Thursday, July 25, 2013

Recap: Choosing Your Flavor of Alt Summit

This time last week I was nervously getting ready for Alt SF. I'd been to Alt SLC and I'd been to Alt for Everyone, but I still had butterflies in my stomach. Every event is unique. The sponsors vary. The bloggers attending change. Current events, in the world and in our lives, are different. Distractions may or may not be present. But, that's not what you care about. You want to know: are the butterflies worth it? Absolutely.
Alt SF 2013
I'm not going round up the top ten most inspirational quotes from Alt SF; Mere of Not Merely Living, did a fantastic job with that. And I talked about what I saw as the main theme that tied all of the sessions together, Embracing Your Fears, on Monday. (I've collected these recaps plus others on an Alt SF 2013 Recaps board on Pinterest.)
I am going to talk about expectations, setting goals, choosing an Alt experience to meet those goals, and finally what you can do to maximize your experience.

Managing Expectations

I'll admit it. When I saw the schedule a few days before the event I was a little disappointed. I'd heard many of the speakers before at other conferences and industry networking events. I wasn't expecting to learn anything new or for that matter walk away inspired or fired up to do great things as I had following ALT Summit SLC and Alt for Everyone.
Alt SF_Bing Dinner
The schedule was announced past the cancellation date, so I was going to be out my investment whether I went or not. (I feel really bad for this thinking, and I feel even worse about admitting this when I know how much time and effort goes into an event like Alt. But, this is a great example of trusting your leaders even when you're not sure where you're going.) I decided to go anyway; Alt is a great forum for connecting with creatives--not just bloggers, but makers too.
The point? I'm glad I got a ticket to Alt SF in the lottery, and I'm really glad I made the decision NOT to skip it.
Alt SF_Bing Dinner
This doesn't happen very often, but I admit it when it does, so here goes: I was wrong. I realized I was wrong, shortly after Mariam Naficy, CEO of Minted, started speaking. I was immediately impressed with the visual style of her presentation, but quickly became just as engrossed in her message. Halfway through the first session after lunch the line up made complete sense. I was glad I decided to keep an open mind and walk into the Fairmont with that frame of reference. All my goals were met. My original expectations--those I had when I helped crash another event registration server, were exceeded. I would definitely attend again.
What did you think of Alt SF?
Would you attend again?


My Goals for Attending Alt SF

For Alt SF, I set different goals than I had for the previous two Alt conferences. For Alt SLC and Alt for Everyone, I'd had the same goals: learning ways to more efficiently deliver quality content and connect with other bloggers for future collaborations. My goals for Alt SF, in regards to my blog, were all about connecting:
  • First, I wanted to connect with a few of the bloggers I'd admired (had taken Alt Channel classes from them or heard them speak previously) and invite them to be part of my Good Life Snapshot series or pitch an ongoing collaboration.
  • Second, I wanted to create a community of bloggers on the same trajectory as me who'd be up for regular Google+ Hangouts to share goals and to bounce ideas off one another.
  • Third, I wanted to get ideas about creating an engaging product experience from Bing and Flipboard for EXO U's product.

Alt SF_Bing Dinner
Don't get me wrong. Just because my goals were different than SLC didn't mean I didn't do the work. I created a Facebook group for attendees to connect before Alt SF. I made a Twitter list of attendees and sponsors. I researched the sponsors and engaged with those where there was a fit before arriving at the Fairmont. And, I rolled out my brand refresh which included an updated blog design and new logo (come back tomorrow for details).
Alt SF 2013

Choosing the Right Alt Experience

I want to touch on choosing an Alt experience, as there are four very different experiences, the multi-day conference in SLC, the one day conference in SF or NY, the multi-day online conference, and the individual online classes.
I've produced, staffed, exhibited at, and attended many conferences and workshops for my job over the past decade. Many conferences, and workshops for that matter, are not worth my time. Unless you're a developer, many conferences treat attendees as though they're stupid. Session upon session is filled with buzzwords and speakers with no real experience.
From what I'd seen online and heard from colleagues, Alt SLC was different from other conferences targeted at bloggers or corporate marketing/social media/public relations professionals. Attendees walked away with knowledge they could apply to their own blogs. I'd read bloggers talk about their first Alt and the goals for their blogs and then saw them achieve those goals post-Alt SLC.
When I signed up for Alt SLC last August, I didn't feel my blogging was up to par. I had a list of to dos a mile long. (I was comparing my start with others' middles.) If this is you, or if you're new or newish to blogging, I'd recommend starting with Alt Channel courses. I've arranged the various Alt events according to where I'd start and how I'd attend them.
Deciding Which Alt: SLC, SF/NY, or Everyone

