The Irreplaceable Conference
December 30, 2020
I hate this part.
I can’t stand it.
Everything inside me cries out against it.
I just want to hang on, hang out, and hang around for a few more moments.
I never want it to end.
Maybe that’s why I’m always one of the last ones to leave. Maybe that’s why I [nearly] miss my flights home every time. Maybe that’s why it “appears” like I can’t find my way through the airport, for example. It’s because I really don’t want to. I want to go back to where I was for the last 4-5 days. And maybe that’s why sentimenalism swooshes in to rescue a lingering Libra drowning in the deep waters of disappointment. It’s a tempory lifeline tugging me back to safety, and to sweeten the souring reality that…
The 2019 ISTE Conference in Philadelphia is… over.
A bit disheveled, upset, sad, and already racing to reflection mode, I (literally) ran through the hotel lobby, grimacing and growling the whole way.
Where am I? Where am I going? What are my next steps? According to my conference planner, at this time I’m supposed to “get Uber to airport” before noon. Great let’s see here–
It was Kerry Gallagher!
I first saw Kerry give an award-winning Ignite presentation at the 2016 ISTE Conference in Denver. A month later, I would get to know her better as an ASCD Emerging Leader at the L2L Conference. A year later I got to observe her teach a lesson at her school. Another year later I got to co-author an ASCD Inservice post and co-present with her at ASCD’s Empower Conference. And I haven’t stopped bothering her since.
“I’ve got an Uber coming. Want to ride with me?” she inquired.
“Yes. Thank you!” I was excited to get to connect with Kerry one more time.
Along the ride, I remember asking Kerry about her family, her next career endeavors, and about her #iste19 conference experience. But what I remember the most was a short conversation about the in-between moments that make the face-to-face conference… irreplaceable.
Make what you want out of the lights, the cameras, and the action. And yes, you should fully invest in all the scheduled opportunities with a well-thought, strategic plan. I’m a firm believer that you always get out of any professional learning opportunity what you invest–and so much more. After all, this is expected.
Yet, I also believe that you must be open to the unexpected. A one-on-one conversation with a fellow educator can be powerful, life-changing even. And at a conference where the face-to-face environment literally brings people together, anything can happen. In fact, there might be exponentially greater potential for you to have rewarding, unexpected experiences than for everything to go as planned. As long as you’re open to things like…
- Flying, rooming, and riding with friends
- Arriving one day early to sightsee the city with friends
- Exchanging Twitter handles and contact info to extend the initial, face-to-face, conference connections for the long-term
- Getting a cup of coffee before the scheduled day begins
- Joining a live twitter chat, in person
- Guesting on a live twitter chat, in person
- Impromptu periscopes, podcasts, and interviews
- Hallway conversations between sessions
- A quick lunch between sessions
- Joining Happy Hour to reconnect and reflect
- Getting a bite to eat to reflect on the day
- Making time for fun
- Ubering to the airport together
- Staying one day late to sightsee the city with friends
In the spring of 2020, I was scheduled to co-present on some passionate topics in LA, Boston, and Anaheim, and in the span of four months. A lot of planning and preparation went into this. Our teams were fully invested. I was so excited… until COVID.
I watched while major conference venues paused, planned, and replanned. I watched as scheduled events were postponed, cancelled, and reformatted. Perhaps, I was watching history in-the-making.
Over the last 10 months, I was both a passive participant and an agitating activator in about 2,020 conversations encompasing the conference transformation:
- Does this. Change. Everything?
- Did we just experience a seismic shift in educational infrastructure?
- Will the virtual conference forever replace the face-to-face format?
- Will we ever go back to the way it used to be?
- When we reformat the medium, will that redefine the message and recalibrate the meaning?
- Wherein lies the value of the face-to-face conference?
- What’s irreplaceable about the face-to-face connection?
I miss being around people. If anything, these conversations have highlighted and spotlighted just how invaluable face-to-face learning experiences are to me.
I applaud major conference venues for doing everything they could to maintain, to adapt, and then to make the best of it, given all the circumstances, even if it meant transitioning to virtual, postponing, or cancelling, for now.
Perhaps, it’s that flexibility that rounds the edges of our scheduled, expected opportunities in life. It’s the unexpected ones that truly shape us, stretch us, grow us, and help us move forward. It’s the seemingly uncomfortable spaces in which unique opportunities present themselves. It’s being open to the possibility that anything can happen. And it’s where I get to share an Uber ride with Kerry Gallagher.