Things we learned at our conference

A river runs through a misty fall landscape
A river is a metaphor for learning (but really I just wanted to use this beautiful picture I took)
October 31, 2022
Robin Eastman

Things we learned at our conference

On October 16th, we held a conference: Our Bodies, Our Choices. We believe in the value of continuous learning and in that spirit, we wanted to share some of what we gained.

1. Connecting with people matters. 

We knew this already, but it’s the kind of thing that’s important to learn again and again. People are where the magic is. People help you grow, energize you, make you less alone. People can challenge your ideas and also support you when you doubt yourself. There are a lot of different kinds of connections that matter. Two of the central beliefs that lead to the founding of Versatackle is that connection matters and that it is possible to meaningfully connect online. It was great to experience this in real time.

2. To be an expert, you have to be constantly learning. 

We had some really great presenters who brought a lot of knowledge. One of the most fun parts of the conference was seeing the presenters engaging with each other and learning together. It is not possible to know everything about your chosen field. There is always more to learn, always progress being made, always growth to be had. The experts I want to work with are curious and know they don’t have all the answers. They are excited to share what they have worked hard to learn, but they never think they are the only one in the room who has hard won knowledge.

3. If you make a space where people feel comfortable, people engage more and the experience is better for everyone. 

We all know what it’s like to have to sit through a meeting or training online that doesn’t engage you. It’s very easy to tune out and be only nominally there. But an event that really does pull you in can be just as meaningful as one where you are physically present. For that to happen, you need a few components. There has to be content that engages you. You must feel welcomed, included, and connected. For many of us, this means we need to know that people like us really are welcomed. If you are used to being excluded for who you are, you look for signs that tell you if you have to hide who you are or if you can show up as yourself. That’s why we’ve built as many clues into our site as possible to help make our spaces ones where people feel invited to fully show up. Our features like pronouns, dyslexic-friendly font, and now closed captioning are multipurpose. They are there for the obvious function of making it easier to know how to address people, and being able to read and understand better, but they also serve to let people know we are thinking about them, their needs, and what helps them feel included.

Those are the principles we’ve built our platform around. Our conference helped us see them in action. It was a joy to watch them work and see people engage in truly meaningful conversations throughout the day. 

4. Size matters, but bigger isn't always better. 

To be transparent, we were hoping for a bigger turnout than we got. We are really proud of the content we brought and the improvements we made to our platform. We know that there are a million things pulling people in all directions, so this isn’t to make anyone feel bad about not coming. You made the right call for you! While we wish we could have reached more people, there were also things we noticed about a smaller conference that made it meaningful in different ways. If you are planning an event, it’s important to think about your goals and what size really will be best to reach them. For us, we were able to meet a lot of our goals with an intimate conference. We got to test features, share content, and have meaningful conversations. 

5. You have to start somewhere. 

To do something well, you have to do it badly first. I ran into a version of this quote recently bemoaning the truth of it, and did I ever identify. I like being good at things. I can do a lot of things well. I bake a mean pie. I excel at board games. I’m a really good social worker. And I’m also someone who likes trying new things. So I get to experience being bad at a lot of things. I was really bad at water polo when I started playing in my mid 30s. I am pretty bad at a wide variety of art forms I’ve only done a few times. I’m looking forward to trying skiing again after taking a break of a few decades, and I’m pretty sure I will be very bad at it. 

A startup is different, in part because there are so many different parts of it to be bad at, and so many of them are public. This is really hard. We are a platform for online events. In order to test, improve, and grow our platform, we need to hold online events. It’s great when other people want to host those (Please reach out if you want to host an event on Versatackle!), but we also need to be hosting our own. Parts of that are easier than others. I am lucky to be connected to a lot of knowledgeable and engaging speakers. Other parts are harder. How do you market a new conference on a budget? I don’t really know.

So, we picked a place to start and got started. Overall, I’m proud of the event we put on, but I also know we did some parts badly. That’s ok. We learned a lot. And next time, we will do those parts at least a little better.

6. There are so many ways we can help each other. 

We got so much help for this event. Most notably, the incredible speakers who choose this as a way to spend their time. If you haven’t already, here are some great places to find them: 

Each person who liked and shared our event made a difference. We also got advice from other startup founders, product testers, and our larger community. 

We also like to think we made a difference. We raised $100 for organizations supporting abortion access in Maryland and in the Pacific Northwest. We provided information on how to better understand your own and other people’s bodies. We connected people and supported people and provided tools. 

There is no single path to helping each other. There is no one who is incapable of helping others. All of it matters. What we do for each other matters.

It is always good to have this reinforced.

7. Also, some stuff about how to make our technology better.

The most important product tests are the ones that happen in the real world. We were able to test a bunch of features added since our last conference and get ready for the launch of a few more important ones, most notably, closed captions which launched in beta today. 

Many of the learnings mentioned above are not brand new ones, but often, the most important lessons are the ones we learn over and over again, refining as we go. Thank you to everyone who has helped us grow. We couldn’t do it without you.

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