I spent this past weekend at SOBcon in Chicago. SOBcon stands for Successful and Outstanding Blog Conference and is an annual gathering of bloggers founded by Liz Strauss of successful-blog.com and Terry Starbucker of Ramblings of a Glass Half Full. I was lucky enough to be invited to represent Ashoka as one of the citizen sector organizations featured on the final morning of SOBcon, the "give back" session, coordinated by Geoff Livingston of Zoetica Media.
Conferences are more than just an exchange of information, they create temporary and in some cases permanent communities. The good ones convene a group of practitioners to share ideas and co-create the experience, bringing together expertise, passion and commitment in an inspiring mix. At the very best conferences a feeling of togetherness is created almost instantly, leading to a level of openness that is rare, where people care for and want to help each other, where no-one need be a stranger to another. SOBcon was this type of conference.
What was it about SOBcon that created this atmosphere, energy, connection?
Intimacy. SOBcon took place at a human scale, with only 150 attendees. The organizers could no-doubt sell several times more tickets than this, but they know that something would be lost in the process. They are not simply looking to run a profitable event, they want to host something meaningful. As a result real relationships are made, new partnerships forged. (The flip side of this intimacy is the cost of course, with the event costing almost $1,000 full price).
Interactivity. SOBcon had more than just the usual speakers and panels, it concluded each session with time for each table to brainstorm how the ideas presented relate to their organization, business or idea. This interactivity created a strong sense of creativity in the room, and a deeper connection between otherwise-random tablemates. The Give Back session harnessed this creative energy on behalf of the featured organizations.
Openness. Thanks to the above a sense of openness was created. People shared their struggles and successes, aspirations and accomplishments with the same open good humour. No-one seemed trying to impress anyone particularly and a genuine curiosity permeated most conversations. The speakers seemed to pick up on this vibe, mostly giving thoughtful and reflective speakers devoid of the rah rah you often get from the stage.
A commitment to something bigger than itself. The reason I was at SOBcon was for the session devoted to cause-based organization on Sunday morning. Along with Ashoka Vitamin Angels, InvisiblePeople and Anixter presented about their use of social media and what they are trying to achieve. The room then worked in groups for 45 minutes to generate suggestions and ideas for us based on the questions we each posed. The passion with which everyone focused on this task, the palpable desire to help and the insight of the suggestions was inspiring to behold.
Love. There really was a lot of love in the room at SOBcon. Love for our fellow participants. Love for social media and the medium of blogging, for what it had brought into so many lives and what it allows so many to achieve. And a love for those less fortunate, a desire to give back and contribute to creating a better future for all of us.
This love came through in the stewardship of Liz and Terry, in the passion of the participants, in the honesty of the presenters. And there were some fantastic presenters: Steve Farber reminded us that "oh shit!" moments are often the indicator that we're doing something significant, and not to be feared. Ted Murphy shared his journey with us, and what he overcame on the way (he also put up a $1000 Izea voucher for best idea for an online exchange platform, which my conference buddy Carol Roth and I won for an idea about intergenerational connections). Chris Brogan gave us some real talk about sustainability and becoming an overnight success after 11 years of hard work. Jay Jay French of Twisted Sister shared hilarious story after hilarious story.
A huge thank you to Liz and Terry for organizing such a great event and to Geoff for inviting me to present on behalf of Ashoka. It was a real honour and a pleasure.