Fireside Conference: The place to connect and disconnect

If you would have asked me six months ago to commit myself to a weekend at summer camp with 80 strangers and no cell service, I would have told you to get your head checked. Fast forward to today and ask me if I would do it again – it’s a definite yes, despite freezing cold temperatures, tin roofs & hard rain, lack of interior temperature control, and, I repeat, no cell service.

After spending 8 months in 2014-2015 planning my first tech event with an amazing group of people, I knew it wouldn’t be my last. The JNF Tech Shuk was a great success, not only because it was well attended, but also because I met Steven Pulver who soon after invited me to be a part of the Fireside Conference. He was the mastermind behind the event and, based on a loose description of what to expect, I got involved in a tech conference that broke all the rules. Almost every week, Steven and I linked up, along with Daniel Levine and a few others, and chatted about different ideas and activities that could be incorporated into the weekend. Little could I have known what Steven and Daniel were planning.

Claire and I arrived at Camp Walden approximately 4 hours after leaving Toronto on Friday afternoon. Walden is outside of Bancroft, Ontario, which is outside of Peterborough, which is pretty freaking far. We got there, unloaded our bags and walked straight down to the lake. At that moment we knew the trip was worth it and that the weekend was going to be special. From the lake, we made our way up to dinner and started the unusual first task of networking over dinner and beer in sweatpants. It’s amazing how much more comfortable people are with a drawstring rather than a button around their waste! (The beers may have also played their part.) That first night was all about getting to know each other, understanding why people made the trip, and relaxing by the fire.

We all knew that Saturday was going to be a day of learning, but what we didn’t realize until the first speaker was that we were all so loose and comfortable after the previous night’s festivities that the talks and keynotes felt more like roundtable discussions. Everyone had something to contribute and was happy to do so. When it was my turn to get up in front of the crowd with Claire, my usual nerves were gone and speaking about self-promotion didn’t feel like self-promotion at all.

Keynotes from Steve Tam and David Sax were definitely highlights for many of the attendees, myself included. Steve spoke about the polarizing effect of work/life balance, and rather than creating a hybrid of the two many people separate them to the point of detriment. David Sax spoke about the return to analog, which was so fitting and timely as we were a group of 80 tech nerds who didn’t have access to the internet for the 36 hours prior to the talk.

After the talks and discussions were done, we got the rest of the night to bond and process all of the ideas that were presented, and looked for ways that we could all collaborate in the future. A dance party and a few Jaeger-bombs capped off the evening and we all woke up the next morning hoping for another day at camp, but knowing that the weekend was over. It was time to trek home and get back to our clients, startups, and whatever else we consider our day-to-days. Never did I ever think that spending a weekend in the last corner of Ontario with no cell service with 80 amazing people who are no longer strangers was something I wanted, but one of the most important things I learned this weekend was you don’t know until you try.

Danielle is the Digital Account Manager at 88 Creative. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @DFabes.