The Counterintuitive Way to Create Something that Changes Lives: 4 Lessons from Tribe Conference

“Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.” –Oscar Wilde

Well, the third year of our annual Tribe Conference just wrapped, and I’m still reeling from the experience. But I wanted to share with you a few takeaways from the event and how they relate to your own creative work.

The Counterintuitive Way to Create Something that Changes Lives: 4 Lessons from Tribe Conference

First of all, this is an event that hundreds of people have told me is life-changing. Over and over again, they’ve said things like “Tribe made me call myself a writer” or “this was the best conference I’ve ever attended.”

Initially, I brushed off these compliments, but after hearing them over and over, year after year, I realized we’ve created something special. And I want to share with you the reason why that is.

And to be honest, it surprised me.

How did we do this?

It still kind of surprises me when people say these things about the conference. I see all the flaws, all the things I want to improve with the conference, but I suppose anytime you create something, this is the case.

As a creator, you are more prone to see the weaknesses of your creation than the strengths. It takes a community to tell you what you’re doing right.

This year at Tribe Conference, I began to notice what people have been seeing all along. I started listening to what others said so that our team could preserve what makes this event unique. And here’s the thing:

I gave myself permission to believe in my own success.

I know that sounds funny. But after chatting with countless attendees and staff, I finally allowed myself to appreciate what my team and I had made. And the biggest surprise was that people loved this thing not because it was perfect, but because it was real.

If you don’t read anything else, please don’t miss that.

People don’t want you perfect; they want real.

And we all have the power to create something like that. In this article, I’ve compiled a short list of characteristics that have made our event stand out from others. I hope in sharing these that you are encouraged in your own work to own what makes you unique and not worry about what everyone else is doing.

What we did to create a unique conference

What makes something great, I think, is a series of small decisions that add up over time. My friend Michael Hyatt likes to say that wow is created not by meeting expectations but by continually exceeding them. That’s what we’re aspired to do with our conference.

Here are four decisions we have made that made Tribe Conference a success — and four decisions we will continue to make.

1. Make your mess your message.

This was actually a tip from one of our speakers this year. “Make your mess your message,” Ishita Gupta told us. Don’t try to hide the unkempt parts of yourself. Let your hair down, tell the ugly parts of your story, and allow people to love you for who you really are.

Make your mess your message.

Ishita Gupta

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With Tribe Conference, this means acknowledging when things don’t go well. We are intentionally not going for “polished.” We don’t want to be sloppy. But when we project an air of informality from stage, attendees pick up on this, and it makes them feel more comfortable. It’s all about giving people permission to be themselves.

For me, this was an epiphany. When I decided to do an event, I wasn’t even sure I could pull it off. I was scared to do it but did it anyway, being 100% honest about this — from the marketing of the event to the actual execution of it. After the event, I would publicly share what we did right and what we cold do better.

My friend Bryan Harris calls this “learning out loud.” This means that as you create the thing, you talk about what you’re doing right, what you’re doing wrong, and what you’re learning. This is not a license to be unprofessional, but when you share how raw something is with your audience, if you don’t try to hide your mess, people don’t criticize you. They cheer for you.

2. Prioritize people over performance.

At Tribe Conference, speakers are allowed only 30 minutes to deliver a message and are asked to end with a practical application. We believe that every story of success is a story of community, so we try to engage the audience as much as possible.

The best session at a conference is not the one that happens onstage but the one happens around the table.

We also make a point to bring up past attendees onstage and have them share their successes. We encourage those who have published books to bring them and exchange them with other attendees.

None of this is about creating the best public performance. In many cases, these experiences are a little messy. But the feeling of inclusion this creates is priceless. As a result, the audience feels bought into the work you’re doing and will work with you to help it succeed, instead of sitting in the stands waiting for you to impress them.

With your own creative projects, think of ways you can empower your audience to feel like they are a part of the work you’re doing. Not only that, actually include them. Give them some ownership and see what they do with it. In our experience, this almost always yields a better product.

3. Focus on action over information.

At the end of every talk at Tribe Conference, there is a practical exercise or next step we ask the audience to take right there in the moment. The promise is that you will not leave without a list of things to do but with a list of things done.

Conference attendees don’t need more information. They need help applying what they already know to do. Of course, we want to teach and share and help But we also want to create space for people to apply.

So we give them about ten minutes at the end of each talk to do just that.

We also make our breaks extra long: two 30-minute breaks plus a two-hour lunch break and other “work” times. We leave lots of room in the schedule for people to connect with each other and apply the lessons they’ve learned so far.

