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CMWorld 2015: A Very Brief Summary

CMWORLD 2015

3,500 people. 50 countries. Hundreds of breakout sessions. My experience at Content Marketing World 2015 (CMWorld 2015) was a whirlwind of activity, conversations, and lessons, and it’s hard to distill all that into bite-sized pieces. But I think it’s an important part of processing everything I experienced, so I’m going to give it a shot!

Are you making content, or are you making a difference?

One of my favorite points came from keynote speaker Jay Baer, who asked us: “Are you making content, or are you making a difference?” Jay asked us to consider a little thought experiment he likes to refer to as “The Mom Test.”

Basically, it boils down to this: On the one hand, your mother loves you unconditionally and will generally be proud of anything you do. But on the other hand, she’s probably one of the few people who feels comfortable being unabashedly critical of you. Jay shared a few anecdotes of his awkward dance moves and hamfisted attempt to fix his broken bicycle. His mom straight-up told him that he wasn’t good at those things. But when he was asked to deliver a eulogy for his brother, his mom saw how speaking and sharing his words with others was “his thing.”

Jay urged us to consider whether we are creating content just to check an item off a list or whether we are actually putting something into the world that will be beneficial to others. And this is the concept of “The Mom Test” as applied to content marketing.

Ask yourself what you can stop doing rather than what you should start doing

This came up during several of the sessions that I attended. Many content marketers fall prey to “shiny object syndrome,” geeking out over the latest trend, whether it’s a new(ish) format like podcasting or a novel social media platform (I heard a lot about Blab this year).

But instead of spreading our efforts and attention to an ever-fractured group of pursuits, perhaps we should just focus on doing one or two things and doing them exceedingly well.

Of course this sounds simple enough, but it can be a real challenge, especially in the fast-paced, trend-chasing world we’re living in.

Creativity requires time and space

This idea came courtesy of keynote speaker John Cleese, who provided us with several examples of the characteristics of creative thinkers. People who are genuinely creative make play a significant part of their practice, and they delay making decisions as long as possible.

Cleese gave the example of art school students who were asked to compose a still life. Some students snatched their items from the table and started sketching or painting right away, while others examined their objects for a long time before making their selection. They also seemed to not just look at their subject matter, but to perceive it through all their senses. This lengthy appraisal process eventually led to work that was significantly better and more creative than work from the students who made the snap judgment.

He also recommended a book called Hare Brain Tortoise Mind by Guy Claxton. This book contains further examples of how slow, deliberate thinking facilitates creativity, whereas quick decision-making and analytical thinking is better suited for other types of output.

One of my favorite concepts from Cleese’s talk was the idea of a “tortoise enclosure.” It can be a challenge to do your best slow, deliberate thinking when you’re in an open-plan office, for example. So it’s ideal to have a quiet place where you can go and just be. Allowing yourself a little time in a place like this can do wonders for your creativity. It sounds just dreamy to me!

Customers don’t care about how many followers, likes, etc. you have

This idea came courtesy of keynote speaker Kristina Halvorson. It’s easy to get caught up in these types of numbers, because they’re easy to measure. But when it comes down to whether our content is being truly effective, they have absolutely no bearing on it.

Anyone who is creating content needs to think about how they are helping their customers (or potential customers). A few questions that can help guide you are:

  • What does my customer/potential customer need to do?
  • How can I help?
  • How can I be transparent about how things work in my  company?
  • How can I prioritize my customers over metrics?

So there you have it—just a few of the big ideas that stuck with me during CMWorld 2015. It’s funny because all of these concepts were already familiar to me before I attended the conference. But there’s something about hearing them in a new context, with new examples that makes them seem revelatory and significant.

Did you also attend CMWorld 2015? If so, I’d love to hear some of your key lessons and takeaways.

What I Learned at Content Marketing World

Awesome (4)

Things I knew about Cleveland before Content Marketing World:

  1. Liz Lemon loves it.
  2. Cleveland’s main export is crippling depression. (And every other “fact” that’s shared in this “hastily made tourism video” and this one.)

Things I know about Cleveland after attending Content Marketing World:

  1. It’s very warm in September (when you’re not in a heavily air-conditioned conference center all day.)
  2. The Rock And Roll Hall of Fame is awesome.
  3. Umm… see above?

So, yeah, the time I spent in Cleveland didn’t taught me too much about this city. But, on the plus side, my time at Content Marketing World has helped me learn a few things about content marketing and conference-going in general.

