All I knew was that the conference was ten years old, brought together a colorful mix of speakers and that they had given me a hotel room and airfare to come down and check it out for myself. With the motto of "Stay Curious," I arrived with an open mind and was ready to have it filled.
What I was not ready for was the awesomeness of both IdeaFestival and Louisville.
The easiest way to explain what IdeaFestival is would be to say that it is a weeklong festival that brings speakers from every discipline and corner of the world to take the stage and share their stories. It follows the same vibe of better known conferences such as PopTech or TED. But, that would be far to simple of a description and while I've never yet been to either of those other two conferences, I think IdeaFestival is different.
First the city of Louisville.
Sure, I knew about The Kentucky Derby and all the great bourbon. But, who knew it has the largest number of independent restaurants per capita in the US, a thriving art scene and a great mix of old meets new architecture around every corner? I certainly didn't know any of this and unfortunitely since the programming was so amazing at the festival I never got a chance to explore the city more.
I had plans to swing by The Louisville Slugger Museum and Muhammad Ali Center at a minimum, but made it to neither of them. I'm already thinking how I can back down to actually see more of the area in the future. I can only imagine the magical spectacle of Derby Week.
It was also very apparent that the city fully embraces the IdeaFestival. The Mayor wanted to be such a big part of it that he moved his entire office down to the location of the festival for the entire week and spoke several times at the event to thank everyone for coming. There was also a night time gathering at Churchill Downs where we were treated to a taste of Louisville from many local restaurants and businesses. I think I may still be full from that.
Now for the IdeaFestival
Wow, would be the easiest word to describe it. You know the content is good when your brain physically hurts at the end of the day from all the processing it has been trying to do.
When a program welcomes to it's stage the likes of Azure Antoinette, Parag Khanna, Wes Moore, Cesar Millan, Al Letson, Sugata Mitra and IBM's Watson it is bound to be a stimulating time. But, even more so than just the people taking the stage I was impressed by the audience. IdeaFestival has made it a point to keep the price of admission as low as possible and to make sure that local students are able to attend and interact. I said more than once how impressed I was with the challenging questions the students asked through out the entire event. I hope this is a trend that expands to other conferences.
I found myself never wanting to leave the theater and getting up much earlier than I usually would to insure that I didn't miss anything. But, the event organizers knew what they were doing when they put the Science of Kissing session at 8 am. People will show up for that. *grin*
You need to attend IdeaFestival 2012
As someone who attends and speaks at a lot of conferences I don't say that lightly, but I firmly believe that you need to consider attending IdeaFestival next year.
I say this because my mind is still going through everything I saw and heard. The fact that I had to leave on Saturday morning and missed a whole day of it is still bugging me and I plan on buying a couple of the talks through the Fora.tv channel so I can see what I missed.
Unlike a lot of conferences where you never see the speakers once they leave the stage, I bumped into, chatted with and saw every speaker before and after they were on stage. They were there to engage and learn as much as every other attendee. I remember getting a big smile when one even got up to ask a question at a session. That was another refreshing item was that every speaker left plenty of time for Q&A because it was expected.
The whole IdeaFestival is a climate of curiosity and learning. All you needed to do was turn to the person next to you in the hallway and you never knew who it might be or what you might come away from the conversation with. I certainly made some great new friends at the event, bought a few books to read and even have a great new print from Don Stewart to hang on my office wall.
They haven't announced the dates for next year, but as soon as they do I'm going to pencil it into my calendar.
I would not be a good human if I didn't give special thanks to the people that made my journey to IdeaFestival a reality. Kevin Smokler originally reached out to me about the opportunity and June Sargent took care of all the formalities to make it happen. Also, a special thanks to freelance photographer Geoff Oliver Bugbee who I met at the event and gave me permission to use some of his photos with this post. My photos are here if you are curious.
Finally, for legal reasons I'll once again disclose that my travel expenses were covered by IdeaFestival and I was given a media pass to the event.