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There’s no other word I can use to describe seanwes conference but incredible. The event far surpassed and exceeded my expectations. It was a beautiful picture of empowering talented, professional people and the result was nothing short of flawless. It honestly blew me away.
Everyone said it was the best conference they’d ever been to.
People with many different kinds of different businesses came from all over the world to be in one place together for several days, to enjoy some fantastic speakers, great conversations, and famously delicious Austin food.
In today’s podcast episode, Ben and I recap what happened at seanwes conference—an event we started planning nearly 2 years ago.
We specifically designed this event around the in-person conversations we knew people wanted to have. Generous margin was scheduled around speaking sessions with ample time for Q&A and lunch. In fact, after lunch we had an hour long “session” that was really just a time for people to talk. The first speaker after lunch didn’t start until 3:30pm, so no one had to face the “after lunch crowd”. It was very relaxed.
People told us that while after most conferences they felt like they had to recover, seanwes conference actually left them feeling, full, recharged, and rested. Amazing.
This episode gives a behind-the-scenes look at how we organized the conference. Ben, Cory, and I also share the gold nuggets we took away from the event. It’s a fantastically jam-packed episode for anyone looking for insights or inspiration for organizing their own conference too.
Highlights, Takeaways, Quick Wins
- The most valuable part of a conference is always the conversations.
- Everything at seanwes conference was designed around letting people talk together.
- The more time you have, the more people can be at a conference and it still feel intimate.
- For some people, seanwes conference is an entrance point to membership.
- The whole conference was a beautiful picture of talented, incredibly professional, creative people working together.
- Communicate your vision, empower professional people, and then trust the process.
- If you know what every volunteer is going to do, you don’t have enough volunteers.
- Our values and mindset impact the world around us because of the way we live it out.
- The unique thing about seanwes conference is that you can continue those conversations and relationships long after the event because of the Community.
- 01:02 Sean: We’re just getting back from seanwes conference, which we held in Austin, Texas. It was incredible. It really was phenomenal.
- 01:14 Ben: Did you expect it to go as well as it did?
- 01:17 Sean: No. I expected it to go well. I had high expectations. I thought it was going to be good, but it blew my expectations out of the water. It far surpassed and exceeded my expectations. I was honestly blown away.
- 01:35 Ben: Me too.
- 01:37 Sean: It was really something special. In a conversation with three other guys, all of us were from different countries. How cool is that?
- 01:48 Ben: That’s awesome. That was one of many things that were super cool about the conference. The fact that we had so many from all different parts of the world was a lot of fun. It made the conversations super interesting. There’s something amazing about having perspectives from other cultures and ways of life. We were in Austin, right in the middle of Texas, and I heard several comments on how large our food portions are here in the States.
- 02:28 Sean: Who said that?
- 02:31 Ben: I know for sure John said it.
- 02:32 Sean: I thought of John. That’s something John would say. There is so much to process from this. We could talk about the speakers, the people, the location, the conversations, how we designed things, the signage—that was incredible—the after party… It was something else. I kept asking people what their favorite part or highlight was, and it had to be the session we had where we let people talk.
- 03:27 We basically had a break, but I didn’t call it that on the schedule, because I didn’t want people to see it and say, “Oh, I don’t have to go back to the venue.” I called it something to make sure that people came back, and then we said, “Hey, feel free to talk with each other.”
- 03:50 They fill it with panels, speakers, and sponsors, and it’s non-stop. There are eight or ten sessions a day. Number one, it’s exhausting, but number two, they don’t have time for generous breaks in between the sessions. They’ll do a 15 minute break, but they’re always running behind because they’re trying to do so much. They’re behind, so those 15 minute breaks end up being, “Everyone, be back in five minutes!”
- 04:20 Then, you’re basically standing in line for the bathroom, and the time’s up. You have to come back, but all you want to do is talk to people that you meet in the hall. This happens to me all the time. I end up skipping sessions to talk to the people, and I feel bad. I come back, and I’m exhausted. Every night goes super late and you have to wake up super early. I said, “I don’t want that. I want something more relaxed, that recharges me.”
We intentionally set aside time at the conference for people to talk to each other, because conferences usually jam pack the day with sessions.
- 04:52 Sean: For me, speakers are great at conferences, but the most valuable things are always the conversations I have with the attendees. I wanted to design the experience around that. We started with this session that was basically you talking with other people in the Community at the conference, the other attendees.
- 05:14 We gave people this time, and we built everything around that. We added generous amounts of margin with each speaker. Each one got 90 minutes. Of course, you’re not going to speak for a full 90 minutes. Most people spoke for 30 or 40 minutes. We were able to use that remaining time. This was an afterthought. I thought, “We should bring up some chairs on the stage and have them sit down with Cory Miller,” who was the MC for the event.
