I didn't know it, but this was exactly what I needed

Monday I wrote from my heart in a way that I haven’t really done before. Now I want to share where it came from. 

Last weekend, I attended Podcasters Across Borders (PAB), a conference that has a slightly misleading name. It’s actually all about content. 

No, that’s not entirely accurate.

I think PAB is more accurately described as a conference that is about content that connects. Content that builds relationships. Content that touches a need. These themes were carried through the entire conference this weekend. I came away inspired, uplifted, and even emotionally exhausted. I was not at all prepared for this experience and I think that was a good thing. Had I prepared, I think I would have guarded myself more and not felt what was happening quite so deeply and that would have been a shame.

I went prepared to work. Ipad and phone in hand, ready to take notes and tweet like crazy with my profound and highly insightful thoughts or quotes from speakers. I did a little of that, but it didn’t take long before the conference pulled me in so completely that I put my phone down, didn’t even bother taking my ipad out of my bag and just soaked it all in.

The result is that I honestly don’t remember exactly who said what that stuck with me but there was one session that affected me deeply and profoundly. But let me set the stage for you:

Friday night was the conference keynote where Scott Florence from Company of Fools shared the advice that we should try to fail. That sounds odd, and I may be putting words into his mouth, but I interpreted it as encouragement to jump in to something without planning it to the nth degree. It reminded me of a band director I had who always told us if we were going to make a mistake to make it a big one because they’re easier to hear and fix. People who make quiet mistakes and fly under the radar don’t get noticed and they rarely do great things. Scott’s keynote inspired me to get out and DO the things I’ve been talking about doing - to my family, my partner, and to myself.

While I walked away from Friday night feeling energized and inspired, Saturday morning I was pretty tired after staying up too late working, but I brightened up when I saw these as I was leaving my house:

The focus is horrible due to my rush to get to the conference.

We made an essential stop on our way downtown. This was a first - I’ve seen Caren and Carrin, but never Carren. I always thought my spelling was the default, too…guess I was wrong. ;)

The short walk from where Matt dropped me off to the NAC was gorgeous and I decided to take some pictures for Brandon, who got very upset as soon as I got out of the car.

All this picture taking was putting me into a lovely mindset for the day. It struck me as I was walking down the sidewalk running beside the NAC just how utterly gorgeous Ottawa was right then in that moment. (Yes, always, but right then it was spectacular.)

The picture may not reflect the spectacularness, but trust me on this. It was.This gives you an idea of my hopefulness for the day - eagerness to learn and gain wisdom from others. 

In truth, I had no clue what I was walking into would be more profound and emotional than I ever expected to experience in such a venue. Our kickoff speaker Saturday was a last-minute replacement because the scheduled speaker was unable to make it.

Jason Goldsmith drove two hours that morning from Montreal to join us in Ottawa and I forgot all about my disappointment at not hearing the original speaker as I realized that this was the speaker I needed to hear. Jason is father to Ellis. Ellis is autistic, which has presented challenges to their family. I suspect the communication challenges were the biggest of all. I would love to reiterate Jason’s story, but he does a much better job and what I got out of it was much more important than what was said.

You see, during this session, I was receiving a string of texts from Matt keeping me posted on Brandon. They went immediately back home and Brandon proceeded to meltdown for over an hour. Until this:

I’m sitting there listening to this amazing story, thinking about our own situation with Brandon and knowing that Matt is dealing with an inconsolable child. It was all too much. I was overwhelmed, emotional, at my limit. Just thinking about that hour and a half brings the tears back again. I think that Jason’s talk was host to the moment that I realized that this was real and not going away easily. At the same time, I felt hope that it would be okay, even if it was hard work to get the help Brandon needs. 

If that was the start of the day, what would the rest bring?

Next up was a jolt from Robin Browne, who was eloquent and thought-provoking. He challenged us to think differently and look for the grey in life. To think, not strictly in black and white, but to realize there is more going on than we even realize. He tied in some racial commentary, noting that the first tablet built in Africa wasn’t deemed newsworthy. Yet, that really should be, shouldn’t it? The media thinks in black and white too.

By this time my head was swirling. I don’t even remember who came next. At some point, I talked to Jason, but after the first couple of speakers and because I consciously decided to focus on the speakers and not take notes, I have actually lost some of that day.

But after lunch…oh, that amazing lunch and creme brulee!…I was better. More focused. But not actually prepared to be so completely blown away by one of my lunch table mates. Brandon Wint…just, wow. The PAB video isn’t ready yet, but he spoke at TEDxOttawa and you can see the video here:

I could listen to Brandon Wint talk all day. The pictures he paints with words, spontaneously and unrehearsed, are beautiful, touching and profound. His love of poetry, love of life, love of his country…love of love…come through loud and clear through his art and his person.

You can see now why I say that PAB was about content that connects. In some way, shape or form, I connected with every single speaker and all the people I got to speak to that I shared this experience with. I wish I could share every little morsel with you, because it filled me up so completely.