Alt Channel

You don't have to be an experienced blogger before grabbing a ticket to Alt SLC. You can actually register for Alt SLC and then take Alt Channel classes between August and January. Alt Channel classes are perfect for anyone wanting real case studies and tips or tricks for a specific tool (marketing with Instagram), technology (learning the secret code of HTML and CSS), or practice (growing blog readership). Between August and January, I took two to three classes a month, focusing on areas where I knew my blog and my social media presence were weak or lacking.

Alt for Everyone

Alt for Everyone offers inspiration along with specific skills in a customizable schedule. You can choose to take all of your sessions back-to-back or you can spread out your sessions across the three days depending on work and babysitters. Alt for Everyone truly is for bloggers of all levels. With this format, you have the greatest potential for networking.
One thing to keep in mind, is Alt for Everyone is on the same platform as Alt Channel. As you get to know more people in the Alt Community, the chat becomes more engaging and the potential for private conversations in parallel to the main chat increase exponentially. Now... with Alt for Everyone the chat flies at warp speed and you're lucky if you only have three windows open. It's tricky to keep track of multiple conversations along with paying attention to your session. I copied the main chat at various intervals throughout each session so that I could scan through it later at my leisure and see if I'd missed anything. I also took screenshots of the slides to reference later and swap with other attendees (each session is limited to 100 people so popular sessions "sell out," the best way to get all of the information is to get a group of friends together, and then divide and conquer).


Alt SLC is mind blowing. Luckily it's multiple days so at any time if you're getting overwhelmed you can take a break and catch up. It's the perfect blend of inspiration with hands on workshops (design camps). Unlike other Alt events, Alt SLC is big, 600 or attendees. For lunch, that's 60 tables with 10 chairs. You can imagine how big the ballroom is for the lunch keynotes. If you're an introvert--real or imagined--walking into lunch might be your toughest challenge. If you have poor vision, focus on one table at a time until you find a friendly face.
Other than lunch, attendees divide among three concurrent sessions. This is great because you can choose inspirational or more actionable content. As I'd taken months of Alt Channel classes leading up to Alt SLC, I chose sessions that were inspirational or case-study based. I wanted to hear from other bloggers how they approached offline events, what their process was for DIY posts, and so on.
With Alt SLC, I liked that multiple sessions ran at a time (except during the keynotes). It forced me to prioritize my goals and choose sessions that tied to those goals. When a session failed to meet a goal, and wasn't valuable to me, I could simply get up and join another. (While this flexibility existed, I didn't have the need to use it.)

Alt SF

Unlike Alt for Everyone and Alt SLC, Alt SF is one day. It is rare, unless you're attending a workshop, for a one day conference to dive into details. More likely you hear inspirational speakers and learn a few best practices that may or may not work for you. This was the case with Alt SF.
At Alt SF, everyone attends the same sessions. If a session isn't valuable, there's not really another option (you can step out and go chat with sponsors or go in search of caffeine). Another drawback to this format is that you don't change rooms, and, hence don't change seats. You pretty much only talk to those seated adjacent to you, great for forming a few lasting relationships if you happen to sit near bloggers with similar aesthetics or complementary topics.
If your goal is to meet other creatives and to form the foundations for more than a few meaningful relationships, Alt SF might be a challenging venue. At Alt SF, the primary times for networking are during the parties: the dessert party the night before sessions start and the cocktail party the night after sessions end. Be prepared to talk loudly. I tend to have a hard time hearing people in noisy rooms or in large groups. I also speak quietly so by the end of the parties I'm usually hoarse. To assure an environment more suitable to my style of networking, I aimed to be early for the dessert parties and the roundtables. (It was a good strategy.)
For me, the pace was even more frenetic than Alt SLC. With a day and a half of activities (and working my day job around it) I didn't feel like I had the luxury to pause and take it all in. I found myself checking the time and rushing from lunch to session to the sponsor area frequently. I skipped grabbing an afternoon snack because the lines were too long, and I had more people I wanted to talk to.
With Alt SF being just a day, there seemed to be less serendipitous encounters. Looking through my collection of business cards, I met maybe five or six people I didn't know beforehand (through classes we'd taken together or from Facebook). Personally, I'm glad I attended Alt SLC before Alt SF. While I was organized for Alt SLC, I wasn't at the level I felt bloggers need to be at to get the most out of the one day event. Alt SF definitely left me a little scattered. I lost my badge five minutes into the event. I misplaced my phone an hour later. If Alt SLC was like Alt SF, I could have seen me losing it as I walked into lunch the first day instead of breathing, finding a friendly face, and avoiding a panic attack.

