Wow, what a week. I’ve never been to Las Vegas before this week’s New Media Expo conference. I really had no idea what to expect other than what you see in the movies. I’m typing this while on the flight back home and already reminiscing on what I can’t help but consider to be one of the best weeks of my life. I feel like I’ve experienced a paradigm shift. It’s amazing how that can happen in an instant.
It’s a situation that I’m more familiar with than I like to admit. I’m an introvert and building relationships with strangers doesn’t come naturally to me. This is something that I’ve been working on over the last few years, and I’ve gotten better at it, but it takes a very concerted effort.
The team at NMX did a great job ensuring there were events and parties that were on the schedule to allow people to mix and get to know each other. I got in on Sunday on time for the first such party. I debated all day (even on the flight) whether or not I was going to attend. In the end I sucked it up and focused on the fact that this trip would be a giant waste of time if I didn’t step out of my comfort zone.
The party was at the Sayers Club in the relatively new SLS hotel and casino. It was a swanky place, the kind of place that I don’t feel like I fit in. It was a place for the pretty people who like to be seen. Regardless of that fact, when I walked in the room I flipped that little internal switch to turn myself “on” in a similar fashion to the way I do for small get togethers at home.
I walked right up to the bar to get a drink and started talking to the first guy I saw sitting alone there. He was a turd. He was being critical towards the atmosphere and the people who were already there. It was a bad start and I moved away as quickly as I could extricate myself. I didn’t see him again for the rest of the week.
The next guy I met was Britt. He was standing alone on a rail taking in the scene. We talked for 10 or 20 minutes and clicked pretty well. I excused myself though because I knew that I needed to try and meet as many people as possible. I kept pushing myself, I introduced myself to everybody that I found sitting or standing by themselves. Slowly as the party picked up I started inserting myself into groups that looked to be having a good time. As the night went on I met Bill, Mike, Matt, Steve, Jodi, Terri, Carrie, Mark, Ramona and probably about 10 other people whose names have already faded on me. When I left at the end of the night I felt good about myself. The constant action of introducing myself also helped me to finalize the way that I introduce the podcast to people which became second nature over the course of the week.
The next morning I was up bright and early for the first sessions. This is the reason that I was here, both to help inspire me with ideas for my 9 to 5 and also to help me with TW. In the first session I ran into Mark and Ramona from the night before and they introduced me to Carole and Larry and a few others. What I found to be amazingly cool about these introductions is that we all had something in common. Everybody at these shows was involved in New Media in some way. We had bloggers, podcasters, youtubers, productions guys, marketers and others. Because of this, it was easy to ask what people do because you know they were going to be doing something related to what you did. As people learned about each other’s work they showed interest and would naturally encourage each other. I was relieved at how easy it seemed to be to meet people. The key was taking the initiative and introducing yourself.
I’d like to talk for a minute about the sessions at the show. I couldn’t have been happier with most of them and I look forward to checking out some of the ones I missed online. I learned so much that my mind started to explode with connections and ideas that were completely new to me. I would highly recommend attending the New Media Expo to anyone in the industry based just on the strength of the sessions alone even without the benefit of the networking.
As the day went on I ran into Britt again in the hallway and confirmed that we’d both be at the party that night. He’d be there with his brother Matt so that would be another person to meet. I was getting worn down though. These trade shows and conferences shows take a tremendous amount of physical energy. I had my Fitbit on all week and I was averaging well over 10 miles and 15,000 steps a day. Pile the emotional energy drain of being “on” for everybody all the time and I was ready for a break. That being said, I still forced myself to go to the second party that night. This was at the even-more-swanky Foxtail Pool Club once again at the SLS. Things weren’t going great. I was meeting a few people, but it was getting harder. I wasn’t really making any connections. I decided to make one last lap around the pools before calling it a night.
As I was walking to the exit I ran into Britt and his brother Matt. I told the guys that I was thinking about cruising the strip for a little bit to see the sights and lights at night. They were game for it so we hopped in my rental and went for a ride. We were getting to know each other in the car and having a good conversation when we saw the High Roller, a giant observation wheel with pods that can hold up to 45 people. This thing was massive! Matt mentioned that there were some pods with little bars in them that were all you could drink for the 30 minute ride. That sounded like fun so we parked the car, bought our tickets and headed on in. This was a great experience. The views of Las Vegas at night from the top of this wheel were spectacular. We had a great time. I kept the drinking low though because I knew I was driving back to my hotel. We hung out for a little while after the ride and then I hit the road.
“Getting homesick out here. Wish I had a friend like you or Waco with me. Tired of being surrounded by strangers and awkward new acquaintances … I don’t know what makes me so unapproachable, but if I’m not starting the conversation then no one else will.”
I was emotional for a little while. The grind was getting to me and the pressure of being “on”. It was less than 2 hours later that I made the connection that changed the tenor of the week for me. I ran into Sarah from the night before in a session. We were talking across the rows about the types of documentaries she was working on and some others who sat near us joined in. One of them was a pretty girl who sat right behind me. She had some intelligent comments so I decided to introduce myself to her after the session ended.
