How great would it be if we could be in two different places at the same time? If there was a time/space loophole that allowed you to be at work and stay on top of all the projects and tasks you need to get done, while at the same time another part of you got to be somewhere else, learning and exploring and growing, and hanging out with friends?
If I had the ability to be in two different places at the same time, one of me could still be in my office all of next week focused on one of the half-dozen major projects that have to get done; my other self would be flying to Milwaukee to learn and hang out with some of my favorite humans at the HighEdWeb Annual Conference.
I seem to long for a clone of myself like this every couple of years, those in-between years when the budget isn’t available for me to attend major conferences and I can only participate from afar by watching the back channels on Twitter and catching up on presentation slides after the conference is over. Which is still useful, and frankly it’s often the only option for hundreds of people who never get the time or budget to attend these events in person.
Part of the wonderful thing about conferences these days, especially those for and about people working in web and social media, is that they naturally bleed over into the virtual spaces where a hashtag like #heweb15 is all you need to catch up on what’s happening practically in real time (and good luck keeping up!)
But still, nothing beats actually being there and immersing yourself in the conference. I remember how energizing it feels to be able to focus on new ideas from presenters you may have never seen before, meeting people in real life you’ve only ever known online, absorbing the ideas and happy vibes of those around you.
Last year, I got to experience another side of the conference by actually presenting a session of my own for the very first time. It was nerve wracking and exhausting, and the most rewarding experience I’ve ever had at HighEdWeb to date.
I was nervous because now the word “PRESENTER” was on my conference badge, and suddenly that meant I was not just attending this event, I was responsible for a piece of it.
I was anxious because my peers at HighEdWeb, the same people whose presentations I’d learned so much from in years past, had decided to put me on their schedule, and that maybe a hundred people or more, who were investing their valuable time and institutional funds to be there, were expecting ideas worthy of their time and attention. I didn’t want to let any of them down.
I was also excited by the challenge, though. I wanted to meet those high expectations, to know that I put in all that time and research and editing and sleepless nights so I could to share my ideas with all passion and conviction I had; to present it in a way that was entertaining as much as it was informative, and to give my peers at least one new idea or goal or tool they didn’t have before.
I wanted to be worthy of the stage I’d been given, and if I’m honest, to be what I hoped was at least worthy of the signature award of HighEdWeb presenters, the “Best in Track” Red Stapler. The fact that I managed to actually earn one was a wonderful surprise. The only thing more surprising in fact was also receiving the “Best of Conference” award on top of it all, the ultimate nod from my peers and mentors, and in that moment I felt so grateful to be part of such a special community of humans, I wanted to hug all 700 people in that room and thank them one by one.
Of course, I’d like to think that everyone who presents at HighEdWeb each year would like to go home with a Red Stapler. Not just because it’s an awesome stapler (and it is—a lovely heft, and possibly the finest office tool I’ll ever own), but because it symbolizes an appreciation and a connection you’ve made as a presenter with an audience of your peers. It confirms that something you had to say resonated with them, and they appreciated learning from you. In talking with many of my fellow presenters last year, and at other conferences, it has always been clear that any awards were never as important as making an impression, and knowing that the amount of preparation you put into sharing something you’re excited about is of real value to others in your community.
Well, that and you also hope that a decent amount of people actually attend your session in the first place. That was really all I wanted and hoped for as a first-time presenter. I got so much more.
I left HighEdWeb last year with a new confidence in my ideas, and simultaneously a greater expectation of myself. Suddenly I had an elevation in rank from my peers, gained scores of Twitter followers I’d never had before, and discovered a set of skills and knowledge I could grow. I found a voice I can add to the larger conversation within this higher ed web professional community, and a path of learning and sharing I can continue to explore for many years to come.
Of course, I am still human, and there is lingering fear is that my success was just a fluke. So many others have better things to say about this than me. Or is it just that they are more prolific, more Tweetable?
But HighEdWeb is not a competition, it’s a family. It’s an organization founded on the value of learning, of sharing, and on making it easy to build connections with others who can mentor you, and who you can mentor. Any doubt I may have about my abilities as a web professional are erased anytime I think of those who watched my presentation last year with smiling pride and said “we knew you could do this” and all those who thanked me for sharing.
And I know that anytime there is a HighEdWeb event happening, whether it’s the big annual conference that starts this weekend, or any one of the smaller regional events like the one I helped coordinate this year, I know that there will also be a great ripple of knowledge and insight and creativity that follows. New tools, new methods, new solutions building on new solutions. There will be elegant ideas and beautiful designs spreading throughout our community, inspiring us all to keep making better, keep improving, keep growing and pushing and trying and failing and learning and succeeding spectacularly, brilliantly, and it will be awesome.
And then all those people who did or made or learned awesome things will come together again the next year, and share what they did with others, and learn, and mentor, and ask new questions and explore new ideas together. And there will probably be some really good food and beer to tie it all together.
That is what I think of when I think of HighEdWeb. These are my people. My peers, my mentors, my role models, my teachers, my friends.
HighEdWeb is my tribe, and they are some of the most awesome humans I know.