I had the pleasure of attending the first ever 140 Conference Detroit a few weeks back and I was blown away by the stories I heard there. Each story by itself was amazing, but the way the conference is set up, you are hit by wave after wave of them. It's a whole day of 10 and 5-minute presentations, with a number of panel discussions peppered in. And the other nice thing about this conference was the breadth of subject matters and experiences that hit you.
I learned a lot, but it was the storytelling that sticks with me weeks later. We had stories on how the real-time web affects life in rural America and in urban Detroit, on how it affects news gathering and selling flowers. We heard panels on how social media changes the music industry, real estate, medical care, education, the church and even a panel of local high schoolers who talked about a book "The Feed" that is a cautionary tale for our times. We heard inspiring stories about how an orphan from a war-torn country reunited with family members after he was grown, thanks to the web and how humor writer, Annissa Mayhew (who was both inspiring and hilarious), was able to move on after a near paralyzing stroke and how the real-time web is helping Haiti in this time of crisis.
These people really tell a story! Some of the best of the best storytellers included Stephen Clark, anchor on Detroit's WXYZ and founder of the "backchannel" on twitter, Beverly Cornell, Henry Balanon and Yisrael Pinson aka Recovery Rabbi. Let's start with Steven Clark, man that cat can weave a tale. It was almost the same talk on the formation of the twitter backchannel that he gave at TedX Detroit. Yet, I found it riveting. If you get a chance to talk to him about it, I highly recommend it. Beverly Cornell told the story of how twitter helped her get her stolen laptop back – it was very funny and compelling. Henry Balanon told the story of their Chevy SXSW roadtrip. I knew this story too, but Henry is always so casual and funny on stage. He's someone else I could listen to any time. Rabbi Pinson mixed just the right amount of humor and poignant story to really keep the audience in rapt attention. He said, social media and recovery are a match made in heaven. The best method for recovering from an addiction is to connect with peers who've been through it before. Social media is one of the best ways for them to make those connections. In a day of great storytellers, these folks stood out to me.
Chris Brogan is one funny dude. Part of Jeff Pulver's premise for the 140 Conference is to bring in enough superstars to pull in the people and get them to listen to the every day folk who make up the bulk of the day. They don't get much bigger in the social media world than Chris Brogan. His speaking style was rapid fire funny lines one after another. Jen Wright, who was sitting next to me, leaned over and said, "he speaks like he tweets." And it was true, with such tweetable quotes as, "I love God, I hate his fans" when talking about the religious right. Or when talking about how the Invisible People project is getting the homeless online, "I'm reading more homeless people's blogs than tech people's blogs these days." He talked about how we in Detroit have all the tools and the people here to do what needs to be done "you don't need us flying monkeys to come in and fix things."
I can be in the movies! In the presentation on the film Lemonade Detroit, we learned that you can help micro-finance the movie by buying one frame of film for a dollar. This purchase will get you a producer credit for the film. It's a cool idea for a worthwhile project. I later saw my own hairy mug up on the big screen when John Hammond premiered the trailer for "Blog `n the D" – a documentary on local bloggers, of which I'm one. It looked pretty good if I say so myself, even though I sounded like an angry dwarf.
Blog `n the D trailer
People I knew on stage, people I didn't know in the audience. As one of the guys in the social media panel on churches said, it's not about the building (or conference, in this case), it's about the people. I have never been to a conference where I knew so many of the people speaking on stage personally. It was a really neat experience to see and hear what people I know have to say in a different context. And they all did Detroit proud. It was also fun to meet new people in the crowd. I met a number of people I'd only conversed with online and that's always fun. There was a contingent of people sitting near me who had come in from St. Louis, we struck up a conversation and have now all connected online. At one point the woman in front of me retweeted one of my tweets and I sent a message back of thanks and turn around I'm behind you. We had a laugh about that.
This all goes to say that conferences like this are great both for what you hear the people on stage say and for the new people you meet at the event who are just other fans like yourself. I find both to be very valuable. I have pages and pages of stuff I learned at this event, but as you can see from this post, it was the amazing stories that stuck with me. From both the people on stage and the people I met in the audience.
Jeff Pulver says he loved Detroit and plans to bring it back next year. Guess I better start working on my stories for next year. Maybe I can see a conference from a different perspective – on stage.