When I landed in LA last Wednesday for the Communications Network conference, I met an old friend for lunch who told me that I should take particular care to watch the sunsets during my time on the West Coast. He described the way the sun lowered itself from the sky and lit up pockets of clouds here, then another group over there, then another, until the entire sky flooded with orange then faded to rose, then a deep purple-blue. From the roof of the Grammy Museum on the first night of the conference, I saw exactly what he meant.
It was his image of cloud pockets lighting up like synapses that struck me, and, in the end, encapsulates my feelings about #ComNet010. In session after session, there were so many bright spots lit up with new ideas, new connections, new friends, that as I write this from LAX waiting for my plane back to DC, my mind is flooded with warm and exciting light.
This was my first time attending any Communications Network event. I came in with some trepidation. I knew a few people via email or Twitter, but mostly I was flying solo. Who would I hang out with? What would I learn? After all, The Forum is not a funder (the assumed audience of the conference), but a philanthropy infrastructure group. Would the content relate to my work? Would I find the kind of kindred spirits and adversarial thinkers I was looking for?
My fears quickly abated. Somehow—perhaps by some ingenious unseen hand of Bruce Trachtenberg, Communications Network Executive Director—a bunch of us first-timers found each other early and formed quick friendships (shout out to Elizabeth Campos, First 5 Fresno County; Danielle Yates, Grantmakers for Effective Organizations; and Katrina Yee, Rockefeller Brothers Fund!). Not only that, but several ComNet board members (notably Vicki Rosenberg, Council of Michigan Foundations, and Alfred Ironside, the Ford Foundation) checked in with me regularly to make sure I was having a good time.
As the conference went on, a theme of connection became clear. Not only connecting to my peers in the field, but also connecting audiences to stories, donors to causes, stakeholders to information, and society more deeply to itself. But now, as we re-enter the everyday world, I’d love to hear how we can continue these connections and conversations. A bunch of us DC folks are planning a post-conference meet up to ensure that we keep in touch and press further into the ideas we encountered in LA. What are some other methods to effectively continue and expand the learning that takes place at conferences? How are you continuing the conversations started at your own annual meetings? Surely there are other ways to harness the power of these smart crowds!