4. Be a fan of fun.

One of my biggest complaints about conferences is that they are too serious. The event planners don’t allow themselves or their attendees to enjoy the experience.

At Tribe Conference, we are big fans of fun. We recognize that part of what people want is a little inspiration and a little time away from the demands of their daily schedule.

So we make this a priority. It’s okay to enjoy yourself. It’s okay to celebrate. In fact, this is a necessary part of the learning process as well. Your mind needs to feel at ease in order for it learn new information.

So, we have dance parties and chocolate tastings, mimosas and popsicles, after parties and pre-event meetups, and so many other fun surprises. No year is ever the same as the last, but we are always looking for new ways to delight our attendees.

We want to provide an experience that leaves an indelible impression on you, a way of reminding you that this was a special time so you won’t forget who you were during this extraordinary weekend. And that way, you can keep being that person when you go home.

Plus, we find these things for us, too. And it’s an excuse to wear fun costumes (thus far, I have been Superman, Batman, and a ridiculously dressed starving artist).

Looking to the future

So that’s my summary of Tribe Conference 2017. If it sounds like it’s up your alley, please check it out. If not, that’s okay. We don’t want this thing to get too big too quickly. It’s been fun keeping it personal and intimate. That said, here’s the look to grab a ticket if you want one:

Tickets officially go on sale today for our 2018 event.

This year, we are limiting the early bird rate to the first 100 people who sign up. After that, we will shut registration down and open it up again next year at a higher price point.

So, if you’re interested, don’t miss it. Check it out at for more information.

Here’s what our attendees have to say

If you’re still not convinced Tribe Conference is awesome, read what this year’s attendees have to say about it:

Our goal with this event is for it to be a shot-in-the-arm that gives you the energy you need to keep going for the rest of the year. If you’re a writer or creative who wants to make a living off your work, check out this event.

What do you think makes for a memorable event? Share in the comments.

22 thoughts on “The Counterintuitive Way to Create Something that Changes Lives: 4 Lessons from Tribe Conference

  1. Thank you for starting Tribe even when you had feelings of uncertainty.
    Thank you for being human and sharing your struggles.
    Thank you for helping me understand “when you share how raw something is with your audience, if you don’t try to hide your mess, people don’t criticize you. They cheer for you.” These are words to live by.
    Thank you for featuring both of my articles!
    And about Tribe Conference 2018? I got my ticket before I left this year. Can’t wait!

  2. Jeff, thank you so much for linking to my post. The weekend was fantastic, the speakers dynamic, and the community the best ever. I have my premium ticket for next year. See you soon!

  3. Jeff,

    Thank you again for an awesome experience at #TribeConf. As someone that has been to all three (and have my ticket for next year already), I can attest that each year has been better than the year before.

    The reason I think it keeps getting better is not because of the speakers. The speakers each year have been top-notch. They all deliver and many over deliver value bombs.

    Why is #TribeConf better each year? The simple answer is what you said above “the best session is not the one that happens onstage but what happens around the table.”

    Whether it was the meet-up a few hours before the event or the lunches we shared (I don’t think anyone ate alone unless they wanted to). The tribe of people and the community it represents were able to cement relationships built year over year at the conference and those built in Tribe Writers.

    Thank you again for creating a scene where creativity could bloom and prosper.

    Thanks also for sharing my link above.


  4. Hi Jeff,

    Love your message here.

    This conference had to have rocked because I swear, I do one each of these things with my blog and brand, and am enjoying the ride like never before.

    The weight of the world is lifted off your shoulders the moment you do not have to be perfect, but authentic. Sure I speak of wins. I share victories, appearances on top blogs, accomplishments and yep, I share selfies of my globe-trotting lifestyle.

    But I also share failures, misery, mess ups and all my shadows because that is what makes me, me. Real. Authentic. And it also gives people the hope that they can live their dreams despite being flawed, and prone to flub ups, in the past, or now, or even in the future.

    We are refreshing when we succeed and know we are far from being polished, or some carefully constructed brands. A 3rd grader can design my eBook covers. Yet a handful are best sellers as I come around to promoting all 126 of ’em. And I also live a cool life.

    It is all about clarity; being skilled at a few core things, then realizing that all you need is to be skilled in some areas, and just as clear in other areas where you let your hair down and are at peace with you, being you.

    Once you are genuine, forget about it. Success will be yours. Only a matter of time and scale.

    Thanks for sharing Jeff.


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