This week I attended and spoke at the first ever Dare Conference in London. It’d been such a busy month in the run up to the event, and aside from all the preparation I’d done for my talk, I’d not really taken the time to think about what I was planning to get out of attending.
Good job really, as I’m sure whatever my expectations might have been, they would likely have been completely obliterated by the experience I found.
Now that I’ve decompressed a little, but while the conference is still fresh in my mind, I thought I’d jot down my experience of it.
The right tone
One of the things which initially attracted me to Dare was the notion of people being brave and talking about and exposing their weaknesses or failures, and sharing what could be learned from them.
In the run up to the event, Jonathan Khan was very open about the fact that he’d initially made mistakes about the messaging he’d used in trying to market it to people, and how that had impacted on the number of tickets they had sold.
His opening comments on the first day were just as open, explaining to us what had happened and that the event wasn’t going to break even. It was a really brave move, and it set the tone for the next two days perfectly. The honesty he generously offered us from the stage immediately switched everybody on to the fact that this was going to be a very different type of event.
One of the things which struck me straight away, and which gave me an inkling that something special was going to happen, was when I arrived, all nervous and full of anticipation for my sound check early on the first day.
I got the chance to sit and chat with a couple of the other speakers, many of whom were people I’ve gained a huge amount of respect for, and hold in high regard for their speaking credentials. Most, if not all, were just as nervous as me!
Why? First reason was because everybody was presenting entirely brand new talks — this was new territory for everybody; nobody was in their safe zone. Secondly, and more profoundly though, these were mostly talks which were very personal, which covered some really difficult or delicate subjects. There was a hell of a lot of bravery being shown on the stages — it was taking a lot of courage for these stories to be told.
And the audience picked up on that courage amazingly. I think that once Jonathan had set the tone with his brave introduction, people understood that, right, what we’re going to hear here is going to be something quite dangerous. This wasn’t going to be a load of safe, well-prepared lectures on process and doctrine — this was going to be people talking about their lives. And that means that if you take umbrage at something somebody says, or you don’t respect what they’re saying, then you’re going to be disrespecting them.
It’s hard to capture in words, as are most “in the moment” experiences, but I think by the end of two very intensive days of hearing all of the stories from the speakers, and from the people we chatted with over lunch and coffee, we all felt like we’d got to know one another’s lives a little. We’d all been on this roller-coaster journey together, taking our own little detours on the way perhaps, but we’d all travelled a little way, grown in some little way.
Rather than learning new skills or techniques, we’d all learned a little bit about ourselves.
I met some really nice people at Dare. Not as many as I’d have liked: on day one I was too busy preparing and having micro-panics about my own talk to really engage with people as much as I ought to have done. And on the second day, my usual insecurities and feeling of being an outsider held me back from talking to as many people as I could have done.
But the people I did share time with were all really lovely people who had stories to share, and an ear to lend. Quite a few people I spoke to were struggling with some really quite fundamental questions about their careers, and the type of person they wanted to be. And often, I think it was the time between talks, when there was room for quiet contemplation or gentle discussion, which offered up some of the more profound moments.
I hope that Jonathan gathers the courage to repeat Dare in the future, because it was unlike any conference or business event I’ve ever been to. I was honoured and proud to be given the opportunity to share my story there, and I hope that people took a little something from it.
But I hope that if it does continue, then it retains it’s intimate, fringe-like atmosphere. So much about the two days was “of the moment”, and I worry that trying to repeat the same thing again, might feel, well: disingenuous. The organisers are very bright people though, so I’m sure they’d be able to find a way to make it work even more spectacularly.
Thank you Dare. You were magnificent. Thank you to everyone who looked after me and made me feel so welcome. I didn’t really know what my expectations would be, but over the past few days you’ve taught me so, so much.