- 05:54 Ben: I had no idea that you were going to do that. In my mind, I was thinking that I was going to get to the end of the talk, and in most cases, you put the slide up that says ‘Questions’ to let people know that you’re available to ask questions. In the case of Creative South a few years ago, they said, “There isn’t enough time left,” and they kicked you off.
- 06:21 Sean: Yeah, a lot of conferences end up being that way. People want to ask questions, but we have to stick to the schedule.
- 06:27 Ben: Yeah, you have to stick to the schedule. When I saw that that was the format, I was so excited. I loved the Q&A time. Some of the best questions and discussions came from that time.
- 06:42 Sean: It really made it feel like a conversation. You got to hang out with the speaker. That was another thing that I felt like was really big. There was no tiered access. It’s not like, “Oh, you get a VIP ticket, and the speakers are hiding in the back.” It was very open. It was a single level, so the speakers were very accessible. People got to talk with them and hang out with them.
- 07:07 The Q&A was like, after you give your talk that you’ve been practicing for a long time and you’re feeling the nerves, then you get to breathe a little bit. You sit down and just talk with people. You open it up a little bit. We had this cube called a Catch Box. You have to look this up. If you’re doing a conference, it’s so fun. It’s a foam, padded cube called a Catch Box, and you can pay extra to brand it with your colors, logos, and stuff.
- 07:41 Inside of the box is a microphone, but you don’t know that. It almost looks like a foam toy. It looks fun, and it’s a wireless mic inside.
- 07:59 Ben: You could throw it at somebody and it wouldn’t hurt them.
- 08:01 Sean: Yeah, you can actually toss it. It’s built so it’s not going to give off a bunch of feedback. It’s build to be thrown and not mess up. That was really fun. Everyone passed this around, and it didn’t feel like a super formal thing where you hold the microphone.
- 08:19 Ben: Yeah, or walk up to the microphone in the middle of the room.
- 08:23 Sean: Yeah, that too. I really liked that part of it.
- 08:32 That’s very generous. Then, in between speakers, we had 30 minute breaks—in between either a speaker, a lunch break, or the session we had in the afternoon for peple to talk. Something else that was really cool is that we had this open session in the afternoon right after lunch. We gave people a generous two hour lunch break. Everything was designed around letting people talk together. It wasn’t just throwing a bunch of sessions at them.
At the end of each talk, we did casual, interview-type conversations with the speakers where we let the audience ask questions.
We only had three speakers a day, and each speaker had 90 minutes.
- 09:02 Sean: We give them a two hour lunch break, because we know that you want to go talk, but then you come back, and it’s literally another session where you can talk. You know how speakers are always joking, “I got the after lunch spot.” There aren’t a lot of people in the auditorium. They’re trying to get you energized, but everybody wants to take a nap.
- 09:20 We didn’t have that, because the next speaker didn’t start until 3:30pm. By then, you’re kind of energized again, and you’re ready for the next thing.
- 09:29 Ben: I don’t know how much research Sean did. I know you’ve been to many conferences before, Sean, but it had the feeling of being very well thought out, an extremely educated guess as to what flow was going to work the best to facilitate those conversations.
- 10:03 Ben: I joked with you yesterday and said that it almost didn’t seem like you needed to designate a time, because those conversations started happening naturally. It affirmed what people already wanted to do and gave them a space to do it.
- 10:22 Sean: We also had really good food and good coffee in the morning. It’s kind of sad that the stereotype is that if the conference is providing breakfast, you probably want to go get breakfast beforehand. People aren’t really in the mood for a stale muffin. We catered food from local places like Torchys Tacos in Austin. They brought in breakfast tacos. We got bagels, we had coffee.
- 10:50 It was just really nice. I came in one morning, and this was the second morning. The first morning, we had an orientation at 8:30am. The second morning, it was 8:25am, and I said, “Cory Miller, go up there and give people the five minute warning!” He said, “No, we don’t start till 9am. We don’t have orientation again.” I was like, “Oh my goodness! Let’s just talk to people for another 30 minutes. This is great.”
- 11:16 Ben: It really was. It’s like you said, Sean:
When there wasn’t a speaker or something going on, it felt like the thing to do was talk to the other people around you and continue the conversation.
The most valuable part of the conference was the conversations people were able to have with each other.
- 11:25 Ben: I was kind of curious. I wanted to ask you about this. Sean, you have said before that when you go to a conference, it’s really important to focus on having a handful of really deep connections vs. trying to meet every person in the room. I felt like that advice works in some ways, in this situation. In other ways, because we all knew each other already from the Community chat, I didn’t feel like I could do that. I wanted to talk to every single person.
- 12:05 Ben: There was that, but then there was also the fact that, by necessity, because of the constraints and because we didn’t do it for a full week, I wasn’t able to have that kind of conversation with every single person in the room. I ended up having a handful of really great conversations.