At the end of the day, when all the speakers were done speaking, it’s an annual tradition to take a PAB family photo. So, we all filed outside to the steps of the NAC where, of course, we saw a young man portaging a pink canoe.

Source: Bob Goyetche

And, of course, he needed to be in our picture too. Because when you see a pink canoe walking down Elgin Street and you have a camera, you take a picture. Lots of them.

 

Meet Andy, new friend to PAB2012 attendees, simply because he had a pink canoe. Andy’s on a mission to raise awareness and funds for cancer. Clearly, he is not afraid of hard work. His journey started in Kingston, Ontario and he came up to Ottawa and now he’s heading back to Kingston and beyond - all the way to Windsor. 

Carrying a very heavy canoe all the way. 

Wow.

If you want to find out more about The Pink Portage, you should definitely follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

Andy moved on, taking up his canoe and continuing on his journey.

That’s what the final PAB felt like - the start of a journey for me personally. The inspiration, the community, the thoughts swirling in my brain still after nearly a week. It was my first and my last trip to PAB, but I’ll never forget it.

Blissdom Canada reminded me that I need to stop doubting myself

I went to Blissdom Canada this past weekend, which is described as a “writing and business conference: social media, blogging, marketing and public relations”. Though I didn’t get a chance to write out my goals before I left, my friend Mel did and I found that several of her goals were similar to my own:

  • discuss digital media trends with other attendees,
  • network with women interested in the same topics as me, 
  • meet and reunite with women I’ve talked to on Twitter, and
  • don’t be afraid to talk with women I don’t already know

I did pretty well with all of these goals. I would have liked to meet a lot more women than I did, but I focused a lot on going to the sessions and live tweeting them. But despite the time constraints that going to each and every session caused, I’m really happy with my Blissdom experience.

I drove down with Mel and Barbara Thursday and we had some great conversations in our Ford Edge provided by Ford Canada. The rainy weather held off for us so we had a nice drive down to Toronto with plenty of time left to get ready for the CBC Live kickoff party which was great fun and I got to hang out with a lot of my friends from Ottawa and finally meet some of my friends from other parts of Canada and meet a ton of women I didn’t know yet - even online. To me, these personal connections are the very best part of conferences like Blissdom Canada. Social media tools as we know them today are fabulous, but they must be accompanied by face-to-face interactions. 

For me, Blissdom Canada was an opportunity to connect in person - even from a distance as an audience member because I was too chicken to go up to them - with some of my favorite bloggers. People like Tanis Miller (Redneck Mommy) and Elan Morgan (Schmutzie), which is just silly because the very next day I did approach Jeff Pulver and Amber Mac which was just surreal. I’m seriously not the type to get star struck, but it happened and it was fun.

Through the sessions, I got to have a glimpse of what makes these people tick - the motivation and inspiration behind their success. The gist of it was that they don’t let others plant seeds of doubt. Nor do they succumb to the doubts that are inherent in themselves. They just keep going, working toward goals they’ve set and making progress, even if it’s small steps sometimes or backwards leaps. They just keep going. These are the nuggets of wisdom that I want to retain. They are fitting for where I’m at and I want to remember them every day.

It was nice to go to the conference and know without a doubt that I had no interest in working with the brands. That was a question I’d asked myself this time last year and ultimately came to the conclusion that working with brands and monetizing this little space of mine isn’t a direction I’ll take with this. This is my place to tell my stories, share a bit of my life and enjoy the process of writing.

What was interesting to me was hearing all the different perspectives of the individual sessions and the conference overall. Knowing how others’ felt didn’t really shift my views, but hearing everything from the most cynical and pessimistic views to the idealistic and naive views was enlightening. We each look at the same thing through our various filters installed throughout life and come up with pictures of what we believe that are wildly different. Not necessarily right or wrong, because often these views are based on assumptions about the people involved. At the end of the day, only they know what their own motivations and intentions are for their words and actions. That we can come together at a conference like Blissdom Canada and challenge and learn from each other through our different perspectives is an indicator of just how strong the social media community is.

And, we know how to party, too! Check out this story from CBC Live about our surprise guest at the closing night Karoake Costume Party. (The story even made Entertainment Weekly!) I hate to admit that, though I did enjoy their music, I wasn’t the world’s biggest NKOTB fan. However, but it was pretty cool that Jordan Knight showed up and hung out for so long. (I was still way more star struck by Amber Mac, though. :) Hopefully, my awesome pink wig wasn’t too disturbing for him. I owe a big thanks to Annie for said wig AND the picture. 

*****

I’m not quite done talking about Blissdom Canada yet. If you head over to The Media Mesh, I’ve shared a few tips for brands at conferences inspired by various conferences I and others have attended, including Blissdom Canada.

Chats with Matt Episode 9: #BlissdomCanada Edition

Sitting at the dinner table - blissfully alone for once - Matt and I were chatting about the coming days. He’s been rubbing it in every chance he gets that I’m going away to Blissdom Canada and leaving him all alone for 4 days and 3 nights. 

