I always present some research and, other than that, it’s a lot of going to talks and posters and lots and lots of meet and greet with people I’ve worked with remotely. It’s kind of fun because you get to eat out and stay in a fairly nice hotel, but it’s also exhausting.

  3. That sounds like a LOT of fun. I keep seeing “final registration” notices for a crafty/maker conference in So. Cal in April, and am debating whether I want to go. I know it’ll be fun, but the introvert in me would rather spend a weekend to myself, if I were going away from home.

  4. RE: the picture and article at the Jennifer Aniston sighting link: Pretty sad that under the headline “Jennifer Aniston Interviews Gloria Steinem, Laments How Women’s Worth Is “Dependent on Marital Status” or Procreation” there were so many words devoted to Jen’s clothing, hair accessories and a reference to her significant other interspersed with the content of the interview. I don’t think that would make Gloria so hopeful. On a related note, Gloria makes 80 look fabulous!

    1. @Judy- she does make 80 look fabulous. Honestly, looking at her next to Jennifer Aniston it was like two incredibly attractive women having a conversation. I would never have guessed she was 35-some years older.

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