I quit going to conferences. Or so I thought.

Last month, I wrote an article about why I quit going to conferences. In that piece, I explored how coaching changed my leadership and me and why I was investing in coaching instead of conferences.

I was set in this approach until a couple months ago. That’s when a conference shook me and brought me out of “retirement.”

The Unparalleled STORY Conference

For several years, my friend Harris III – an illusionist and ridiculously creative fellow – has been curating STORY – “an uncommon creative community for storytellers, artists and dreamers who believe that stories matter.” He invited me to attend, and after a couple years of schedule conflicts, I made the trek to Nashville, Tennessee to see what all the hype was about.

From the moment I visited the conference website to register, I knew this conference was very different. The “experience” began online with an over-the-top website built around an Alice in Wonderland theme. But, let’s be honest. Meticulously designed websites aren’t totally out of the norm.

Coaching calls before conferences are very rare, though. I’d never been invited to a conference call with a coach before I attended an event. Harris and Jason Jaggard, a popular executive coach and one of STORY’s highest rated speakers, hosted two video calls before the event and one after. The pre-conference calls focused on equipping attendees to overcome the flaws in many of our conference experiences. The post-conference call was all about empowering attendees to continue the relationships initiated at the conference and to implement the lessons learned.

These calls shaped my mindset before I got on the plane. They may have even begun to set my expectations for a different kind of conference experience.

“You Got That From a Conference?!”

I could spend several thousand words gushing over the intentionality and creativity dripping from every element of the conference. I could tell you about the moments which had me in tears and those which had me imitating that ubiquitous laughing-crying emoji. And I might even insist you sit while I shared the personal breakthrough I had which even had my counselor amazed. “You got that from a conference?!”

Where many conferences are all about an information download from a speaker to the audience, STORY seemed to care more about awakening my soul to wonder. While conferences I’ve attended in the past have celebrated the “you’re going to drink from a firehose today” mentality, STORY built in extra long breaks, giving us space to process what we were hearing. And in an experience which is often geared towards extroverts and the stereotypical people person, STORY created a space for meditation and silent reflection, which many introverts I met described as a highlight of the conference.

It felt like coaching, creativity, and compassion combined to engineer an immersive experience which transformed me.

Paired with coaching to help identify the bad habits I’ve learned from past conferences and replace them with new mindsets, my STORY experience was unlike any conference I’ve ever attended. I started more conversations, stayed more engaged, and implemented more lessons than I had at any conference I’ve attended in the last 15 years.

While getting ready one morning at the home of a friend I was crashing with to save money, he asked how day one of the conference was. I replied, “My soul feels full.” He said, “Wow. That’s not what I expected. But that sounds incredible.”

STORY isn’t paying me to promote their event. I’m just a person who has been marked by their work. And after writing an article about quitting conferences, I had to tell you the rest of the story. In fact, it felt like coaching, creativity, and compassion combined to engineer an immersive experience which transformed me.

We Can Be The Exception

Because of my experience, I’ll be back in Nashville next year. I decided to quit conferences, but for STORY, I’m making an exception.

And this experience is a reminder for all of us – we can be an exception. Whatever our space is, whatever our work involves, we can choose to be the outlier. We can carve our mark on the world by breaking the mold, doing things differently. We can surprise and delight those we serve. It doesn’t (always) take more money or better talent. It does take more heart, more compassion, more creativity, and more disdain for our less-than-stellar past experiences. Sure, the gift we make for the world may not be appreciated by everyone. But, no one makes a gift for approval. We make it because we love the person whose name is on the box.

For those who are hungry for something different, for those who are ready to quit because they believe what they long for cannot be experienced, we can awaken wonder in their hearts again.

STORY opened with a quote which sums up this mindset and opportunity.

The words are torn from the pages of Alice in Wonderland. The Mad Hatters asks Alice: “Have I gone mad?” To which Alice replies: “I’m afraid so. You’re entirely bonkers. But I’ll tell you a secret…all the best people are.”

Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash
Scott Savage decided to quit conferences, but for STORY, he's making an exception. Here's what changed his mind.