Inbound 16: My Experience

Commitment. That is the word I would use to describe what it took to attend a conference like ‘Inbound 2016’. I committed time away from work. I committed no small amount of earnings. And I committed to sitting the 16 hours on a plane and the additional seven hours in various airports to get there. It was a huge commitment—and one that was worth it.

Inbound is the biggest conference I have ever experienced. (With between 17,000 to 19,000 attendees—every person who spoke gave us a different number—we took up a massive conference centre.) Meant to be focussed primarily on digital marketing, social media and sales, it blurred the lines with the Spotlight and Keynote speakers to its detriment. You know how in marketing we always talk about being ‘niche’ and making sure you ‘niche down’? I found Inbound couldn’t seem to do that. It was as if it was fighting within itself to be something more.

First up and on point was Gary Vanderchuck, a speaker who knew why he was there and delivered as always. His presentation got me amped up for the rest—if the line up was to continue in this vein, I was about to get my mind blown. Sadly, that was not the case. Celebrities like Anna Kendrick, Serena Williams and Mike Strahan, while interesting, weren’t there to talk about digital marketing, social media or sales. The interview style was more of a ‘look at me’ parade. Don’t get me wrong. I was fascinated, but I came away with nothing of value, nothing to implement. No story was told that had me coming away with a ‘WOW’. It felt very underwhelming.

This is where Inbound’s lines blurred. What were they trying to be? Were these celebrities featured just to pull in the crowd? How could they have woven them into the essence of the conference so that we attendees came away with value?

Another drawback? The conference fell on the week of the US elections. Tough break. Mind you, I was there in part to observe the elections and found it was interesting that they chose Ta-Nehisi Coates as a keynote for the day after. If you are not familiar with him, he writes and is very vocal on race. Nothing to do with digital marketing. (I knew with the result of the elections there was no way he was going to deliver what he prepared and he didn’t.)

While I was fascinated by this choice, I was also disappointed. Everyone was sleep deprived, hurt, confused, angry and in disbelief when the announcement of the new US President was made. The audience needed to be uplifted. They needed a touch of hope at this point but it didn’t come from Ta-Nehishi. He was brilliant, thoughtful, provoking and challenging, but it was the wrong place and definitely the wrong time. People walked out or posted their frustrations on Twitter. It wasn’t the best start to the day. Politics divides and the room became divided. (The rule of thumb that you should never bring politics or religion to the table rings true for conferences as well.)

Having started with the negative, let me move into the positive: The sessions. Inbound is well organised and pre-registering for the sessions made everything easy. Getting to sessions became a fun personal challenge of “how many steps can I make today”. Just for your information, I averaged 12,000 to 15,000 a day. (Well played Pauline—learning and fitness combined.)

The sessions were great (some more than others as is to be expected) and the speakers were, on the whole, good. As with anything, not everyone will have the same experience and where I felt a keynote was off brand others might have loved them. That said, the speakers who stood out for me for their great delivery and incredible take-aways were:

Jody Sutter: Ad Agencies
Alexia Vernon: Women’s Leadership Development
Doug Landis: What’s your Story?
George B. Thomas: Hubspot
Larry Kim: Twitter and FB Hacks

I will be providing you with my key take-aways soon.

All in all, for such a large conference, Inbound got most of it right.

Is it a conference to commit to and would I go again? The answer is YES to both. Overall, the content was very good but the people were better and you cannot put a price on building relationships. I think Inbound was an ‘experience’ and one you need to have.

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