Last week I went to the whirlwind design/blogger conference Alt Summit that is held in Salt Lake City every year. A few people have asked what it was like and what I took away from the experience so, while this post is not related to money or personal finance, I wanted to share since the info might be helpful if you plan on going to Alt next year (or any other conference really)!
This was my first year at Alt so I really need to wrap my head around everything and organize my thoughts, and just a heads up, they are all over the place!
73 Things I Learned (& Re-Learned) at Alt Summit + Recap…
1. Alt Summit is like Girl Scout Camp for adults minus the campfire and dirt
2. There will be like, maybe, 2 guys at Alt
3. Bloggers work super, super hard
4. Bloggers often feel that people who aren’t in the blogging world don’t really “get” what they do
5. “We’re all connected to the dream and we’re all connected to the struggle.” – Jasmine Star
6. There’s always something new to learn about blogging
7. Brands want to be seen as people
8. Brands need bloggers to connect a personality and “real-ness” to their brand
This is something brands have a hard time doing. Bloggers make connecting with potential customers/clients possible. Bloggers give a human-element to brands.
9. Brands want an organic partnership that works well for both sides and that doesn’t feel forced
The goal of partnerships is to enhance both sides/brands.
10. Brands really don’t care about your traffic numbers
Brands prefer an engaged, loyal audience over a massive one.
11. Conferences are usually a lot more fun than I think they will be
12. You just might see some unexpected wein
Thanks Stefan Sagmeister!
13. Stefan Sagmeister is a brilliant, energetic speaker
I absolutely cannot wait to see his movie The Happy Film when it comes out. We got to see 12 minutes of it and everyone in the room was beaming.
He and his fiance are nice, normal, and surprisingly approachable.
15. “Having guts always works out for me.” – Stefan Sagmeister
16. “When I don’t have butterflies it means I’m doing the same thing over and over.” – Stefan Sagmeister
17. “When I feel confident I’m more useful to others. Needy people are draining.” – Stefan Sagmeister
18. “There will always be The Stay-the-Samers and there will be The Changers. What one are you?” - Stefan Sagmeister
19. Consider a solo room
I know some people have the complete opposite opinion on this then I do but if you know you’re introverted a room alone down the street at the Rodeway Inn or Motel 6 might not be a bad idea (that’s what I did). Not staying at the hotel where the conference is held at and walking on icy sidewalks in the freezing cold 4 times a day kinda sucks but it’s a lot more bearable if you can find a bud to walk back and forth with (that’s what I did too). Luckily, there is a place to hang your coat during all the events at the hotel. The coat rack is free and I didn’t feel worried that it was going to get stolen or anything.
20. Everyone dresses cute (understatement)
The good news though, is that you probably dress cuter than you even realize. So, pump up your outfits a bit but there’s no reason to stress out about what you’re going to wear. You can’t go wrong with stripes, polka dots, and bright color. Wednesday night dinners are semi-fancy. Thursday and Friday sessions during the day are pumped up cute/casual (wear something you can sit in). Thursday and Friday night parties are cute/fancy. Saturday is the most casual day. Think jeans, knee-high boots, and slouchy knit hat.
21. Crazy awesome business cards (again, understatement)
There is a lot of talk about business cards and there are some amazing ones! Simple, black and white letterpress cards work just as well as the more elaborate ones if the design in spot on. The cards people give out at Alt Summit are not the same types of cards that are given out in “real-life”. Though, I’ve got to say, if everyone handed out cute bunting, paper party balls, gold animals, and packets of glitter with every business card in real-life the world would be a better place. Plan to get your cards months in advance so you’re not panicking if there is a last minute issue or if they don’t arrive on time.
22. Look like your avatar
(Totally off topic, but I just imagined the blue girl from the movie Avatar.) Having your social media avatars match what you look like in real-life is very important. You want people to be able to recognize you in person and be able to put your online presence and face together. Also, make sure all your social media usernames match. Make it easy for people to find you.