For the record, this is much more difficult than deciding to introduce yourself to some other nerdy guy that you know you’ll have plenty in common with. I did it anyway and learned that her name was Ali and that she was a married marketing expert from Nebraska. The part about being married was good, it took all the unnecessary guy/girl pressure off and let me connect person to person. As we got to know each other I realized that she was tremendously intelligent and had loads of interesting life experience. She also talked about being here alone, not knowing anybody and the difficulty connecting. She described her previous evening’s dinners alone in her room with a box of wheat thins. The funny thing was that we were building a real connection over a conversation about how hard it was to connect. Something else that was unexpected was that as we talked I found that my energy was being restored. She was a little sparkplug of energy. Magnificent! We made plans to reconnect for the keynote address and the awards show in a couple of hours and headed our separate ways.
I was already feeling tremendously better than I was just a few hours before. Then I ran in to Britt and Matt outside the keynote and things got better. We had made a good connection the night before and I enjoyed the prospect of spending more time together. We found Ali in the area and got seats together for Pat Flynn’s keynote. I didn’t know anything about Pat. I haven’t listened to his shows, but apparently he was very popular. I found out why soon enough. His keynote was inspirational. It was about becoming future proof and he approached it with a lot of heart. I was very impressed and look forward to checking out more of his work so I can hear more of what he has to say.
After the keynote we split up so people could freshen up for the award show and as we got back together I ran into Carole and Larry from the first morning and invited them join the group. They are both very friendly and easy to talk to, lovely people! As we pulled up to the table I was surprised to realize that the common denominator at our table was me. None of the others had met each other until that point. This bolstered my spirit because it meant that all of the work I was doing to connect with people was paying off. I didn’t have to sit myself at a table with a bunch of strangers, I had found my tribe.
At the after party that night I reconnected with Steven from the night before and introduced him to Britt and Matt. I also connected this group to Matt that I met on night one. I was having a great time. I felt like I was in some weird extroverted zone where everything was turning up roses. I connected with Jay Soderberg and pulled him into the conversation, he was one of the night’s award winners and the former producer of a show I have been listening to for years. I met Charlie and Mordant, two guys that work together and have a great vibe. I also met Brad a firefighter with cool ideas about starting a show focused on helping firefighters to stay on top of the latest trends and life saving techniques. I connected him with Sarah and Bruce at the party and together we expanded his horizons in awesome different directions.
As that party wound down I found Ali and sat down with her and Tim, a gregarious young guy I hadn’t met yet. We got a kick out of watching the dancing together. We also met Scott who Ali had connected with earlier. I was surprised when the hotel closed the club down and they told us to leave. I was actually very disappointed. This was honestly the best party I had ever been to and I was feeling great. I was also a little too intoxicated to drive safely. As we were walking out somebody had the idea to go find a different club where we could continue to engage in our people watching. We walked up and down the strip for a little over an hour continuing to find dead clubs or places that didn’t open until 2am. It turned out to be a bit of a quixotic quest but we had fun spending the time together even though we failed to find a place to settle down.
I had pre-purchased tickets for Cirque de Soleil that night at 9:30 and during dinner I had a make a tough decision. Should I leave the group early to get to the show or should I abandon my ticket and stay with the group. I chose to stick with the group and it was a great decision. I learned a lot from that moment. I realized that I would rather spend my time having a good time with other people than experiencing something awesome alone. I think the previous day’s fun was what helped me make the final decision. Finding a couple of partners in crime got me out of my funk and I didn’t want to miss anything.
I have to admit that I fell in love with Las Vegas a little bit on this trip. I never expected that, I had never even had the urge to be there before, but now I feel a tug towards it. However the important thing is that it wouldn’t be the same alone. You have to do it with friends or not at all.
We found ourselves on the bar car of the High Roller again that night. It was even better than the first time with the whole group there to enjoy it. After that we ended up going to the end of the TV after party. I made my exit after some of group had been dancing for a while. I was pooped and dancing will probably never be my thing.
I struck off on my own for the rest of the afternoon. I was feeling melancholy and it was only amplified as I watched the booths pack up shop as I walked around. The show was coming to a close. Over Twitter those of us who were left made plans for one last night on the town. We decided to go to Fremont Street. A cool little district in old Las Vegas that has been reworked into an awesome place to walk around and have fun. Mark and Ramona from night one were in, so were Britt, Matt, Jeff and Gene and they introduced us to Greg and Ramona’s husband James. We had a fantastic time together. We took pictures at Binion’s with the Million dollar table and also grabbed a great pic together posing with guys in TMNT costumes.
On the plane today writing this I’ve had the chance to really reflect on the week. I’ve had tears well up in my eyes multiple times putting all of this on paper. I can’t believe how strong my emotions are right now. I’m so sad that this experience is over and at the same time so happy to have made so many great new friends. I just want to collect them all and take them home with me. This was a magical experience for me. It showed me just how quickly strangers can turn into acquaintances, friends and then even become close friends. The key for me was letting go of my fears and my preconceived notions and just putting myself out there for better or worse.
This week I put myself out there and I accepted the fact that it wasn’t going to be easy or comfortable. I played the numbers game this week for the first time in my life. I met hundreds of people and passed out hundreds of business cards. And I walk away with 3 or 4 great new friends and another 20 or so awesome new acquaintances. I had to do a lot to get there, but in the end it was so worth it.
Thanks NMX and thanks Vegas. I’ll never forget this week.
Jonathan Oakes - @TrivialWarfare