Last year, when I attended Content Strategy Forum in Paris, I remember the excitement of being in a room full of people who all cared about the exact same things I did — who, like me, wore a lot of different hats, cared deeply about how all the pieces came together, and believed foremost that strategic content was the driver of all good things. It was like coming home.
Well, turns out several hundred people feel the exact same way — and in early May the North Americans among us (and many visitors from afar) flocked to Minneapolis for Confab, the largest U.S. conference solely focused on content strategy. The conference was so in demand that it sold out within weeks, and organizers had to close the waiting list when it reached more than 300 names.
The conference struck the right balance between vision and tactics, inspiration and real takeaways that many of us could take back and start using right away. While most people I talked to agreed that there wasn’t anything mind-blowing in terms of brand new information, there were plenty of case studies, examples, and “insider” secrets, which content strategy practitioners (and aspiring practitioners) are always hungry for.
In fact, the biggest complaint I heard throughout was that the sessions all sounded so good people had a hard time choosing between the four tracks during any given session. After attending SxSW this year, where session quality was hit or miss and mostly miss, I was very happy to get consistently good quality in the sessions and the speakers.
Keep your options open — and no whining please
After a few years of beating the big drum for content strategy, fearless leader Kristina Halvorson admitted in her opening keynote that she’d at first been at a loss — what to say to a room full of people who not only already got it, but were already practicing content strategy in some form or other?
Her main message to the 600 people sitting before her: open your minds.
Content is an always evolving ecosystem, she said. Our role as content strategists is to cross disciplines and organizational boundaries to understand different points of view, different priorities, different contributions. Learn what everybody else does in order to figure out how the pieces fit together. Keep evangelizing content strategy to everybody who will listen, but also keep listening yourself to learn about what is going on “in all of those siloes.” “This is what being a consultant is all about,” she said.
At this point, Kristina put forth our challenge for the two days. “Go to a session you have no interest in; you might learn something new,” she said. The she summed up all the complaints we always hear at conferences: This is too tactical. This is too high-level. This isn’t want I think. This doesn’t apply to me. “Don’t do this,” she scolded, in a tone not unlike the one I use when my 4-year-old’s whining is getting under my skin. “This is not helpful to you.”
And we were off.