Getting the Most Out of Alt

This will sound cliche, but you get out of Alt what you put into it. If you show up having done the work (Catherine from Dear Vixen explains why Alt SF is not for the faint of heart), with one or two clearly defined goals, you'll leave with your goal(s) met and your expectations exceeded. It might seem as if you simply show up and sponsors swarm around you like bees to honey--that's not exactly true. Like your time, sponsors' time is even more limited. There are probably 200 people along side you vying for time with them (not everyone goes with the intention of connecting with sponsors).
Alt SF 2013
Here are some tips for maximizing your Alt experience:
  1. Write down your goals for attending Alt. Prioritize your goals and then pare down to your top two goals.
  2. Attend a couple of Alt Channel classes before the conference. This is a perfect way to connect with people ahead of time.
  3. If there's not a Facebook group for the upcoming event, create one. If you're an introvert this is a good way for you to get to know people in a quiet environment (your home) before you arrive. Also, people will know who you are and will come look for you. New experiences are always less intimidating when you hear your name being shouted across the hotel lobby.
  4. Organize an offline event before Alt in your hometown with other bloggers who are attending. This can be as simple as meeting for coffee or grabbing a drink after work.
  5. Read, or at least skim, other attendees' blogs. If you haven't read someone's blog, don't lie. You really don't want to lump Meg of A Practical Wedding with mainstream wedding blogs.
  6. For live in-person events, get a roommate or two. If the thought of walking into a room by yourself leaves you weak in the knees, come in with your roommates.
  7. Don't wear new shoes or heels if you're used to wearing flats. This should be obvious, but I pulled this rookie move the first night. After only wearing flats for the past three months, because they looked absolutely phenomenal with my outfit, I wore 4" platform heels. I made it to the Acura dessert reception but ended up having to leave early because I could no longer stand my feet hurt so much.
  8. Don't be afraid to end conversations (politely) and table hop, if the people you're chatting with or sitting near don't have complementary goals. Time flies at Alt. While this may sound calculating and rude, you want to spend that time wisely. When I know there's not a fit between a sponsor and my blog, I'll politely thank them for sponsoring Alt and suggest a fellow blogger who is a better fit.
  9. Don't take missed meetings personally. So much is going on at ALT that it's easy to get distracted or overwhelmed. Give your contact the benefit of the doubt, try to reconnect at another time or connect after the event.
  10. Put aside time after the event to reflect and to organize your to do list. Next to each task on your list identify which goal it supports. Prioritize tasks by time frame and by goal. You aren't going to get to everything so work smart. If you promised someone something, be sure to do it or follow up and give a timeframe for when you can do it.
  11. Publish your recap(s) on your blog. This is a great way to connect with people you may have missed at the event. While it seems like 300 people aren't a lot, remember that you're not networking during sessions. For a one day event, you realistically have about 8 hours of meeting and greeting.
Ciao Bella!
P.S. Don't feel like commenting? Strike up a conversation with me elsewhere: Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, or Pinterest.
P.P.S. Sara or Gabrielle if you're reading this, where was the music between sessions? I loved the tunes played in SLC -- so much energy -- and had been hoping to expand my Alt Anything Can Happen playlist.
Credits: All images taken by Brooke Dennis for Alt and used with permission. Photography at ALT SF was sponsored by Atly. All layouts designed by Eden Hensley Silverstein for The Road to the Good Life.