- 12:23 Sean: I was thinking more about the introverts. I wanted them to not feel like they have to talk to everyone, and since that’s too scary, they would stay in their shell. I was like, “Hey, just talk to two or three people. Don’t be Cory Miller about this. You don’t have to hug every single person. Just talk to a few people.” I think it went really well. This wasn’t a goal of mine.
- 12:53 Ben mentioned that a lot of these people had been in the Community, some of them for many, many years. It was really cool to meet them in person. We’re switching it up a little bit for 2017 in that you don’t have to be a seanwes member to come. We’re actually opening it up a little bit. We are going to expand the number of people, but we’re still going to limit it.
- 13:17 I don’t want to have a 400 or 500 person conference. I don’t want to do that. I know that we could scale this up to 1,000 people, but you start to lose stuff. You start to lose that personal, intimate feel, so I’d like to keep it pretty limited. I was a little bit worried. This felt very intimate. It was very special. It was around 100 people at this event, and I thought that if we add more, in the 250 range, I wondered, “Is that going to affect things?”
- 13:58 I was talking to Katie Hunt, who was one of our speakers. She was talking about building community. She has done her own conference for nine conferences, I think. She has put on many different workshops and things like that, and she has said that she has done a 100 person event that was a single day. She said that she still felt like everyone kind of got to talk to each other. It was a good vibe. Something I didn’t consider was the time factor.
- 14:38 The more time you have, the more intimate that group feels. If you had 250 people stuck on an island for two years, it’s going to feel really intimate. You’re going to be ready to get off that island. Basically, the time factor is important. You don’t want to make it feel… I don’t know. Have you ever been to a very large conference with 500, 800, 1,000, or multiple thousands of people?
- 15:21 Ben: No. The one I can remember feeling this way was Creative South. There were some Community members there whom I had talked to before, so I connected with them. It really did feel like there was no way I would meet more than a few people and have a good connection with them. In my head, I had already decided and written off the possibility of interacting with a large majority of the people who were there.
- 16:00 I think that influences the way that you decide to approach people. When that balance is right, you’re more likely to say, “Okay, the goal isn’t to try and talk to every single person, but I at least feel like I can have access to people here. We don’t all have to be strangers.”
Inadvertently, I met or shook hands with almost every person, which was pretty cool.
You can go a little bit bigger in terms of number of people at a conference if they have more time.
Opening Up seanwes conference to Non-Members
- 16:28 Sean: There is some conversation going on right now in the Community. Amy says, “I actually wish Community membership was required for next year, because that was what set this conference apart for me—having that pre-connection was everything.” Ed says, “That’s understandable. I like the openness myself, because it will allow some of my team to come if they want.” Cory Miller says, “Rest assured, we have given this a lot of consideration.”
- 16:49 I’ve been thinking about this for probably about 14 months, so a lot of thought has gone into this. What I realized is this. I first thought that I would only make it available for members—people who have talked and build relationships online. Let them come and meet in person, and it will be something special. The thought was that the people who really care about and support what we do are already members, already inside the Community.
- 17:25 It’s like, “Let’s do something for them.” I had this “other” mentality. There are people who care about what we do, who want to support us, and they’re in the Community. Those people are members, and then there’s everyone else. Honestly, I kind of wrote them off. “Well, they’re not members. If they cared about what we did and wanted to support us, they would be in the Community, right?” That’s fine.
- 17:55 It took having a conversation with Shawn Blanc, actually, who was one of our speakers. I really enjoyed his talk about focus. It took having a conversation with him, because he’s not someone who’s regularly active in the Community. He has a seanwes membership, but it’s not something he regularly participates in. Talking with him made me realize that he’s all about what we do and he’s totally supportive of what we do, but for various reasons, people have different objections to participating in a Community.
- 18:32 “I don’t have time. I don’t see the value in an online Community…” It’s kind of a strange thing. It’s not a super common thing to have a membership in an online community.
- 18:51 They understand the concept of a conference. You get a ticket, you register, you go to this in-person event. There are sessions and seminars and you get to meet other people. They understand that concept. I understand that a membership community is kind of a strange concept for a lot of people. They have no precedent for it, no preexisting experience with which to compare it. I realized that I was putting people in these two camps. One camp is serious about what we do, and those are the people that we want.
- 19:25 Those are the people we want to hang out with. Then there was everyone else. That was a flawed way of thinking. There are people on both sides of the fence, members and non-members, who are at varying levels of being all about what we do. There are members who are just here for the incredible amount of resources, the hundreds of episodes in the backlog, the learning paths, the mini courses, the live training recordings, and the things we continue adding to the membership.
- 19:54 That makes total sense, but they’re not necessarily all about the Community. They don’t make time to participate. Even though they might get a lot of clarity, they say, “I just don’t have time.” That’s even someone who’s a member. Meanwhile, you have someone who’s not a member, but they’re super supportive. They tell their friends about the show. They share our episodes and they’ve taken our courses.
