I went to New York to host the Leading Design conference. It was weird and wonderful.
Weird, because it felt strange and surreal to be back in a physical space with other people all sharing the same experience.
Wonderful, for exactly the same reasons.
This was a good way to ease back into live events. It wasn’t a huge conference. Just over a hundred people. So it felt intimate, while still allowing people to quite literally have space to themselves.
I can’t tell you much about the post-talk interviews I conducted with the speakers. That’s because what happens at Leading Design stays at Leading Design, at least when it comes to the discussions after the talks. We made it clear that Leading Design was a safe place for everyone to share their stories, even if—especially if—those were stories you wouldn’t want to share publicly or at work.
I was bowled over by how generous and open and honest all the speakers were. Sure, there were valuable lessons about management and leadership, but there were also lots of very personal stories and insights. Time and time again I found myself genuinely moved by the vulnerability that the speakers displayed.
Leadership can be lonely. Sometimes very lonely. I got the impression that everyone—speakers and attendees alike—really, really appreciated having a non-digital space where they could come together and bond over shared travails. I know it’s a cliché to talk about “connecting” with others, but at this event it felt true.
The talks themselves were really good too. I loved seeing how themes emerged and wove themselves throughout the two days. Rebecca did a fantastic job of curating the line-up. I’ve been to a lot of events over the years and I’ve seen conference curation of varying degrees of thoughtfulness. Leading Design New York 2022 is right up there with the best of them. It was an honour to play the part of the host (though I felt very guilty when people congratulated me on such a great event—“Don’t thank me”, I said, “Thank Rebecca—I’m just the public face of the event; she did all the work!”)
My hosting duties aren’t over. This week we’ve got the virtual portion of Leading Design New York. There’ll be two days of revisiting some of the conference talks, and one day of workshops.
For the two days of talks, I’m going to be joined by two brilliant panelists for post-talk discussions—Julia Whitney and Lisa Welchman. This should be fun!
Best of all, for this portion of the event I don’t need to get into an airplane and cross the Atlantic.
That said, the journey was totally worth it for Leading Design New York. Also, by pure coincidence, the event coincided with St. Patrick’s Day. For the first time in two years, New York hosted its legendary parade and it was just a block or two away from the conference venue.
I nipped out during the lunch break to cheer on the marching bands. Every county was represented. When the representatives from county Cork went by, there’d be shouts of “Up Cork!” When the county Donegal delegation went by, it was “Up Donegal!”
It’s just a shame I couldn’t stick around for the representatives from county Down.