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Unraveling the UnConference.

Thanks to the vision, dedication, and determination of Christel Aprigliano, the first Diabetes UnConference came together in Las Vegas last weekend.

“Wait, what?  I didn’t see anything on Twitter or Facebook!”

And that’s because there was a social media blackout on the whole conference during the actual course of it.  No live-Tweeting, no live-blogging, no live-streaming.

As my daughter used to say: “nuffin.”

Which is something I admittedly didn’t agree with, at first.

I always view conferences, both professional ones like the American Diabetes Association Scientific Sessions and the more community-based ones like TCOYD and JDRF‘s TypeOneNation, as an enormous privilege to attend.  Travel, lodging, and time for conferences can be a huge barrier to attendance, and as someone who has had channels of support that make it possible for me to attend a lot of meetings throughout the year, I feel like it’s part of my “job” to report back on how things went.  And not in a wicked journalistic sense (because my tendency to curse remains what it is and sometimes I don’t take fastidious notes but instead drink copious amounts of coffee), but in a man-on-the-scene sort of sense, trying to help fill in some of the blanks for people who aren’t able to make that particular meeting.  It’s not right that everyone can’t be everywhere they’d like to be, and the diabetes community is good about paying things forward.

[And yes, this is where my disclosure comes in.  In an effort to open up more of Christel’s conference budget for crucial things like scholarships, etc., Animas was asked to sponsor my attendance as a facilitator, and they thankfully jumped on board.  I’m grateful for my personal and professional relationship with Animas and the support they have shown to me and to the diabetes community as a whole over the past five years.  For more on my relationship with the company, you can read my disclosures.]

But having a social media blackout was a good thing for the UnConference, even though it kept the conference closed.  Why was that good?  Because there was a lot of vulnerability at this conference, and it wasn’t on display for people to comment on, or document, or send out to a slew of social media followers.  Some folks in attendance were meeting fellow people with diabetes for the first time ever, and others were reconnecting and enjoying established relationships.  People talked about how diabetes affected their lives, and the things that made them feel a slate of emotions – guilty, triumphant, and all the ones in between.  To let the discussion flow without feeling the need to document it was a nice change of pace, and personally kept me in the moment.

Which was helpful, because attendees didn’t share all their “sames.”  It wasn’t an exercise in group-think, where people all said they reacted similarly to diabetes scenarios.

For example, when we were talking about burnout, many people shared their personal experiences with diabetes-related burnout, and others said that they haven’t ever experienced burnout.  I thought that was a powerful moment, because while there might be majority opinions on certain topics, the whole point of the diabetes community is that we are strong in what unites us as well as what makes us different.  One size doesn’t fit all, and neither does one emotional response.  I loved these moments because they woke me up and reminded me of the diversity of our experiences.

While I wish there could have been more people in the actual room, I know that access to conferences like this will come in time.  To that same end, half of the people in attendance were people I hadn’t met before.  It wasn’t the “same crew,” which I thought was powerful and helped shake up some of the “same scene, same people” vibe that has a tendency to dominate at a lot of diabetes conferences.  But what really resonated for me is that people felt comfortable and confident during these discussions, and I think the social media “blackout” contributed to that comfort.  Scrutiny was at a minimum and people could concentrate on being present.

Which is why, at the end of the conference when we were asked to write one word on a 3×5 to describe how we felt about the sessions, the word I wrote was “heard.”

Blog posts about this UnConference might be scarce, but to me that scarcity makes sense.  It was about sharing in the moment, not recapping after the fact.  Maybe, for once, what happens in Vegas stays there in specifics and instead makes it back into the community in the form of increased discussion, support, and connection.


13 Comments Post a comment
  1. Well said. I was pleased to see so many faces that were new to me, as well as some “old friends”. This was a bonding experience in a way that I’ve never felt before (in my limited experiences). I was privileged to be able to attend and honored to be present during so many emotional, scary and uplifting moments. Thanks for being one of the many who were there.

    03/19/15; 2:17 pm
  2. I wanted nothing more than to be there.

    I am so glad there were people there who got to experience community for the first time, that is absolutely exhilarating! I am so proud of Christel and all of you advisors/facilitators.

    Community is what keeps people going in times of crisis-and when dealing with chronic health issues that is no different.

    03/19/15; 2:22 pm
  3. MAN I really wanted to go to this. I hope it happens again next year and I hope I can go! I like the idea of the social media blackout.

    03/19/15; 4:15 pm
  4. Thanks Kerri… I think you described everything well. And thanks for being, as usual, a terrific facilitator. It was a privilege to be in the room with you and 90-some other experts on their diabetes.

    And Alanna and Sarah (and Kate too!), I really hope you are there next year!

    03/19/15; 5:14 pm
  5. big love

    03/19/15; 7:17 pm
  6. Natalie A Sera #

    It was both fabulous and exhausting. I couldn’t get enough of it, and truly HOPE to be able to attend next year!! 🙂

    03/19/15; 10:50 pm
  7. I had mixed feelings about the social media blackout and I’m still not sure it was the best decision. Having said this, and being lucky enough to attend the UnConference myself, I would say that there were a lot of great things about it and I think, perhaps, a few learnings about what didn’t work. One, in my opinion, was that although the agenda was set by us, the time allotted to each topic really precluded accomplishing much on any of the topics we covered. In the future, I would hope we can allocate more time to a fewer number of topics so more can be done to work through the issues. Still, in the end, I’d say this, like anything else, is a learning experience for the attendees and the planner (Christel). However, the turnout of 90+ people with diabetes was fantastic, and I’d hope that means future efforts can be planned without the uncertainty that accompanied the first UnConference.

    03/20/15; 10:59 am
  8. Well written, Kerri. Captured it perfectly, and I’m on the same page about not being a fan of that policy at first, but coming around to it and not thinking it made the UnConf what it was. Thanks for all you did in being there, and making it such a special experience. Looking forward to seeing you before long.

    03/20/15; 11:47 am
  9. Clap twice if you can hear me. Wow! an amazing experience that you describe very well. My word was “full” because I was filled with love and respect and so honored to be in attendance. Thanks Kerri for all the work that you did to support Christel and as a facilitator. BTW, it was because I read your blog announcing the UnConference and the scholarships being offered, that I applied for a scholarship. You made that possible. Thank you!

    03/20/15; 3:56 pm
  10. Dan #

    Hi Kerri,
    It was a pleasure to read your personal comments regarding the UnConference. You truly have a gift with words and writing. My word for the event was “E Pluribus Unum”. Meaning from many one. We have been blessed with a long running and daunting challenge. In the words of Winston Churchill from a great speech; never give up, Never Give Up …..NEVER GIVE UP. Hope to see all of you throughout the year and at the next UnConference.


    03/20/15; 4:28 pm
  11. “… the whole point of the diabetes community is that we are strong in what unites us as well as what makes us different.”

    I love that line, Kerri. And it’s something we all too often don’t appreciate enough. Thanks for the reminder. 🙂

    03/25/15; 2:26 am
  12. Martha #

    The concept of this conference really appealed to me and I wish I could have gone, but I had a big trip coming up right after so couldn’t swing it. I hope it happens again so I can attend in the future.

    04/1/15; 2:20 pm

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