- 20:17 They’re very invested, they’re just not on the side of membership. I begin to realize that there are two entrance points into what we’re about here at seanwes. One of them is membership, where people become members, meet the incredible people in the Community, and they build relationships and life long friends, and they want to meet those people in person. They end up coming to the conference, where they can do that.
- 20:42 Then there are people who, in the future, now that we will have conference tickets openly available, no longer requiring membership, that can come to the conference without membership, meet all of the incredible people, and then decide for themselves, “You know what? I would love to continue the conversation with these people throughout the year.”
- 21:07 Ben: It’s so built in, too. Certainly, there are going to be several from the Community already who are going to be going to the conferences. That experience of interacting in the chat and that sense of having an ongoing conversation before and after the conference is already built in to the way we experience each other, and that has a contagious effect. Sean mentioned something about giving those who are not already in the Community some kind of access before and after to have that experience.
- 22:01 I think that, for me, would be enough to say, “I don’t feel like I can not have this experience going forward. If I can afford it, I need to be able to continue those conversations and still have those connections after the conference.”
- 22:18 Sean: Dane says, “Honestly, I wasn’t familiar with a lot of people that were at the conference, because many spend different levels of time in the Community.” That’s a great point. Just because everyone who was at this past event was a Community member doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone knew each other. Some people were members and had never even logged in.
- 22:42 Garrett says, “I definitely liked the fact that everyone was in the Community, but as long as it stays small, that’s okay with me.” Taylor nails it here. He said, “I think the cost of the conference is high enough that only people on board with the seanwes mindset will want to invest in it. The same type of person will come, they just haven’t taken the step to become a member.” That’s exactly what I figured out last September, in 2015.
- 23:07 Instead of thinking of it as this either/or thing, where you’re in or you’re out, an “other” kind of mindset, I started shifting my way of thinking last year. Everyone is like a pre-Community member. Everyone, at one point, was not a member. They hadn’t joined, but they’re the type of people we want. They were still the type of people we wanted before they joined. You shouldn’t treat those people like they’re not invested or serious enough because they’re not in the Community.
- 23:45 They may not be there for a myriad of reasons, but those people are the people that we want. By having a conference that isn’t a cheap ticket, you do have to invest in yourself, that’s automatically going to become a similar filter to the paywall of membership.
- 24:13 I think it will feel just as intimate. Everyone there will feel like they belong. Anway, that was a side note, but I feel like it’s important.
Most people aren’t familiar with online community memberships, but a lot of people are familiar with conferences.
For some people, seanwes conference could be an entrance point to membership.
When the conference is open to non-members, the serious, invested people will come, so the experience is going to be almost as exclusive.
- 24:24 Sean: Next year, we’re changing the venue—we’re going to a bigger venue. I want to switch to round tables. I’ve been to a lot of converences. I’ve been to ones that were theater-style, where it was just seats, jam-packed. I’ve been to classroom style, where they have skinny rectangular tables in front of you, and then round table. Round tables, admittedly, take up a lot of space. They’re not efficient in terms of jamming people into a room, but that’s not what we’re trying to do.
- 24:56 We’re not trying to get as many people in as possible. We’re trying to create a great experience. Round tables automatically include people around you. When you’re at a rectangular table, you end up talking only to people to the left or right of you. Maybe in front of you, if they turn around, or maybe behind you, if you turn around. Several seats down, there could be someone who’s totally a loner, but you’re not talking to them or including them.
- 25:23 It’s like, “Hey, over there! How are you doing?” It’s awkward. When you sit at a round table, even if you and another person or two are talking, and there’s a third or fourth or fifth person on the other side of the round table, it becomes a natural inclusion. It’s a natural facilitator of conversation, and I really like that. The other thing I like is this.
- 25:49 We call this thing Community Talk, which is a little confusing, because it’s also the name of the SaaS app we’re putting out. It’s the Community messaging system that we’ve built, and we’re making that available. We’ve been building this for many years. We’re making it available to people at CommunityTalk.com. That’s a software thing. You want to build your own community, if you’re a membership site owner.
- 26:11 We’ve built the best community messaging system in the world, and it’s called Community Talk. It helps membership site owners reduce churn, maximize engagement with your community members by giving them an incredible experience. It completely eliminates the need for Facebook groups, for slack, for forums, for all these things you’ve been dependent on, that you’ve been hacking into working for your community. We eliminate the need for all of that.
- 26:39 We give you control. You get your own platform. That’s at CommunityTalk.com. The reason I mention that is because we called the session in the afternoon Community Talk. We’ll probably want to rename that, but since that’s what it’s called right now, that’s what I’ll refer to it as. We just had this 60 minute session where it was like, “Hey, you get to talk to everyone.” That was really nice.
