Imagine hosting an event for, I don't know, say 800 people. Now imagine hosting an event for 800 people that lasts three days. Are you hyperventilating? I can't decide whether the idea is awful or amazing, but Sara Urquhart and Gabrielle Blair act as if the entire process comes naturally to them.
And perhaps it does, because although Alt Summit did not go off without a hitch for me, it was overall, incredible.
Let's talk about the first hitch. The wheels for this problem had already started spinning weeks before. About a week before, I had gone to the Alt Summit website because of an email I received about Saturday morning tours - I wanted to sign up for one. Once on the site, I found out that registration for the tours was taking place at the actual conference. So that was out of the way. Unfortunately, I also found out that I was supposed to have registered for a dinner on Wednesday night. (Multiple sponsors were hosting a dinner party on Wednesday at different locations around town and attendees were able to choose which one we wanted to attend.)
The problem was that I had never gotten the email telling me to register and now it was too late. Registration was closed. I'm not sure if I was never actually sent the email or if (more likely) my spam filter had overreacted, but I really didn't want to be left out. Some bloggers say the Wednesday night dinners are the best part of the conference, and more than anything, I wanted to meet people early on so that I wouldn't be the new girl Thursday morning after everyone had already made friends and declared tribes. I sent emails, but heard nothing back. I tried to log into the Facebook group and found out that I wasn't a member, so I submitted my request again. By the time I was getting on the plane, my friend request still hadn't been accepted.
Wednesday afternoon I checked-in. It was pretty early and I was able to walk right up. I was given my badge and a black notebook and pen - presumably for note-taking during the conference. I asked about the dinners, and explained what had happened and to my astonishment one of the women knew my name (I guess I just figured Alt Summit was run by a huge corporation?) and said she had tried to accept my friend request but that there was some sort of a computer glitch and it wouldn't let her. No one acknowledged receiving the emails, though, and I was politely told "too bad" about dinner.
I'd like to take a moment to interject something here, though. When I started college, we were on quarters. During quarters, we were given a week between the end of classes and the finals. It was called Reading Week - a time just to catch up and study. After my first year there, the university switched to semesters. When we switched, Reading Week was taken away, but since I lived off campus and worked more than full-time, I missed the memo. I showed up a week late to take my finals. (Don't worry - I was a really good student and my professors all worked with me.) What I learned was that I had been disconnected without even realizing it. I wasn't engaging with the other students and I wasn't developing personal bonds with the professors. I learned my lesson there, but apparently the lesson didn't translate here. Sara, Gabrielle, and their team provide plenty of opportunity to engage with other attendees months before the actual conference. There's the Facebook group, a Pinterest board, an Instagram movement, and god knows how many other ways to connect. In my defense, December was insane around here - 3 birthdays, Christmas, the flu, a house-closing, and a broken foot. Still. I would have benefitted, and in more ways than one. This is the biggest change I plan on making for the next conference - I will connect before even arriving.
Okay, so Wednesday night was a wash, but let's move on. Thursday started the insanity. It was one tough decision after another deciding which sessions to attend. The toughest part, though, were the afternoons: do I attend a roundtable discussion or a design camp?! Ahhhh! It was so difficult! However, I have this amazing idea for an app but have no idea how to even get started, and one of the roundtable discussions was called "How to Create an App: From Idea to Finish," so obviously I knew where I needed to go!
Here, though, was the second and final hitch - this roundtable did not exist. I know, because I walked around the room roughly 52 times, just in case I was missing something. The roundtables took place twice: once on Thursday afternoon and again on Friday morning. Neither day was there a sign for this roundtable. Or a sign saying it had been cancelled. Or someone around to ask. There was nothing, I tell you! I was quite disappointed.
The rest of the conference was a whirlwind of amazingness! The summit is divided into time slots and there are either keynote speakers or sessions with an abundance of topics to pick from. Click here to see the schedule for the the Winter 2015 conference. Everything went smoothly and seemingly effortlessly, which just goes to show how much effort was actually put into planning it. Again, it was amazing.
In fact, I would have liked one more day. It would be easy to add another day without adding any content, too, because the roundtables and design camps could be separated into their own time slots for an instant third day. And instead of an additional keynote speaker, the first morning could be dedicated to a fun ice-breaker game with an awesome prize for a sponsor. A third day also would allow more time for friendships to grow, too, since by the second day I was recognizing and connecting with people, but by then it was basically over. (There was an optional third day that consisted of tours of Salt Lake City - but most people did not attend. This day would move over to a fourth day in this Perfect Alt Summit World I'm creating in my head, because it was one of the highlights of the whole trip.)
Isn't in weird how when something is bad there's about a million things to talk about, but if something's good there are much fewer things to be said? Those two glitches in my Alt Summit experience weren't trivial, but they weren't devastating either. The overall experience was one of the most positive in my life. To be surrounded by so many talented and creative people was inspiring. To be encouraged by everyone I heard or met was unbelievable. If you're considering going, do it. It's money well spent.