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Why DYFConf Europe Was The Best Thing Ever (And You Should Have Been There)


I was really worried about DYFConf Europe.

For one thing, I had a hard time getting people to go to it. I thought I’d be able to hit 100 attendees, and budgeted accordingly (we had 61 registrations.) And unlike the US conference, outside of a few of the speakers I hardly knew anyone who was going to be there. What would they be like? Would they be a good fit? And, worst of all, Oh my God, don’t Europeans hate “American-style” sales and marketing advice?

Then there was the language barrier. I had a hard time ironing out the details with the Swedish-speaking venue staff, and the first thing I was told upon arriving at the Yasuragi Resort was, “They need to talk to you. There are a few problems.”

I learned that there were a handful of people who weren’t assigned rooms, weren’t on the attendee roster, or weren’t counted toward our group meal quota.

I was visibly stressed, and no one should ever be stressed as a spa resort like the Yasuragi.

Things fall apart

It’s only a matter of time until I start hearing complaints.

Because of the rough checkin experience, I figured everyone would start questioning their decision in traveling “all the way to Sweden.” (The #1 objection Europeans had in attending was the distance.  As an American who is used to happily spending hours in the air just to get around my own country, I honestly didn’t understand.)

Fortunately, many of the attendees had found their way to the hot springs. At the time I thought that helped smooth over things, because it’s impossible to get that upset while in a hot bath… right?

The stress didn’t go away, and eventually it was dinner time. The moment of truth.

Everyone was happy.

Maybe it’s because most had changed into yakatas, the standard-issue attire that the hotel issues all of its guests. Or perhaps it was the incredible barbecue we were being served, the perfect sunset, or the world’s greatest bartender, Marcello.

Whatever the reason, people were happily mingling over Kirin and teriyaki chicken. And laughing. And all the other things that happen when you bring together smart and passionate people together for a few days of intentional development, both personal and professional.

And so it began. The best conference I’ve ever been to (I know, I’m biased, it was my own) with the best collection of friends and peers I could ever ask for.

dyfconfgroupphoto

Here are the big takeaways. If you helped make this happen, sound off below in the comments with what your own.

Lesson 1: Don’t be conventional

A few days before leaving for Europe, I was panicked. I had completely blanked on ordering name badges. (Though a few weeks before, at the BaconBiz Conf, the name badges consisted of the fill-in-the-blank sort you’d get at an AA meeting and Japanese stickers to use as accessories, so I wasn’t too concerned with having them professionally done.)

But seriously, most people expect a sponsor-branded lanyard with a laminated badge. It’s like Running A Conference 101.

But we didn’t have name badges. And the majority of us opted to strip down to just basic underwear (or “pants”, as they’d say here) and a Japanese robe that’s apparently not called a kimono, but instead a yakata.

Before you ask — NO, this wasn’t that kind of conference!

werewolf_at_sunset

But there was something really nice about the fact that we were all just human beings hanging out together. Our homogeny of dress led to more familiarity. I didn’t feel that anyone was intimidated by anyone else there, speaker or not.

And because there were no name badges, we were able to totally avoid that sort of squinty scan around the room to see who you’ve heard of (and thus, should talk to) and the rest. People just approached each other and kicked off a conversation, the same way you would anywhere else in the world that wasn’t a business conference.

Lesson 2: Keep people together

I’ve been saying for a while that I’m just waiting for someone to create a conference where there are ZERO talks.

These exist, but they’re usually tightly-knit Mastermind retreats.

But this was a conference, and hardly anyone knew any of the other attendees in advance. They were literally thrown together, forced to stay onsite at a Japanese resort spa. We all woke up together, learned together, ate together, laughed together, sauna’d together, and hot tub’d together.

Most conferences have a venue hotel, a venue where all the talks happen from, and then attendees scatter or form small cliques.

This wasn’t that.

This was like the summer camp I went to throughout high school. The university dormitory we stayed at was surrounded by “lava”, and we weren’t permitted to leave it.

And while I didn’t force anyone to stay on our island paradise, surrounded by invisible lava, no one wanted to leave. People wanted to just continue talking.

If that’s not what defines “successful conference”, I don’t know what is.

Lesson 3: Keep it small

Like I mentioned earlier, I didn’t sell nearly the amount of tickets I was expecting to sell.

And for a conference organizer with fixed expenses, that’s not a good thing.

But next year will be the size of this year’s conference — because it was the perfect amount of people.

We didn’t have a speaker room. Nor did we even have a speaker dinner this time around. The speakers were really just attendees who happened to be up on stage, sharing something that they’re deeply familiar with. (This also came from Amy Hoy and Alex Hillman’s BaconBiz.)