- 27:03 We also got feedback from people. I talked to people in person and we sent out a survey. Thank you to the people who took a moment to fill that out. That really helps us create a better experience next year. Something one person said in particular was, “It felt like it took a day or so for people to warm up. Not all of us felt super comfortable going and talking to random people. If it was a little more structured, I think it would have helped.” Here’s my idea.
- 27:36 If we have round tables next year, I want to extend Community Talk to 90 minutes, because that hour went by super fast. I’m thinking of having people lead little round table discussions on a particular topic. Maybe eight or nine people can be in a little group about a particular topic. “You’re building a membership site? Let’s talk over here. You’re a film maker? Let’s talk over here. You’re working on your email marketing, trying to get more clients…” Whatever the topic is, lead these little 30 minute sessions.
- 28:19 I’m wondering if giving it a little bit of structure like that will help people get in a little bit easier.
- 28:26 Ben: I think that’s a fantastic idea. Some of the challenges I see with it are…
- 28:31 Sean: Maybe just for one session. There are a bunch of tables open, but you only have to pick one. I don’t want people to feel like, “Oh, now I have to go to my sessions,” and it’s super rigid.
- 28:43 Ben: You just get to pick the topic you want to talk about.
- 28:45 Sean: Just go to one for 30 minutes, and then use the rest of your hour however you want.
- 28:51 Ben: That’s what I thought you were talking about. On each day of the conference, there would be these round table discussions. The only thing I would want to know is if there were two or three I would really like to go to, would it be possible for me to go to one on one day and then to go to the other another day. Or, do those discussions completely change? If I happened to miss one of the ones I wanted in favor of another, then I just miss that discussion?
- 29:31 Sean: Details. We can make it whatever you want.
With topic-based table discussions, you can go from table to table or steal away during one of those segments and just talk to people.
Excellence & Ways to Improve
- 29:39 Sean: Laci, my wife, she organized the conference. Her background is in catering and hospitality management, so this is right up her alley. It’s basically been the better part of the past year that she’s been working on this. I have to say kudos to her. She made this incredible. It was really nearly flawless.
- 30:03 Ben: With the skill of a seasoned veteran.
- 30:06 Sean: Ninja-rowboat-warrior, I would say. She did a really good job. I really truly expected to come into this and be stressed the entire time. I have friends who put on conferences, and they don’t sleep. That’s terrible, but I thought that was just how conferences are. I expected us to be running around, super stressed out, and it wasn’t that way. That was as a result of her planning skills, delegation, and organizational mindset. Shoutout to Laci!
- 30:53 She said that it was one of the most fulfilling things she has done in her life. I thought that was so cool. I love that. I love being able to give people the resources to do what they do best. Don’t worry about anything else, just do your thing.
- 31:24 It couldn’t have gone any better. I’m super excited. I’m excited for next year. Someone did ask us, Jake had said, “What were the things that went wrong?” I could bring them up, but why draw attention to them? They are such small, minute things. Almost no one noticed them. The few that may have noticed one didn’t notice them all. We’re paying attention. There were little things. For instance, the tables. We had blue linens for all of them.
- 31:54 Ben: I did notice that. You know how I know?
- 31:57 Sean: Because we mentioned it? Yeah. We were supposed to have blue linens for all of the tables, and they didn’t come. The company fell through.
- 32:08 Ben: I think somebody said, “I thought it was supposed to be a cool, rustic theme.”
- 32:13 Sean: They were these wooden tables. They’ve got some character to them. Everyone was just kind of like, “Oh, okay. I thought it was rustic.” Of course, Laci is in tears, because they hadn’t shown up. What do you do? Things are not going to plan. We have plans.
- 32:47 “Oh, did you notice that there weren’t balloons right here?” Even if we planned that and it didn’t happen, people didn’t necessarily notice. They weren’t necessarily upset about the table cloths. Maybe some people thought, “It would be nice to have this a little bit smoother,” or something. The next day, we were able to get them in. There were little things like that.
- 33:08 A parade went by during the Q&A of my talk. How do you plan for that? These are all little things that we’re keeping in mind for next year. Honestly, overall, it went so incredibly smoothly, and I’m proud of everyone. The first day, I was just taking it all in. I was just processing. I went in expecting to be stressed, expecting things to go wrong and mess up, and it was just so good. I’m taking notes. I’m writing, writing, writing.
- 33:39 I was thinking, “I’m going to share these notes, things I’m thinking about and processing. I’m going to share them on Saturday before my talk.” But I had so many notes that there was no time. I thought, “I need to go up and interrupt Cory Miller.” He was wrapping up for the day: “Alright everyone, here are some good dinner recommendations. We’ll see everyone tomorrow.” I went up and I interrupted him.
