Do You HATE Conferences? Here’s Something Just for You…

In the past six months, I’ve done something I never thought I’d do — I’ve attended a lot of conferences. And it didn’t kill me.

So far, I’ve been to Dave Ramsey’s EntreLeadership, Catalyst East, Dream Year Weekend, re:create, the National Youthworkers’ Convention, and the Dynamic Communicators Workshops. And I have several more on the docket over the next several months.

I hate conferences

(Or at least, I thought I did)

Turns out, not all of them are a complete waste of time. It was people like Randy Elrod who restored hope for me in the idea of a bunch of people getting together to celebrate an idea and actually do something as a result.

For some of you, this is nothing novel. You’ve been attending great conferences for years and getting a ton out of them. But not me. I’ve always been skeptical of conferences. And I’ve not been disappointed.

Only recently have I opened up to the possibility of conferences not being a total waste of time. And I’ve been delightfully surprised.

Conferences are being redeemed

There are several people out there who are doing this thing right. They’re not just talking at you; they’re interacting with you — challenging and conversing and even creating in tandem with the audience.

It’s not a conference as much as it is a conversation.

And I like that. It resonates with this age of creativity and Wikipedia and crowd-sourcing. The days of the megaphone and platform are over; it is now time for events that inspire collaboration and synergy.

A conference worth attending

Ben Arment is someone who is leading a tribe of leaders and innovators from the “creative class” through excellence-driven work, grassroots networking, and real relationship.

I like Ben’s style; it’s powerful and inspiring, but at the same time, humble and unassuming.

Story Conference 2011

When I attended one of his events earlier this year, I was hooked. I was convinced that I had to get to his annual STORY Conference in Chicago. Through the generosity of a complete stranger, I am doing just that.

And while I’ve never been to STORY, I’m hoping to see you there. A lot of my friends will be there, and the speaker/presentation line-up is amazing.

Call it a bit presumptuous, but I think we need more events like this — more conferences and workshops that celebrate creativity, that push the envelope of the status quo and call us to boldly dream and imagine.

Nobody’s paying me to say this. I just believe in the idea of having more creative conferences. For far too long, this space has been occupied predominantly by CEOs and entrepreneurs and tech geeks. And that’s totally fine.

But what about the actors and painters and writers and photographers of the world? What do we have for them?


I asked Ben a few questions about this event. Here’s our brief interview:

Jeff: What is STORY?

Ben: STORY is a gathering of the creative class in ministry — the artists, photographers, innovators, filmmakers, writers, musicians and dreamers. Our goal is to fuel their work, equip them, inspire them and give validation to their work.

J: How did it begin?

B: Conferences have always shaped my life and ministry, but they were becoming too much like preaching exhibitions that featured the usual cast of characters. But creatives in ministry want to hear from other practitioners. They want to learn from multiple disciplines. They want to be stretched and inspired.

J: Who is it for and why should they go?

B: STORY is for those who love the creative aspects of ministry. They can be artists or producers. Curators or creators. Practitioners or those who simply appreciate it.

J: What can we expect this year?

B: We’re incorporating a lot of theatrical elements in year’s event, but we’re going to fuse it with great content from people like Ann Voskamp, Ed Dobson, Ian Cron, and some industry types such as the leading title sequence creator in Hollywood, Kyle Cooper, the producer of The Silence of the Lambs, Ed Saxon, humanitarian photographer Esther Havens and others.


The best rate for the conference ends today at midnight EST. Visit to get the advance rate, or you can just jump straight to the signup page to register today.

Again, just to be clear; nobody is paying me to say this. I just hope to see you there!

Do you hate conferences? Has your view of them changed at all recently? Join the discussion in the comments.

23 thoughts on “Do You HATE Conferences? Here’s Something Just for You…

  1. I’d love to have a schedule like that, Jeff. I really enjoy conferences and hope to go to several you mentioned. I couldn’t go to the Dynamic Communicator’s Conference in May, and I only live 4 miles from Berry! It about killed me! Anyway, I hope you benefitted from those listed. Have a great time at Story!

  2. I’ve been dying to go to Story!  Just not financially in the cards right now, especially since I went to a blogging conference and She Speaks this year.  I was less than impressed with the blogging conference but She Speaks was a powerful experience.  I don’t know that I’d go back again next year because I hope to already be in the publishing process by then but it was worth going.  Hope you have a great time at Story!

    1. Yes, I am. I’m sorry that I wasn’t more clear about that. If you’re thinking about it — you should register today, before the prices go up!

  3. I attended Story, more as an intern in the basement, but what I think was cool is a place for creatives which is lacking for ministry minded people and leaders. Recreate is tops and the best thing about it is as you say–conversation and interaction. Part of that is its size and core constituency I feel. Story is not as small, but surely you will love the offline conversations over coffee and deep dish pizza! I am jealous. 

    1. Thanks, Rich. re:create did something in me that I’ve never before experienced at a conference. I am hoping for something similar (albeit entirely unique) at STORY.

  4. Dude. I’m seriously considering this. I haven’t been to a conference in a while. I’ll be at Catalyst in October but this seems like a more interactive experience. Hmmmm…

  5. Its interesting… Your perspective on the motive to go seems to be clarified, or why people  should go in the first place. When Ive went to conferences and felt like I got action plans, its been effective. When it was a “rah-rah” look what I did, and see how quickly, I got nothing! Ive been to more “rah-rahs”, which has caused me to rethink going to any. Youve clarified motives, Thxs! 

    1. You should, Matt. You’d love it. I’m talking Joe Bunting into going. We could maybe road trip and split housing costs. It’d be fun.

  6. I’m excited to head to STORY this year! I love conferences, and this one is prime for me as a community of creatives learning from each other. Top it off with a few authors I’m stoked to hear from, in a city I love, and I’m there! 

    Another conference I would highly, highly recommend that has influenced me is the Festival of Faith and Writing at Calvin College in Michigan; it’s widely attended by authors, both well-known and aspiring, and others in the publishing industry including literary mag editors, publicist, literary agents, acquisitions editors, etc. 

    For my own career, going to conferences has not only given me valuable networking opportunities and great workshops, but it has inspired me as well to keep going in my art. 

  7. Hi Jeff,
    Great post! I contribute to Cvent’s blog about event planning – is there a chance to talk to your perspective on conferences that work? My email is annahuddleston@gmail:disqus .com. Look forward to talking to you!

  8. Jeff, I’ve been facilitating conferences that I think you’d like for twenty years now. And I developed them because, like you, I hated the conferences I attended while I was an academic. My events are participant-driven and participation rich, they fully harness the experience and expertise of the people formerly known as the audience, and they become the conferences that the participants want them to be.

    There’s a lot more information on my website and in my book “Conferences That Work: Creating Events That People Love” (2009), but the best way to grok Conferences That Work is, of course, to experience one.

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