Note: This blog piece was written June 1 2016 but has been migrated onto a new site.
Last week I attended the C2 Conference in Montreal. This blog is part of a series I am writing to document some of my findings after being submerged in a jungle one part performance art, one part academic, one part food truck meet-up, one part business conference, and one part adult playground.
Imagine a space where you are challenged to intimately and freely exchange expertise and vulnerabilities with strangers. Not just that, but the space itself is comprised of non-traditional seating arrangements. Two swings where knee bumping is inevitable. Rocking chairs. Salon chairs equipped with hooded hair dryer bonnets. Red and white pods. A swinging picnic table. Hammocks. At one point, even the staircase as the other space filled up. This was the crown jewel of the conference and they called these: Brain Dates.
What is a brain date? Every attendee has access to the “HUB” where you have the opportunity to write a little bio and set-up offers and requests. Offers are things you are open to talk about for 30min with people who are interested. Requests are simply you putting out a request to get some advice on a specific subject. My offer was this: “How do you turn a personal brand into a business?” I received 16 requests to speak on that topic and ended up “brain dating” with 14 of those people (I didn’t want to miss out on Martha Stewart talking about pot brownies and her homeboy Snoop).
From my previous posts and watching my weekly Vlog, you already know that online dating is a constant source of inspiration for me when it comes to personal branding. So the idea of brains from all over the world going on “dates” tickled me.
14 dates in 3 days and this is what I learned:
- Value does not have an age attached to it. We know this. At C2 you feel it. I spoke with people ranging in ages from 30-65 and often the biggest age gaps meant the best conversations.
- Seating had a huge effect on how the conversation went:
- Swings: Our knees bumped immediately which meant we had to acknowledge a breach of personal space before anything else. Our conversation was playful, bubbly, and nostalgic. We are now collaborating on a project to integrate play into the way people network and learn.
- Leather footstools (no backing): We both automatically leaned in to talk. Our conversation was brisk and to the point. We spoke in bullet points stopping only to check the time. She walked away with a to-do list.
- Rocking chairs: Both of us took a minute to breathe and rock before jumping into the conversation. Most of the time was spent exchanging personal histories. We ended up having dinner together and talking about motherhood. We are going to be working together to bring some branding workshops to Toronto for both entrepreneurs and workplace teams to work together better.
- Salon chairs: The conversation started with a joke about getting perms. Our conversation was driven by humour but relaxed and neither of us felt the pressure of time. We were getting perms after all. This meant I felt comfortable enough to tell him I wanted to meet with him because the language in his profile annoyed me. It was full of “this many start-ups make this many mistakes” and “you should do this”. I wanted to talk with someone who would challenge my more fluid approach to business. This conversation was honest and incredibly helpful. We’ve already connected again!
- Picnic table glider: You will certainly detect this in my tone – but this was by far my favourite brain date. I actually told this story to Tara Hunt who was part of the social squad for C2 and we totally bonded over it! Just goes to show how the momentum of one great event can lead to another. I added a picture below of a rocking picnic table to eliminate any confusion around how it works. Bill and I sat down and very quickly realized two things. One, we were actually sitting quite far apart. Two, we had to work together to keep the rocking movement of the bench smooth so it wasn’t distracting. This meant we had to not only listen carefully with our ears but with our bodies too. The best way I can describe our conversation is that we took out all our insides and showed it to each other. When one of us became vulnerable or passionate the other immediately felt how it disrupted the flow of our rocking. It meant that I really felt the excitement or nervousness, shared in it, and adjusted to its rhythm. Our brain date ended with big bear hug and a commitment to finding a space to work together in the near future.
- Console the broken hearts. E-180 Labs, the wonderful humans responsible for running the brain dates came up with a clever and thoughtful gesture of offering a chocolate with a small “sorry” note to those who had been stood up by dates. It acknowledged the personal aspect of the dates by appealing to the heart via its heart medicine: sweets. It helped set the tone even if you didn’t get to fully participate. Maybe next year we can convince them to hand out mini containers of Ben & Jerry’s instead.
- People want to share their expertise with you. Sometimes I met with someone and either because of social exhaustion, heat exhaustion, or in my case, a strong desire to take my 2pm nap, the conversation wouldn’t start out strong, You’d forget what you were there for or dance around a subject hoping the other person will pick up a thread and go with it. This was never a bad thing. Everyone was committed to actually adding value and expertise. The space itself had a lot to do with that. There were just enough rules and guidelines in place to make everyone feel safe, but the playfulness of the environment meant we were energized and motivated to be ourselves and show off our uniqueness. We understood what was required of us when we stepped into either of the roles in the brain date. Maybe I was just very fortunate but everyone I spoke to was committed to either finding value in you or giving something of value to you.
- Lastly, I learned that business cards are much more valuable as a token of thanks than an actual means of contacting someone. Give your business card at the end, not the beginning of a meeting. The “HUB” meant we had a way of following up with everyone we met without exchanging business cards. When someone gave me their card right away they set the tone for a specific kind of chat. One which I wasn’t particularly interested in. The kind where they were going to sell to me. When we exchanged cards at the end of the date, it was because we wanted to give the other person a token of acknowledgment for the value they added to our day.
Stay tuned for more posts on C2 as I untangle my thoughts and feelings.