- 33:59 I said, “I was going to ask you if I could, but I realized that it’s my conference.” I took the mic from him and I said, “I have been taking notes and I wanted to share what I’m learning and processing from this first day.” I shared this. I communicated a vision to my team over the last year, and that’s all this is:
- 34:33 I think this was just a result of that. I honestly felt like an attendee. I was a speaker, so I tried to stay in a speaker mindset. If I was trying to organize this and speak, that would be too stressful. People would come up to me and say, “Hey Sean, where do I put this? What do I do with that?” I would put my hands up in the air and say, “I don’t know. I’m not the guy. Go talk to him, go talk to her.” I delegated it, and I acted like an attendee and hung out with the people.
- 35:10 Ben: I had a question for you at one point. I can’t remember what it was, but you started looking around like, “Who’s the person to ask about that?” That was good.
The whole conference was a beautiful picture of talented, incredibly professional, creative people working together.
We had a vision for how this was going to go, and nobody else knew our plans—you don’t notice what you don’t notice.
Communicate your vision, empower professional people, and then trust the process.
- 35:24 Sean: What are your thoughts from it? Going in, expectations, favorite highlights, good conversations?
- 35:34 Ben: I had high expectations for it just because it’s part of the seanwes brand, but it also blew my expectations out of the water. The best part to me, of everything, was the conversations. The Q&A was fantastic. I haven’t seen a Q&A format quite like that before. That was a special time. The speakers were all phenomenal. The setting itself and everything that Laci did was so polished. I’ve talked about this feeling before, when you’re sitting across the table from a professional.
- 36:21 Maybe you’re their client or customer, but they’re doing their thing, and I get this sense of comfort, like, “I’m in good hands. I can relax.” Even though I was a speaker on the last day, the rest of the time, outside of any nerves I felt in preparation for that, I felt completely at ease and taken care of. You don’t have to be mindful of all of these pieces.
- 37:12 Sean: Professionalism is a good word to sum it up. The video crew, Caleb Wojcik and his team, they were the embodiment of “pros.” They were total pros. It was incredible. I think I talked to Caleb maybe twice. “Hey, how’s it going? Everything good?” Those were the conversations I had with him. Everything else was taken care of.
The conference experience was so much better because it was held with so much care and professionalism.
- 37:40 Sean: We had incredible volunteers. At one point, we had people asking to volunteer, and we were like, “We already have enough volunteers, we’re good. We don’t need anyone else.” At least, that’s what Laci was saying. I said, “Do you know what every volunteer is going to do?” She said yes. I said, “If you know what every volunteer is going to do, you don’t have enough volunteers.”
- 38:03 You need extra! I would say that’s the biggest takeaway if you’re putting on your own conference. If you know what every volunteer is going to do, you don’t have enough volunteers. We got some more volunteers. “Sure, alright, you can come. Cool.” Then Simeon Hendrix reaches out. He says, “I would love to volunteer. I’ll drive down to Austin.”
- 38:24 I said, “Simeon, not only do we have enough volunteers, but after we decided that we had enough, we made an exception and allowed a few more to come. We’re really good.” He wrote me another email, and he listed out something like 30 things. He said, “I can mop the floors, I can take out the trash, I can shake people’s hands and welcome them…” He came up with this exhaustive list.
- 39:12 One thing on his list was, “I can go pick up speakers from the airport.” He listed out 30 things, Ben. So many things. How can I say no? I had never thought of picking up speakers from the airport. “Oh, you’re a speaker? Welcome to our city! Hope you can find your way here.” We have hotel for you when you’re ready. Picking up speakers from the airport!
- 39:33 I was like, “How good is that? Yeah, let’s do that.” I picked one of the things he suggested. That perseverance! He just came and served people. He was like, “How can I help?” He was eager to help. Honestly, I can’t imagine a future conference without him. Talk about job security. I just emailed him last night and said, “I want you to come back, and this time, we’re going to take care of you completely.” Room and everything!
- 40:16 Ben: What’s the harm in trying again? This is what I like about what Simeon did. It wasn’t persistence in terms of asking the same question over and over, but he really put some thought into, “How could I bring value? It sounds like they have everything taken care of, but just in case, I need to list out all of the ways I could bring value. Maybe there’s something in here that they haven’t considered.” Don’t put it beyond Sean McCabe or Laci to have potentially missed something.
- 40:49 Of the people you’re making those requests of, don’t think so highly of them that you think their execution is completely flawless and they didn’t miss something.
- 41:00 Sean: Laci just joked that his list was more thorough than hers. When was the last time you reached out to someone and you gave them an exhaustive list of all the ways you could make this better? That’s pretty cool.
When you got a “no,” maybe it’s not really a no.
- 41:15 Sean: What is the way Cory saw this conference? I want to get a sense of “the way I see it, with Cory McCabe.” If I could get your perspective on the conference.