Here are my observations:

  • Personal connections matter

I observed this through my own experiences and the point was hammered home in Mark Schaefer‘s presentation on making Twitter your content marketing’s best friend. (In case you missed it, Mark talked at length about how Twitter is best used as a method for being authentically helpful and building real relationships.)

I’m new to the world of conferences (this is only the third that I’ve ever attended), and naturally shy, so I’m still trying to figure out the best way of making connections.

I’m slowly discovering that it’s helpful to have at least a few people you’d like to meet at a conference ahead of time. It makes it a little less intimidating if you set some specific goals.

Because I’m new to this, I set the bar pretty low—I had two San Francisco-based content marketers I wanted to meet (Is it silly that we had to wait until we were across the country to meet in person? Maybe a little, but hey, it worked…) and a few presenters I wanted to speak to at least briefly.

This helped take some of the scariness out of those empty blocks of networking times.

… but social media can help you be more social

I had contact information for one San Francisco content marketer, but only a Twitter handle for the other. So when we made plans to meet up, Twitter helped me get in touch and make sure everyone knew where to be and when.

It was also fun to see how everyone tweeted about our little meet up before and afterwards. So social media helped us connect, then meet in person, and then affirm that connection afterwards. I can also see us staying in touch via Twitter until the next content marketing event draws us to a new, exotic destination.

One of the speakers I was hoping to connect with was Ann Handley. I saw her present at the Copyblogger Authority Intensive back in May and started reading her latest book, Everybody Writes, so I was hoping to meet her briefly and get her autograph. (Yes, I’m a big nerd that way. Deal with it.)

Because I follow Ann on Twitter,  I saw that she was handing out goodies at Content Marketing World, so I tweeted to let her know that I was hoping to get her autograph.  She replied and we exchanged a few tweets, so when I actually met her in person, she kind of knew who I was! Social media helped me feel more comfortable being social in person.

If you’re shy like me, social media can be a great way of overcoming that initial hurdle and establishing some common ground with strangers so they don’t seem so… strange.

  • Don’t rely on the internet (always have a back-up)

Oh, boy, I’m going to do my best not to turn this into a rant. Let’s just say that the internet connection both at my hotel and in the conference center was… less than ideal.

There were numerous occasions where I just couldn’t get my phone or my laptop to connect to the internet, which meant that I couldn’t access email, Twitter, or Google docs.

I’m still trying to figure out my optimal note-taking and simultaneous social-sharing strategy, but I find that it’s easier to be more thorough with everything when I’m on my computer. And while I love Google docs when the internet is flowing smoothly, they make me want to pull my hair out any time I get that “Reconnecting” box (you know, the one that’s the color of a wan banana). I also kept getting a “Twitter has failed” message on my phone, which was painfully accurate.

Thank goodness for my local version of Evernote on my desktop, which pretty much saved the day. Every. Single. Time.

What am I trying to say here? Always have a back-up.

  • It’s a big, bad world out there, and I only understand a sliver of it

I’ve been working as a content marketer for a year and a half, so this is a field that is still relatively new to me.

Some of the sessions felt a little too large for me—either the speakers had bigger budgets, more buzzwords, or heftier teams to handle all the tasks and initiatives they discussed.

Copyblogger‘s Brian Clark and Jerod Morris used the analogy of TV/film and expounded on the importance of having a producer, a director, and talent to lead your content marketing team. This was both inspiring and intimidating.

Other presenters talked about their comprehensive, all-encompassing content and social strategies or the projects they’ve accomplished with tens of thousands of dollars (or more).

And others just baffled me with terminology and concepts I’d never heard of before.

But I’ll take a cue here from Jerod and his concept of “Primility” (pride + humility). At this stage in my career, the whole point of attending these conferences is to learn, so I absolutely should find myself experiencing moments where I feel out of my depth. That’s why I’m there—to expand my mind (or melt my face, as Jason Miller so colorfully put it).

I’m happy I had the opportunity to see so many talented presenters (and watch adorable kitten videos—thank you, Shafqat Islam for introducing me to BuzzFeed and Friskies’ Dear Kitten). And I feel both humbled and inspired by all the sessions I attended and people I spoke with.

Were you at Content Marketing World? What were some of the lessons that stood out to you?

Or, do you have any tips on how to make the most of your time at a conference? Drop me a line in the comments!