23. Follow hashtags
When I went to FinCon last fall and then again at this conference hashtags were used before, during, and after to connect with other conference-goers and to see what the latest updates were. The hashtags are also a great way to see pictures and quotes from panels that you might have missed. (#FinCon13 and #altsummit)
You’ll eat a real dinner the first night (Wednesday) at the Sponsor dinners. The dinners are small, the sponsors are very generous and they take care of your dinner and give you presents (awesome, right!?) The other two nights (Thursday and Friday) you might not eat a real dinner so if you get really hungry you’ll want to make arrangements to get a full meal somewhere. Appetizers totally count as meals at Alt Summit.
25. Nearby food
There is a little casual restaurant right near The Grand America hotel that has burgers and these things called Pie Shakes (Oreo cheescake pie shake, FTW). There will be a 2-hour break after the last day session so you’ll have time to grab food if needed.
26. Arrival and departure
Plan on getting into Salt Lake City on Wednesday during the day and leave on Sunday morning. There are workshops that happen on Saturday that you won’t want to miss.
27. Be nice to everyone!
Smile. Don’t be a jerk. Don’t look over the person’s shoulder that you’re talking to to find a better person to talk to (read: someone who you think could help you in your career/blog more). You never know who knows who and everyone is worthwhile. Give EVERYONE respect. Friendliness goes a very long way. Be open.
28. Everyone’s just as nervous as you
29. If someone acts like they know you but you’re not totally sure who they are, just go with it and figure it out later
30. Take a lot of notes
Don’t plan on absorbing everything in it’s full complexity right then and there. A notebook and pen is just fine. No need to go out and buy a laptop if you don’t already have one. You’ll be brain dead after the conference so plan on a day or two after for sleeping and re-cooperating.
31. Pre-plan posts
Have posts pre-planned before you leave and have them scheduled to publish while you’re away.
32. Humility goes a long way
Don’t expect anyone, at all, to know who you are. People who act like they should be recognized are terrible. Unless you’re Oprah or another legit A-list celeb you can’t pull that. Let others realize how awesome you are without you telling them how awesome you are. This happened when I met Nathan of Kinfolk Magazine, he was completely humble and it made me like him even more.
33. Branding is everything
34. People (brands) will hire you and want to work with you because they like you
35. Show the real you!
Don’t be afraid to be a little vulnerable and to show the less perfect side of life. If you’re worried about how much to say on your blog, Jasmine Star gave this advice, “Share what you would tell someone who is sitting next to you on the plane.”
36. Find a twist
Everyone says they’re a “lifestyle blogger” which makes sense since it’s a design and lifestyle conference but if you can find a twist on what you cover (and how you explain what you cover) you will stand out immensely. People want your story and they want to connect with you.
37. You have no idea who you might meet
There are many brands that are not official Alt Summit sponsors but they will be there.
38. Say both your full name and blog name during introductions
When you introduce yourself always say your blog name after your first name. Again, putting your online presence together with your real-life self. Have your “elevator” quick-explanation of what you do ready for when you meet people. Write it out beforehand and practice it.
39. There are so many inspiring women (and men) that are doing crazy amazing things online (and off)
It was so cool to be surrounded by such active, motivated, driven people. Everyone has amazing plans in the works. You just wait!
40. Taking it to the next level
I noticed that all the bloggers at Alt Summit want to provide quality content to the people who read their blogs. They all seemed to want to take what they do to “the next level”, and they were ready to do what it took to get there.
41. If you just want to party it might not be worth the money
42. Feeling awkward
If you don’t know what to do with yourself, find yourself feeling awkward, arrive 45 minutes early to an event, etc. Get busy: ask the hosts what you can do to help, take pictures, put yourself to use in some other way, strike up a conversation with whoever is standing closest to you.
43. It’s way easier to start conversations with people grouped as 1 or 2 then to try to start talking with an entire group of people
44. Have courage
If you have always wanted to meet someone (Heather Armstrong from Dooce was that person for me) then you muster up the guts to walk right up to that person and say “Hi”. Even if you’re completely weird (I was), it doesn’t really matter! Big-time bloggers like her have plenty of weird people introducing themselves to them ALL THE TIME so you really won’t stand out at all, and then you can say you did something you set out to do.