- 42:00 Cory: What I saw happen several times was that I would walk up to one person who might have been on their own and start asking the right questions. I started having a conversation with them to start getting their gears thinking, their mind thinking about their own situation. I was almost forcing clarity on them, because they’re having to answer my question. Through answering my question, they’re starting to realize that they’re getting an answer, just through me asking the right question.
- 42:39 I just asked the right questions, and I found ways to word them to make them say things that would give them clarity. That was really cool, to be a part of that, to be a part of that conversation. What happened several times was that someone else would come up and say, “What are you guys talking about?” We were already having this great conversation, but then we bring them in. By the end of it, there are like eight people in this little circle, and it’s just because of one conversation that was started.
- 43:05 I saw that happen throughout the conference. That was really cool. It was cool to see that happen, to see that form just from one conversation.
- 43:18 Ben: Can I share something? Rachel got to come along, and she’s been in the Community and has had some conversations in there before. She is one of those people that doesn’t really spend a lot of time keeping up with the Community chat. It was really neat to see her and the conversations that she was having and the people who were reaching out to her. It was neat to see her connect.
- 43:58 Also, I think, for her, it was a real affirmation of the value she’s been bringing in some of the things she’s been doing. She doesn’t realize that people are paying attention. That was really fun. I think Rachel’s a big deal. I think she’s really awesome, but it was fun to see her receive that kind of encouragement and affirmation. I had another conversation with Jake in the Community.
- 44:31 He was there, and I got to chat a little bit about video stuff. He ended up having some questions and some struggles, and I’m a little bit further down the road than he is. I was able to address some of those things and share what I knew. It was an affirmation for me. I know I do a good job with my video stuff, but I also don’t think of myself as a veteran, as someone who has a lot to teach.
- 45:04 It’s like we often say, you don’t need to know everything to be able to teach somebody, you just need to know more than one person. That was a really meaningful conversation. Again, I wish I could talk about every single thing. I’ve been writing these down each morning, trying to remember and catalogue this stuff. On the last day, when I gave my talk, one of the things I thought of was this.
- 45:49 I think that, sometimes, something that seems to be healthy, in terms of the way that you think about it, ends up causing you more stress, anxiety, and struggle. I felt like this was something that could potentially help someone feel freed from that struggle. That was what I wanted for the talk. When the conference was over and we left to go to the hotel to check out, we wanted to come back to the venue.
- 46:25 You were all still tearing down, and there were some people we wanted to say goodbye to. As we walked through the doors, there was a woman who had been working there for venue security, making sure that the people have their nametags. She wasn’t part of the conference, but she stopped me and said, “Hey, what is your name? I can’t forget your name.” She went on to tell me that she had been sitting there on the last day, listening to our talks.
- 47:03 She said that when she heard my talk, she started to break down a little bit. She is a single mom taking care of her older children. She is also taking care of an uncle. She’s a first generation, going to school for Psychology. She’s working so hard to hold all these things together, and she feels like her life isn’t a picture of balance. She was really down on herself about that, and it was stressing her out.
- 47:37 She said that the fact that she was there that morning and was able to hear my talk was such a freeing thing for her. She felt like it was providence that she ended up being in the right place at the right time to hear that. She had tears in her eyes as she was sharing this stuff with me, saying, “This changes everything.” That was such a humbling moment. I got teary-eyed, too, and we continued talking.
- 48:14 We ended up exchanging information, and we’re friends on Facebook now. Many people came up to me and shared something similar, but it was so cool that something that normally happens here inside the Community extended to someone like her.
- 48:44 Sean: I didn’t even know she talked to you, Ben. We also had a conversation, her and I. She was talking to someone else, but by the time I got there, apparently, she was like, “Oh, it was you.” She turns to me with tears in her eyes, and she said, “My life is forever changed from this day. I heard you talk about how you never had a mentor, and that’s what I’ve been saying all my life. It’s kind of been an excuse, like, ‘I’ve never had a mentor.’ You went online and there are so many people who are sharing with others, what they’ve learned.”
- 49:30 Really, if you have a mentor anyway, even if they’re in person, you should mostly be quiet and listen. Having the internet and the ability to listen to what people have to say from afar allows you to let a lot of other people be your mentors, even if it’s not an official relationship. She said, “That made me realize that it’s okay that I never had a mentor. I’m going to follow you. You’re going to be my mentor.” I was like, “Absolutely.” I actually gave her a hug. It was right.
- 50:10 Ben: There was kind of an unofficial contest going on between myself, Cory Miller, and Aaron Dowd.
- 50:16 Sean: Was this the hugs contest? You’re trying to see who could have the most hugs?
- 50:21 Ben: Yeah. Maybe also the quality of the hug. The quality of my hug is up there. This hug blew all of that out of the water.