Me: I’m off work Monday. I have two meetings in the morning and then I can get some things done.

Matt: What do you mean you’re off Monday? Why are you off Monday?

Me: I took it off to have a recovery day.

Matt: What do you have to recover from? You’re just going to a conference. All you’re doing there is sitting and typing.

Yes, that’s all I’ll be doing. I can’t wait to see all the fabulous women I get to talk to online! We’ll have a blast sitting around typing. ;)

Capitalizing on Ottawa's social media conference void

It’s hard to describe the feelings I have right now about Social Capital. Four months of planning and working to pull everything together and the day felt like it flew by in a flash. Despite some blips, I think the day was an unqualified success. Yes, Ottawa’s very first social media conference - born and bred in this town - was really, really good. 

It only seemed appropriate that this inaugural conference in Ottawa be kicked off by Glen Gower, founder of OttawaStart.com and a bunch of other sites, who has his finger on the pulse of this town and knows community when he sees it. I loved hearing Glen’s take on the Ottawa social media scene from the very beginning. You know, back before social media was dubbed “social media”. Glen has made it his mission to promote these communities since the late 90s. Yeah, he was community-building before building communities was cool.

“Proceed until apprehended” - Stacey, with Keenan and Shannon to her left.From the morning keynote, I moved on to a session in which I was moderating a panel on social change through social media. The speakers, Shannon Smith, Stacey Diffin-Lafleur and Keenan Wellar, each had interesting stories to tell and words of wisdom for those in attendance. From Shannon’s insights about dealing with being unexpectedly thrust into the spotlight as an individual to Keenan’s bold declaration that “[many volunteer organization’s] processes suck” to Stacey’s motto, “proceed until apprehended” that clearly shows her indomitable spirit and commitment to her work.

All three have been learning how to use social media tools to advance their respective causes. This is one of the areas of social media that is inspiring to me - the sincere desire to bring about positive change in the world.

My friend, Cherie-Lynn, made me smile then caught it on camera. :)The second session I attended was Craig Fitzpatrick’s where he generated lively discussion after a presentation that, in some ways, challenged the way people looked at social media from a marketing perspective. “Community = Channel.” It was a great presentation that included advising users to choose to do things that are measurable and that Klout should rebrand itself “reach” instead of “influence”. Reach is measurable. Influence…well, it’s not so easy to measure.

The word “unconference” started being thrown around during Craig’s session in the tweets going through my stream. It was gratifying to see such energetic discussion about a topic that deserves careful thought.

By the third session, I was feeling slightly numb - probably due to waking at an unreasonable hour after being up to an unreasonable hour (funny how that works). So I know that a good chunk of the presentations from Kneale Mann and Dennis Van Staalduinen didn’t sink in completely. Kneale and Dennis came at the broad topic of social media strategy from very different perspectives. Kneale is a proponent of the human web and creating human connections. He brought up Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and related it to employee motivation - a concept I’m not unfamiliar with from my days of working in an employee survey firm as it was the basis for our surveys.

When Kneale finished, Dennis got up and gave us a crash course on how a major brand with a major campaign that goes insanely viral can ultimately crash and burn, destroying the brand in the process. I already cringe when I hear someone say, “Let’s do a viral video!” Hearing Dennis’ story makes me want to stay well away from those who think viral is the answer to everything. People relate to stories and respond to simplicity. Going over the top sets the bar so high that there’s rarely anywhere else to go but down.

Is your head spinning? Mine was.

Talking Facebook - it was a very interesting conversation!After all that, I lead a roundtable about Facebook. It was a fantastic way to end the day. Some stayed in my group for the full hour and a half and others came and went so they could visit other groups to talk about different subjects. The discussion about Facebook ran from basic to strategic questions and challenged me to think about how I’d use this tool more effectively as well.

At the end of the day, I was thoroughly exhausted but on a happy high of success.

WE DID IT! And we did it well. It’s hard to say what I learned more from - planning this conference or attending it. Start to finish, it was an extremely valuable experience that I am looking forward to doing again.

 This is the Social Capital Organizizing Committee - Sara, Andrea, Becky, Me, Lara and Vicky who was unable to stay for the whole day. These are amazing ladies that I am honoured to have been able to work with.

*****

Thank you to my friends, Sara and Cherie-Lynn, for the fabulous pictures I’ve used in this post!

Come and experience Social Capital

A few months ago a friend of mine, who is a true idea-person (with truly great ideas), started talking about having a conference here in Ottawa. Lara and I partnered up to start Losing it in Ottawa, so I already know how she works quite well. When she asked me to be a part of this conference, I jumped at the opportunity. It’s an honour to work with Lara and the rest of the team she’s put together to launch the Social Capital Conference - our very own social media learnathon here in Ottawa.

The line-up of speakers is full of some really smart, interesting people who have knowledge and experience to share with social media users of all levels - from fundamentals to advanced and business usage. And they are active in the Ottawa community. Come hear from them in a different way on July 23rd - see how much value they have to offer you and/or your business. You won’t regret it!

See you there!