I have a bad penchant for hanging out in my room during certain talks, or at least grouping with a few others in the hallway throughout the event.

This didn’t happen at DYFConf.

Lesson 4: Encourage lots and lots of honest discussion — the business-y “networking” stuff will just happen

I hate the word networking.

Most conferences I’ve been to in the past have had a sponsored afterparty or two at a local bar or hotel ballroom. They’re positioned as networking sessions. You go and network. You talk to people with the same, scripted formula.

I don’t know about you, but the people I claim as great friends didn’t go through that formula.

And what emerged from DYFConf were actual friendships. And the business benefits  — partnering on client projects, staying in touch over weekly Masterminds — will probably just happen on their own.

Then there were the inside jokes.

Ask any attendee about the significance of Pepsi’s gravitational field or Malört.

For before the conference, during, and beyond we setup a Slack account for everyone. Before arriving at the Yasuragi, people ended up hanging out touring Stockholm. Days later, people are still carrying on and chatting up a storm. I don’t see this tapering off, either.


Leaving was emotional. Everyone hugged. I hadn’t felt that way since, again, summer camp as a kid. This was a truly transformational experience for me and everyone else. We all learned something, and no one was excluded. We were all equal. Speaker, attendee. Male, female. Whatever.

I miss everyone, and I think many of them probably feel the same.

And one of the attendees (hi Franz) had the gumption to contact the resort and schedule next year! He promptly sent me a calendar invite to attend my own conference in 2017!

dyfconfinvite

DYFConf US, which kicks off late September, has big shoes to fill. But I’d be amiss in saying that I’m not learning this as I go, so I plan on carrying these lessons learned over to the US event and improving on them even more.

There were a few things I could have improved upon — namely, how the Q&A was run and the fact that I skimped on the speaker introductions.

But all-in-all, I’m thrilled with how the conference went. I couldn’t be happier.

2017’s European reunion… er, conference is going to be incredible, and if you’re in Europe (or willing to get there) I hope you can make it. And the next US conference will be just as amazing, but on the other side of the great big pond.

 

  • Luis Zarza

    What a pity I missed this one. Please consider doing next one on Barcelona, Spain. I’d gladly help you with anything here.

    • The short flight is well worth it. 🙂

    • We had people from Australia and India! Spain is not that far. Hope to see you there next year. 😉

  • Laura Yeffeth

    This was the best investment I’ve made in my business in a long time. I feel lucky to have met a truly inspiring group of people from all over the world. It far exceeded my expectations. Thank you, Brennan!

  • Andy Henson

    I have been to a few conferences in the past, which I really enjoyed, but they pale in comparison to DYFConf EU. Sweden was amazing and the venue was stunning but it was the attendees that made it truly unique. I picked up so many actionable tactics to improve my business from them as well as the speakers I now have a todo list a mile long! More than that though, I made so many new friends which I hope will turn into long lasting friendships. I can’t wait to see everyone again next year!

  • Thank you so much Brennan. It was quite simply amazing. The speakers were all terrific and did an outstanding job, the food was great, the venue was really perfect. The value in the talks and hallway, meal, drinks and spa (how many times can you say that!) conversations were through the roof. And everyone just bonded so well and become friends instantly. Saying good bye was incredibly hard because we didn’t want it to end and just wanted to keep hanging out with each other. We doubled and then tripled the good bye hugs! I already miss everyone a lot and can’t wait for the next one to see everyone again (hopefully before!).

  • Very cool – so glad it was as amazing as you hoped and I’d love to join you next year!

  • Francesca Geens

    Untangling myself from the day to day life of my business and family was not easy (need I mention missing a sports day, school play and arranging for parents to travel over to look after the kids?) but this was so worth it. Spending a few days at a spa (spa!) with other freelance business owners who are on the same wavelength as you was amazing. The content of the talks was excellent and having lots of opportunities for conversations and connections between talks, over breakfast, lunch and dinner – and in the spa (spa!!) was indeed the best thing ever. I am so looking forward to the next one and to staying in touch with all the inspiring people I met over those few days. Thanks so much Brennan.

  • I haven’t seen an announcement or site for a DYFConf US for 2016, although I saw a reference to it here and heard it mentioned on a freelancing podcast. Is it definitely happening?

    • Yes, we’re finalizing things now. Wanted to wait until after the EU conf to make any big announcements 🙂 Soon! (Dates are Sep 28-30)

      • Sounds good. I’m definitely looking forward to finding out more about it.

