In our industry — by which we mean the wider umbrella industry of web content, design, and development — there is a certain kind of obsolescence that creeps into what we do every day. The industry moves fast, and best practices and great ideas move (and change) faster. There’s a constant need for learning. For keeping up. For staying ahead.
That’s why conferences rule. That’s why we keep going — to learn, and to connect, and to help each other as we move the industry (and our own organizations) forward. Our user experience architect Corey Vilhauer wrote this about conferences a few years ago:
Conferences are made for learning. But they’re also for making connections. They’re for making friends. They’re for driving emotion and preparing us for a new direction. They are summits and forums for freely and honestly discussing the things we do and learning better ways to do them.
It was in this spirit that Blend created Now What? Conference in 2013 — to bring that kind of high-level industry learning to our corner of the midwest, and to expose some of the greatest minds (and luckiest attendees) to our growing tech and content community. Not just to get some famous web people on stage, but to help facilitate some of the great conference vibes that we have experienced — and grown from — over the past 15 years.
With this in mind, we reached out to a past attendee, Mel Peterson, Director of Marketing & Training at Diamond Mowers in Sioux Falls, to talk about how she and her team selects conferences, and the benefits to attending workshops.
You’ve attended Now What? Conference for two years, and sent a team member last year. Does Diamond Mowers have a company policy that provides opportunities for these kinds of conferences?
Not a full-on policy, but we do challenge staff to participate in a number of training events. For me and my team, I actually put together a budget every year to allow for training — for conferences like Now What, or for Hubspot training or something specific to a tool we’re using. I allocate dollars each year, and then encourage them to find learning opportunities — including things like AIGA.
For us, it’s driven by the employees. Management’s not going to go find training opportunities, but employees who bring those to us — as long as it’s not a $20,000 training session — are likely to have them approved.
Does it ever move beyond marketing? Does the organization provide for multi-disciplinary conferences?
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Absolutely. Leadership is a big area. Anything where staff learns to grow — not just their area of expertise, but in a way that can be more valuable within the organization, whether it’s a management role or leadership role.
What kinds of things do you look for when you’re approving conferences?
Not in any particular order: it’s got to be cost effective (there’s still a budget). Location — if we have to travel a long distance, then that takes up two extra days because of travel. The length of the conference and overall amount of time they will be gone. And the value that’s going to bring — what can they get that they can apply immediately, rather than focusing on pie in the sky wishful thinking.
Another consideration is whether they can bring back content to help the rest of the team. Information that is not only applicable right now, can be shared. Our team was really small, but now that we keep growing it’s always good to have one person come in and share after a training instead of sending five people.
So we’ll bring everyone together and spend an hour or two hashing out what we learned, and how it’s applicable. How we implement this a little further in our organization.
Do you usually choose a conference based on topics? Or are you more likely to choose conferences based on the people speaking?
Absolutely based on topics. We’re not always well versed in who is an expert celebrity in a specific forum, but the topic is always going to be a consideration — what is the topic, and how that’s going to be valuable across the board.
What do you see as the difference between a straight conference talk and a more in-depth workshop?
To me, they’re very different things. A conference talk is much more passive. It can be nice to sit down and listen, absorb, take notes, and then figure out how to fill it in in your own world later. Workshops, however — I like how they are participatory.
It really depends on the style of the team member, though. I have one team member that is going to thrive more in a workshop, through interaction and discussion, while I have other team members who are going to be way more receptive in the conference approach. Not saying that one is better than the other — just that it’s important to know how people learn, and which concept they’ll be drawn toward.
It’s been almost two years since you last attended Now What? Conference. What still sticks out in your mind all these years later?
The workshops. I got a lot of the workshop, especially working with the team that was at my table. I didn’t come with anyone else, but I met some interesting people, and I made some great contacts, and what we all learned during that workshop timeframe was very valuable.
I’ve even gone back to those notes a few times to refresh and take a new look at the concepts. I appreciated that part. I mean, I really appreciated the conference part, too — there were a lot of great nuggets there — but the workshop comes to mind immediately.
Awesome — thanks for your time.
Now What? Workshops happens on April 25-26, 2018, and early bird prices end on January 31st. Get your tickets now — we’d love to see you there!