I didn’t take a single photo or snapchat throughout the entire weekend, nor did I compulsively refresh Twitter or check my text messages. I can’t even remember the last time that I went that long without touching my phone and chances are that you haven’t disconnected like that in a long time either.
Ever since attending, I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about Fireside. It’s difficult to put into words everything that the experience was. It’s more than just a conference and it’s more than just a weekend away at camp. It’s hard to sum up the feel of the whole event when I’ve been telling people about it and I hate to say that it’s something that you have to experience to understand, but…I’m going to try.
First up, the facts. Fireside Conference started in 2015 and while I didn’t attend, Danielle and Claire represented 88 Creative last year (and you can read up on Danielle’s recap of it here). It takes place at Camp Walden, which is located just outside of Bancroft, and runs from Friday to Sunday. When we arrived, it immediately felt like we’d stepped foot in a typical summer camp setting in a film with the cabins and so many activities around camp. I also never went to overnight camp as a kid so that may have added to the magic of the setting.
Presentations are spread out over the weekend and take place in various locations. Some happen down by the lake with a campfire, some happen in smaller rooms around the camp which often feature couches, and a few other halls around the site. You won’t find a PowerPoint presentation around these parts. There are no slide decks with calculated, tweetable key points on display. The focus is entirely on listening to the speaker tell their story. This change of format is so refreshing (literally with all the fresh air) to the typical conference atmosphere.
The main reason that attendees are disconnected throughout the weekend is because the camp has no cell service. That means there’s no hashtag to scroll through, no pressure to tweet key points, and no distractions to take away from the speaker’s points. I’ve never felt so engaged in conference presentations before. I learned more than at any other conference that I’ve been to in the past, but I think there’s one big thing that I took away from it aside from how much you can connect when you disconnect.
It was a common thread among many of the presentations that I saw and something that came up from the director of the camp himself and it’s that good things happen when you push yourself to do something outside of your comfort zone.
Honestly, I was nervous going into the weekend having not been to camp before and being completely off the grid. But at the end of it, I’d met new people from within the startup community, spent time with my coworkers so far away from the office in the best environment, and learned many valuable lessons from the speakers along the way. Above all though, you’re never really going to learn anything until you push yourself into new situations and give it a try for yourself. As cliche as it may sound and as tough as it can be to break out of the regular cycle, it’ll never really settle in and become real until you experience it firsthand for yourself.