The Top 5 Lessons I Learned from My First Creative Conference

Photo credit: Smilebooth at the VenturePOP After Party sponsored by Badassery Magazine

Photo credit: Smilebooth at the VenturePOP After Party sponsored by Badassery Magazine

This past weekend I travelled to New Orleans for my first creative conference, VenturePOP! It was a whirlwind of meeting so many incredible creatives, and it was the first time I had the opportunity to present my work to a larger audience. As you can imagine, it was really scary. Not only was I facing a fear of speaking in public, but I was also facing the fear of truly being in the spotlight, and of finally being seen. 

I was one of eight speakers, who are all way more established and well known than I am, so in the days leading up to the conference, my Imposter Syndrome was running rampant. (Conveniently enough, this is exactly what keynote speaker Cyndie Spiegel spent her entire 90-minute session discussing.)

As I sat through the other seven sessions, I was surprised at the common themes that kept coming up again and again. The business owner journey is a unique one, to be sure, but it doesn't have to be lonely. Being in a room with other business owners who all understood the same struggles was a wonderfully calming and unifying experience.

Here's what I learned from speaking at my first creative conference.

1. Do it anyway.

We can feel paralyzed by moving forward into unknown territory, especially when our business is on the line. It's not easy to step outside of our comfort zones, but that is where the growth happens.

It feels scary to say no to the job that isn't the right fit because we still need the money. But when we are emboldened enough to identify what jobs we are the best fit for, then we can show up day in and day out giving our best work to the clients we do have on our roster, and we can leave that resentment at the door.

It can feel scary to grow a team, move to a brick & mortar space, give a speech, and raise our prices, but we have to keep moving through the fear we face and do it anyway. Because once we are on the other side, it never looks quite as scary again. Next time, it will be easier to say no to the client who truly isn't the right fit, to add on the third member of your team, to give a speech. 

Working through our fear gives us the courage to step into our full potential.

2. Be kind.

I love how this came up in a few different presentations. Yes, we are all business owners, but firstly, we are all humans. It is important in this day and age when we are so hyper-connected to ensure that we are doing things with the utmost intention of being kind. This doesn't mean that we can't have opinions, or that we can't stand our ground; it simply reinforces that we will have staying power as a business if we value kindness in how we operate.

3. It's OK, actually encouraged, to feel your feelings.

At the heart of my work with Own Your Why, it's all about finding the right words to put to the meaningful work that you do in a way that connects with your ideal customer on a deeper level. In order to do that, you have to allow yourself to feel the full extent of your feelings, and share that with your audience. 

I think Adam J. Kurtz said it best when he mentioned that we should feel something, and then create work that allows others in on that same feeling. Justin Shiels also led an insightful discussion on how he tapped into his feelings to find his true purpose, and he is now living a life that has him feeling fulfilled and enthusiastically happy.

As business owners, we can get so caught up in the stats, finances, and process of our work, that we can forget to tap back into the feelings that made us start in the first place. We have to actively find ways to pull up those feelings so that our work continues to be infused with the same intention and heart as it had from the very beginning.

4. Breathe.

Whether you are going to a conference to meet new people or to hop on the stage and give a presentation, it can be nerve wracking. What helped me in the month leading up to this next big step for me and my biz was to learn how to breathe deeply, and breathe into my nervousness to allow for a sense of calm to enter my mindset and my body. 

It's remarkable how much a few deep breaths can change your demeanor, and physiologically bring about a sense of calm and reduce anxiety. If you still aren't sure of how powerful deep breathing can be, take a few minutes to read this article.

When my heart was racing in the moments leading up to hitting the stage, I remembered this and breathed slowly, and calmly. When it was my turn to walk up those steps, I felt in control. That feeling allowed me to relax into my body and trust myself that I knew everything I needed to do this presentation to the best of my ability, and I did just that. 

The breath, y'all. It's powerful. 

It only takes 12 deep breaths to shift the body from the sympathetic nervous system to the parasympathetic nervous system. Need help getting there? Use this guided meditation on Insight Timer.

5. Find your people.

Even though the business owner journey can often feel lonely, you do not have to do it alone. Getting outside of your house and meeting fellow creatives in real life is a powerful tool to help you feel more connected and more understood. It was really wonderful to be in the same room as so many people who have faced the same challenges and feel validated that my struggles are universal. There is power in community. So go find your people. And hold them close!

If you've never been to a creative conference before, I cannot recommend VenturePOP! enough. I truly left feeling like family, and I'd love to see you there next year!