- 50:37 Sean: It was a very tender moment, and then someone comes up, and I can’t even remember who it was, and they were overhearing all of this. They heard her talk about how much she got out of being here, and it was this seemingly random thing that she feels like is not random. She said, “I feel like God put me here.” This guy goes, “And you got here for free!” Then everyone started laughing, and it was no longer a tender moment.
- 51:10 Ben: That’s still tender, but in a different way. She told us that, later on when we talked, that not only was she here for free, but she was paid to be here.
- 51:24 Sean: Yeah! Tell me if I’m right. The takeaway from your talk, Ben, is that balance is not the goal.
- 51:33 Ben: Right, that’s really the biggest takeaway.
- 51:47 Sean: That was a huge one for me, personally, too. We’ve talked about this before on the show, but I, and a lot of people, still struggle with this idea of balance. We feel trapped by it, and it was so cool to hear her say that she felt free from feeling like she had to balance everything and she couldn’t, it wasn’t possible. I thought that was so cool.
I wanted my talk to set people free from an idea they have of what balance is.
I don’t think we’re aware of how much our values and mindset echo and impact the world around us because of the way we live it out.
Balance is not the goal—balance is a byproduct of setting goals in each area of your life and taking action.
- 52:10 Sean: If you weren’t there and you missed it, we’re making all of the talks, the speaker sessions, including the extended Q&A, all of those videos, available inside the membership, in addition to everything else. We could sell these videos for hundreds, but we’re including it in membership for everyone. In addition to all of the other memberships, that’s one more reason to go to seanwes.com and sign up for membership.
- 52:41 Ben: Awesome. I’m excited. I was there for the speakers and for the event, but it’s always fun looking back and having those memories. I’m looking forward to going back and listening to some of those talks again, because there’s always something you miss, something you need to sit with for a little bit longer.
- 53:07 Sean: Obviously, we hope people go to seanwes.com/conference and join us next year. As Aaron Dowd says, we’re going to take it to the next level.
- 53:27 Ben: This conference did go extremely well. The tendency to feel like we need to top that, but there’s also the concern of it being a fluke. Maybe things just happened to go well. What if they don’t go well? Do you have any of those feelings?
- 53:55 Sean: None whatsoever. Unless the people we work with cease to be great, I don’t foresee us going anywhere but up. This was overwhelmingly the response I got from people, and it was their own words, but they said that this was the best conference they’ve ever been to. It wasn’t even like we were trying to get a good soundbite from people. This was just in conversation. They’re just offering this, just volunteering it. That was the first one.
- 54:30 We’ve certainly learned a lot of things, and we’re going to do things even better next time. I feel like we’re also going to be in a better place internally as a business with membership and the way we’re doing things, to have the resources to make next year’s even even better. There are a lot of things we wanted to do above and beyond what we did this year that we couldn’t. I can’t even give you all of the things. This next venue has a cool rooftop area with wooden slats and a view of downtown Austin where you can have a bar or an afterparty—it’s beautiful, especially at night.
- 55:21 Throughout the conference, at this next venue for 2017, we would love to have a bunch of couches on that upper roof deck, where you could go up there and hang out on comfortable furniture. It won’t just be fold out chairs or something. You have to be in a place where that makes sense and you can do that. That’s where we’re trying to get to. Take this to the next level and pour all the resources into making it even better. I think we can do it.
- 55:54 Ben: Yeah. Awesome. Well, I’m excited.
- 55:59 Sean: I’m excited too. It was surreal, honestly. We had all these expectations, but you simply can’t visualize the magic of having so many incredible people physically in one space. “Oh yeah, Ben’s going to be there, and Cory, and Aaron…” And then you start thinking about all of the attendees. You can’t imagine the magic of that until you’re there, and it was so cool.
- 56:30 Ben: The reality of it is still washing over me. I’m going to be unpacking this for weeks.
- 56:38 Sean: You know what else was really unique? Having the Community alongside that and the Community Talk system that we have, the fact that people could talk to each other live from their computers during the sessions, sharing takeaways, quotes, and links. I was packing things for the conference, and I had stuffed in there tons of business cards from a past conference. I hadn’t followed up with any of those people. Reluctantly, I grabbed most of them—I saved a few—and I put them in the trash. I knew the reality was that I wasn’t going to follow up. We weren’t going to talk again.
- 57:36 You know that post conference blues that you get after you leave a great event? That has been significantly lessened for us, because it’s not like we no longer keep in touch with those people. That continues. They’re here right now, listening live. We continue talking with them every day, keeping each other accountable. It’s really neat.
- 58:00 Ben: It is. That’s the thing you can’t really replicate on Twitter, Facebook, and wherever else you might be able to have those conversations. It really is unique. It’s part of the many things that made this conference the best one I’ve ever been to.
The unique thing about seanwes conference is that you can continue those conversations and relationships long after the event.