What I Learned From Hosting Killer Tribes

I've been to the Catalyst Conference in Atlanta three times now, so when I decided last year to step out and throw my own conference I wasn't sure if I was getting in over my head or not. Actually, that's a lie. I KNEW I was getting in over my head, and I knew I was going to have to step up my level of leadership from "barely passable" to "halfway decent" if I was going to pull it off.

I booked the date in late November: March 31st, 2012. It would be the inaugural Killer Tribes Conference (named after my business with the same name) held in Nashville, TN. Once I had booked Derek Webb, Jon Acuff, and the comedic stylings of Tripp & Tyler I knew I had the makings of a cool event on my hands. And once I sold my first ticket, I knew there was no going back. Yikes!

Fast forward a few months and I'm here on the other side to say that I not only survived the conference, but I actually enjoyed almost everything about the experience. Not only that, but I also learned a few practical leadership lessons along the way. Care to hear them? No? Well, you're going to anyway because this is my guest post.

3 Things I Learned Putting on the Killer Tribes Conference

1. Build Intentional Relationships with People You Can Learn From. This seems like the most obvious point ever written in a blog post - and it may be - but when was the last time you really stepped out and did this? It's one thing to follow people you admire on Instagram and occasionally tell them you love their picture of a cirrus cloud, it's another to reach out and engage them and the people they influence.

I knew the only way I was going to be able to put on a conference was to have a few mentors standing with me, so I reached out and made it happen. Ben Arment, who runs STORY in Chicago, accepted me into his coaching program and helped me with every step along the way. Sarah Mae (who runs the Allume Conference) and Alli Worthington (founder of the Blissdom Conference) were more than gracious sharing resources and advice as I got to know them while stumbling my way through my first event.

I never approached these people and said, "Will you be my mentor?" because that would have sounded weird and slightly stalkerish. Instead I reached out politely, I never tried to take advantage of their time, and I let them dictate how much they could help as we got to know each other. Thankfully for me they are all awesome folks. Your mileage may vary, but you'll never know until you try.

2. Keep Realistic Expectations While Still Dreaming Big. This was an extremely difficult tension to manage. For instance, my venue sat 600 people, so what was I supposed to say when people asked me how many attendees I expected? If I said '100' would people think I wasn't dreaming for big things? If I said '600' would people think I was crazy? (Yes and yes, by the way.) I ended up giving some clumsy answer like, "I'd love to have five hundred people there but as long as I get over 100 I'll be happy."

In the end taking leadership in this area meant planning for either outcome. It meant budgeting for a smaller turnout so I didn't lose my shirt, but being intentional about having a positive attitude no matter how ticket sales were that month. There was a part of me that knew God could fill that venue if He wanted, and another part of me that wondered why even one person would come out to MY event. Navigating the emotional and spiritual ups and downs of putting on a conference was a challenge, but I think (I hope) it made me stronger.

3. Enjoy the Ride, Bumps and All. What is it like to throw your first conference? It's like sledding downhill at 75 mph. It's wicked fun, but in the back of your head you know things can change at any moment if a tree gets in your way. Lucky for me, I avoided the trees. In fact, by the time the conference had ended I knew that it would be the first of many events I would put on if I had anything to do with it.

Was everything perfect? Of course not. We had pre-show technical issues, we had breakout sessions being interrupted by other breakout sessions, we had a rabid fox bite one of the attendees in the face...it was crazy! (okay, maybe only 2 of those 3 things happened). The thing is, I made a decision that morning that I was going to enjoy myself no matter what. I knew I had prepared enough to keep it from bombing, so instead of worrying about the little things I decided to roll with them. And other than providing Cheez-it snack packs as a conference refreshment, it was the best decision I made all day.


I don't know what big event, project, or challenge you've got facing you, but if you feel like you need to step up your leadership game to meet it I think you're in the right place. Life's too short to shy away from all the big challenges, so face your fear and attempt something you're not even sure you can accomplish. Hopefully one or two of these lessons I learned can help you out where you're at as well.

And if you're in the Nashville area next Spring, come on out to the 2nd Annual Killer Tribes Conference, I promise we've finally got the rabid fox problem under control.

Bryan Allain is the founder of Killer Tribes, the author of 31 Days to Finding Your Blogging Mojo, and the leader of the Killer Tribe Blogger Community. You can find him online at BryanAllain.com.

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