Reflections on NTEN 2019
I used to be a conference junkie. Then, in 2017, I went stone cold sober and swore off conferences thinking they were just a waste of my time. How many more panels could I sit through that were devoid of emotion, lacking story, and telling me things that I already knew?
Well, I went off the wagon this past March 2019, and attended the Non-Profit Technology Conference (NTEN) in Portland Oregon. Did I have trepidations about going? Yes. Was I too jaded to think I would learn anything new? For sure. Did I think I would be bored? Definitely.
And oh, was I wrong...
My first engagement with NTEN came about a month before the conference. I have to admit, I was curious to learn more about what I was getting into as all of their emails were thoughtful, useful, and written in such a compelling way that I began to look forward to their regular correspondence with me. With a few weeks to go, I downloaded the NTEN application and was wowed from my very first experience using it. Not only was the UX intuitive, every single tidbit of information was useful for planning my trip, coordinating with attendees, and scheduling what panel discussions I would attend. But I still questioned the utility of it all.
On my flight to Portland, I met a few folks who were on their way to the conference. Every single person I talked to was excited about going and delighted that I was going to be part of my very first NTEN event. They smiled at me and said, "this is not just some run of the mill conference – this is a get together of more than two thousand of the most passionate people around."
From the hotel to the panel discussions to the happy hours and side events, every single moment of my four days at NTEN was absolutely 100% awesome. Not just okay, not just great, NTEN was, hands down, the best conference I have ever been to in my whole adult life. And why? The people--and the care that went into creating an event planned by the people for the people. Communities were born and many were grown from previous NTENs. There was a positive spirit in the air. Attendees shared their expertise with the group. The organizers made sure that every session was interesting, useful, and practical. Even the food was stellar.
Since I have returned, I have been mulling over the fact that many conferences just don't work and trying to figure out why so many of them don't spend more time to organize events that resonate with the people who have spent the time and money to be there. And, while I don't think I have all the answers, what I can say is about NTEN's success is that it was organized with its audiences in mind. In a sense, they use the principles of design thinking to create an event that year after year has thousands of repeat attendees. The three major principles of design thinking –Inspiration, ideation and implementation-were definitely in play. However, I would add a fourth principle, that of iteration. NTEN has been successful every single year because they use a feedback loop to continually improve upon their events. These iterative processes have allowed the event to grow and stay pertinent over time.
It is imperative that we all use design thinking in our work and in our everyday lives. Because when done well, like with the NTEN conference, profound things can happen.
So, what's next? I will see YOU at NTEN 2020.
Business Development Strategist
http://www.taoti.com 530 8th St SE Washington, DC, 20003