This post has been a long time in the making, so settle in for a decent read. But then so has Do Lectures; a speaking event that has been described as ‘TED meets Burning Man’. While that sounds good, I now don’t think it’s entirely accurate. While TED might celebrate the ‘what I think and what I made’, Do Lectures goes to the heart of storytelling and looks for the ‘how and why people do’. And not just for one day, but for four. It goes deep, back to the natural order of finding the true intersection of people, place and program. While those of us organising the next Do Lectures Australia (March 19-22 2015) fret and sweat on how to make it even more successful, I have to keep reminding myself that all good things are only known by those who care.
I first heard about Do Lectures in November 2013 when my good friend Samantha Bell asked for my advice on a new event she was cooking up, and seeking funding for. Thankfully I had the head space to give it my attention. With a nudge and wink from Sam I quickly became enticed by the prospect of helping bring something fresh to the crowded table of talks, conferences, and events. I have run a few in my time, and without even the slightest hesitation Do Lectures Australia blew them all out of the water. So here’s my thoughts on ‘how and why’….
Do you have any idea how much effort it takes to create an event from scratch, in the bushland of regional Victoria, on a property run only on generators, for 120 people, for 4 days, and make it the most memorable experience possible? Nope; well neither did I. Looking back on it, I see my ignorance of the complexities of these things as a blessing. In looking after the speakers and the program, I approached it with a disruptive mindset – how might we help people sustain attention and listen intently over four days? Amongst the options given to speakers, they were asked to give the ‘talk of their life’ – an intimidating challenge that kept the bar high and the focus on storytelling. Having the advice of people who had first hand experience of what made Do Lectures special was also hugely important – thanks Ross Hill for the insights and connections, and of course the ‘huggable’ founders and friends Sam Bell and Mel Jacobsen.
The blur of making it all happen was the first piece of magic. I use the word ‘magic’ here in a fairly simple sense: an illusion that impresses the people around it, for which the people might desperately want to know how the trick was done, but just need to accept and be entranced by the beauty of magic. However if you ever wanted to know why networks are important, combined with a sense of driving purpose, then an event like Do Lectures Australia would crank the dial right up. A magical experience that changed perceptions and assumptions. We all make incredible moves of courage, tenacity, and intensity when we find something that binds us together – I’m grateful I keep finding them.
I made an important transition as Do Lectures Australia came together. I started out thinking I needed to have those 20 speakers locked in, worded up, and prepped ASAP. Yet I was encouraged to keep at least two spots open for closer to the date. It took me a while to realise that Do Lectures does talks a little differently. The art of the talk is in the power and clarity of the story, and the sense of the impromptu; a chance to find the real purpose of why people do what they do. It’s a little known fact that two weeks out from April 24-27 we still had the 20th speaker spot to fill; from a list of more than 200 potential names. By this stage I had swung the other way – I wasn’t stressed by this at all, because I realised that the right person was there, we just had to look for passion rather than ‘power’. I’ll never forget the day I made that call to Jeremy ‘Jez’ Forbes asking him to speak – he’d already volunteered to help out early on, and doing a little more homework, I realised he was doing so much more. He became part of a trio of talks on the Saturday morning that I dubbed ‘the dark horses’; it was the ultimate emotional roller-coaster.
Part of the reason why talks work well is not just what they say, but how they say it, and who they say it with. I grouped speakers into partners and trios that aimed for common themes to emerge. As I got to know the speakers, I also got insight on what drove them, and the value they may offer to the audience. Shared wisdom, entrepreneurial mindsets, going with your gut instinct, a strong focus on place and community, and experiences of family and humility. These were powerful elements at work as audiences settled into a session, that cumulatively created a pulse and strong bonds.
We rarely disconnect to really connect these days. Those four glorious days at Payne’s Hut turned 120 people into one epic community; and quite a few of us into one extended family. No phone reception, no internet, no hotel rooms – just nature, tents, fires, and the warmth we generated through each other. And my god the food…the first night we were served a piece of salmon that literally made me stop and savour every last bite – afterwards I walked into the kitchen, hugged Chef Brooke Payne, and said ‘you’ve just fed my soul.’ The barn dance on Saturday also goes down as another of the incredible highlights – Sal Kimber’s music, the crazy dance routines, ice-cream, and a beautifully impromptu song from Karen Knowles.
I have barely scratched the surface in trying to describe the atmosphere, photographer Mark Lobo captured it so perfectly. But the real gems were in the talks – stories of incredible honesty, joy, pain, hindsight, and foresight. Thankfully I don’t need to tell you about all of them, as the talks are about to be released on September 23 – keep a watch on @DoLecturesAus for more details, which include a chance to join live online screenings of the talks with the speakers. Yet the talks were often where the magic was ignited – people not trying to sell you an idea, a product, or a methodology, just giving you some provocative insights into why they help others, make big decisions, focus on inner voice, see the world differently, crave peace, find adventure, have fun, value truth, and continue to challenge themselves. The lessons bubble and ripple not only over the four days, but are still going even now. People have quit jobs, started bold new initiatives, pursued big ideas, and pulled back from the craziness of life and appreciated what matters. All of this is why I, and many others, will Do it all again.
I was lucky to be part of an online ‘Do Croo’ hangout last week with the founders of Do Lectures, David and Clare Hieatt, and as great words of wisdom and passion were shared by David and Clare, I quickly jotted down ‘magic and ripples’. Do Lectures Australia was an incredible piece of magic – one that I still can’t comprehend how beautifully it happened. I don’t want to overthink it – I want to have that beginner’s mindset as I begin to shape and plan Do for 2015; thankfully there is an amazing crew of people making all the magic possible. When an event creates such incredible ripples in bringing and keeping people together, you know it’s worth doing. It’s also worth being actually there for it. I’ve had many people ask me what it was all about, and I’ve launched into a series of rambling, wide-eyed stories.
Simply put, it’s magic and ripples – if you’ve ever wondered what more can come of putting people together to hear a swag of talks – then you now know what others don’t about Do.