  • DYFConf EU was amazing! I’m a big fan of small and intimate as it gives you a chance to get to know people and actually have a good time instead of spending 3 days talking with a new stranger every 5 minutes. The latter gets exhausting after a while 🙂 The venue was also terrific. Between the sushi, awesome bartender, and robes, it did feel like a getaway with friends. All said, totally worth the flight across the ocean and consequent jetlag 😉

  • Everything about the conference was stunning. The venue, the food, the talks and first and foremost, the conversations with other attendees all day (from breakfast to well into the night). I came away with so many new friends, ideas and such a high level of ambition that I’d book the conference for next year right now even if it was double the price (“Double Your Ticket Price” 🙂 ). I’m now going to start putting the collected ideas in practice. See you there next year!

  • Looked amazing! I couldn’t make this one as of other commitments – but next year I want to get it booked in early!

  • ericmwhite

    As a speaker, I thought this event was great. The format of the event gave me time to mingle with people to learn about what would be helpful to them before speaking. Also, had ample opportunity to chat afterward and hear what worked and didn’t work in my presentation. Best of all — I was an attendee myself and got a huge benefit from everything I learned, new connections and a huge motivation boost to be productive in the days after getting him.

  • Kamalika Majumder

    This has been a life changing even for me. I am so glad I came to the conference and got to meet such amazing people. For a newbie like me DYFConfEU has cleared up the cloudy picture that I had in my mind about how to start of on a full time solo consulting. The talks on how to build an audience, email courses , designing the web contents are my key take aways.
    I can say I have a clear plan now and I have even started discussing business with one of my first clients. If all goes well I will be starting officially on boarding them in next few months. Thanks Brennun and team for organising this amazing event in such an awesome place. So far this has been the best 3 days of my life and DYFConfEU is going to be a the doorway to the next chapter for my career as well as life. Already looking forward to the next year event.

  • I’ve never been to a conference like this, that lasts over several days. Seminars with my previous day jobs doesn’t really count. What made DYFConf so different was the whole setting.

    Beginning with the location. A Japanese spa.

    You know that the focus of this conference is not what you’re used to. Usually you go to these things to network and pitch your service to the other attendees. And if you’re lucky, you might get to exchange a few words with one or two of the speakers.

    DYFConf, from my point of view, was more about creating new friendships, gaining new knowledge from speakers and peers, and to relax and enjoy your stay at this beautiful spa.

    You can’t put a price tag on such a amazing event! I’ll be back next year!

  • Agreed with all the comments. The conference was a rare alignment of both highly professional and friendly/generous people, a fantastic location and a conference formula that just works. Was it mentioned that we were encouraged to leave our electronic devices in the room? This contributed a lot to the success of the conf. Finally, there was a strong sense of generosity: in the speaker line-up and availability; in the accommodation; and in that fact that we were never even pitched anything – nor by the speakers, nor by you. In short: a conference that has set new standards at least for me, and is probably years ahead of its time when it comes to conference concepts. Congrats!

  • nickd

    Worth the 13h flight, two waits through customs, and insomnia from 24h sunlight. That is how good this conference was – and I’m not just saying that because I got to speak. What a great community. Good sauna, too.

    Those of you who grouse about having to fly 2h are stone cold trippin’. Kill an afternoon, get some work done on the plane, and get up to Sweden. Don’t sleep on next year!

  • Kurt Elster

    Reading through the comments and seeing how much impact the conference had is fantastic. I walked away with several actionable insights. Yesterday morning I had already put much of it into practice and am reaping the rewards already.

  • The people were the treasure of this conference. Tons of great conversations. Tons of takeaways. Thanks so much everyone!

  • Marian Edmunds

    Brennan,
    I was also worried about DYFConf Europe but it turned out to be worth every $ and mile of 21 hours of flying. I gained actionable, meaningful and considered advice from speakers and participants who revealed their talents and vulnerabilities. It felt like making a bunch of new best friends with like minds and versatile talents. Yasuragi was wonderful. So good to swim in that big pool and relax in the hot pools. I look forward to next year and reporting on the impact of this event.

  • I did had a little bit of hesitation at the start to travel on a 12h flight to meet strangers, especially leaving my 1 and half year old princess, Yeah of course, they are great people on their own. Put that hesitation aside and took a plunge, well it was one great amazing experience & really worth it was an understatement. I got a chance to speak to great people who cares about you and your business, willing to help and offer a hand to pull you towards greatness. I would cherish all the conversations I had with all those amazing people throughout the life time.

    Talks are informational with insights and highly actionable. I did took action on few of those and infact now on pursuit of few 🙂

    I would see if I can come to US conference this year if its feasible else would meet you all next year at Europe 🙂

    To all the conference organizers, this is the benchmark on how a conference should be organized, take it 🙂

    To Brennan & Kai – Probably you guys can write a book on how to organize a conference and provide such an impactful experience to the attendees.

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