45. Keep going
You’ll be exhausted after being “on” all day and after soaking up tons of info but you didn’t save up all that money, fly out there, pay for a hotel, plan out those outfits, and get your business cards beautified just so you can stay in your hotel room to watch “Say Yes to the Dress” (I was tempted). Get your butt out there and meet people.
46. Jessica Alba looks just like you would think she would look in person
She’s very pretty and doesn’t seem to get weirded out by random people swarming around her and taking camera pics of her.
47. Sundance happens at the same time as Alt Summit as well as another big conference so the city is busy
48. It is impossible to get a cab
You might as well plan on that not happening.
49. The stop lights are very long in Salt Lake City
50. The mountains are right there cupping the city and they are gorgeous
51.The Smile Booth
It’s a crap ton of fun. You will probably get hooked on it like I did. Aubrey McCoy (husband of James who writes Bleubird) ran the Smile Booths throughout the conference, and he is down-to-earth, funny, and just like you think he might be: cool. The first night all the girls (me included) were like, “Oh! Is that Bleubird’s husband?!” It was pretty funny.
There is an endless supply of pop, water, and coffee just waiting for you to drink it. I’m used to the altitude so it didn’t affect me but the others girls said they were thristy non-stop.
There will be photographers running around photographing every event and panel and maybe even you! Alt gives you access to all of the conference images on their Flickr page and you are allowed to use them on your own site if you credit the photographers.
The bathrooms are gorgeous, and they are on only one end of the hotel which was kind of surprising.
55. William Shatner was spotted in The Grand America hotel lobby
56. Be thankful in person
If someone has helped you or has been generous with information, thank them in person (as well as after they gave you the help). Ez from Creature Comforts answered some pre-Alt questions I had. She was just as amazing in person.
57. Holy Swag Batman!
You will come home with A TON of swag. Plan accordingly when you pack. I had 1/2 a full-size suitcase empty when I left for Alt Summit and it was full when I came home.
58. Use a packing list!
59. Eat breakfast before you head to the first panel of the day
Oatmeal is your friend. But… if you get a chance to eat breakfast at The Grand American, do it! I had the best pastry of my life there. It was fluffy, flaky, and filled with a light, (but not too light) raspberry cream. It also had these sugar crystal things going on that I can’t even explain but were freaking amazing.
60. If you’re a blogger, having an editorial calendar and media kit in place is important and necessary
61. You must post regularly if you want any kind of growth on your site
62. Don’t undersell yourself
63. Defend your time. Become okay with telling people “No”.
64. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and go do that
65. “Be ruthless about what comes into your inbox.” Erin Loechner of Design for Mankind
66. “Do what you do best and pay people to do the stuff that you’re not good at.”, “You don’t have to have all your ducks in a row to get started. You just need a duck. Start where you are.”, “Systemize everything.” - Susan Petersen of Freshly Picked
67. Read the book The E-Myth
68. Respond to every comment. Create community.
69. Collaborate with those that inspire you
Trust the people you work with and collaborate with so you don’t feel like you have to micro-manage them.
70. “Keep it simple. Don’t use more than 2-3 typefaces at a time. Design 1st, consider size 2nd, focus on color last.” Melanie Burk of Fifth and Hazel discussing Illustrator
71. “Do what you’re good at, Jump in with both feet. Dedicate your whole self to what you love.”, “Think about your idea a lot. Look for inspiration. Put forth the effort. Push the idea further. Make it an experience.”, “Vimeo is the artistic filmmaker’s place to host videos.” Matt and Julie Walker of Tiger in a Jar
72. Don’t copy
Everyone’s path is different. Keep creating the content that you believe in. Helen Jane Jones from Federated Media said “You must create content that is original”. Make everything from the look of your site to the idea and concept of it your own. Basically, don’t be a rickety version of someone else. You do you!
The only scary thing about networking is the word “networking”. Being friendly and learning what other people do is all networking really is. Connecting the dots after interactions are made is networking in action.
The morale of the story is, it’s easy to get wrapped up in the prep and pre-Alt frantics but really, at it’s core, the conference is all about learning, connecting, and being inspired! Alt is a lot of fun!
Do you have any questions about Alt Summit that I didn’t answer or might have forgotten to cover?