A Conference Is The People

aaron draplin opening web design day 2013

Just a few days ago we ran our fifth Web Design Day conference in Pittsburgh. A few hundred web designers converged on Pittsburgh for a day of conference sessions and a day of workshops and it was awesome. Web Design Day is always my favourite day(s) of the year. During the conference this year, it really hit me how important each individual who attends the event is. Possibly even more important than me or anyone else running the show.

I’ve been told many times by visiting speakers and attendees that Pittsburgh has one of the most positive and friendly communities they’ve seen. That it feels like getting together with a few hundred of their friends despite only actually knowing only a few of them. I’m incredibly happy to know I’ve got a theater full of some of the best folks from the internet for a day.

But the thing is, I can’t really take credit for this.

All of the efforts put into organizing an event would hardly matter if the people who showed up weren’t invested in the event too. Every person who attends, every company that sponsors, every speaker who takes the stage. All of these people collectively shape an event. And there are a whole lot more of them than there are of me.

I can set a mood for the the day by curating a kick-ass speaker line up, encouraging everyone to talk to someone new, and having a variety of activities. But if the people who show up aren’t equally as awesome and as willing to share as those taking the stage, it wouldn’t be the same. In fact, it might not work at all.

Attendees tell me they’ve found their new job, new employee, or discovered a whole new direction for their career by attending Web Design Day. This makes me incredibly happy. To think that someone’s life could be changed because of one of my events! That’s crazy! Much of this is sparked by what’s said on stage, but the more lasting effects come organically from interactions with other attendees. Those are the moments that make a conference something you participate in, not just something you attend.

The value of getting everyone together reaches well beyond what happens on stage. The internet is pretty darn useful for keeping us all connected from afar, but something a little mysterious and special happens when we all get together.

You as a single attendee have the power to shape an event, and the community around you, for yourself and for everyone else you interact with. By participating and sharing, or by choosing not to, you are adding to the overall experience. You never know who you’re sitting next to or who you passed in the hallway. It could be your next collaborator, your next employer, or just someone who inspires you with what they’re working on.

To me, our community is our industry’s biggest asset. Let’s keep getting together and making it even more awesome.