Altitude Summit 2018 Report
Indulge me with a report about Altitude Summit? A little background: I’m the owner of the conference, so I’m responsible for the event overall; in addition, I oversee speakers and content. I have an awesome team, including Event Planner Erin Stanley, Sponsor Liaison Kelly Smith, and Graphic Designer Audrey Moore. They work super hard all year long putting the event together. We also added a new sales team that kicked butt — Jyl Johnson Pattee, Barbara Jones and Paula Bruno.
It’s a big event with a ton of details and moving parts and by the time you add up attendees, speakers, sponsors and staff, there are 650+ people at the event.
The tickets sold out in two hours, and we had over 1400 people on the waiting list. So this year we added a digital ticket for those who couldn’t be there in person. We called it Alt Together (say it aloud and it sounds like All Together. So cute!) We brought on Lucrecer Braxton to manage Alt Together, and Olivia Omega to be the on-camera host. They did a bang-up job.
I’ve been home for a week now. How am I feeling? Well, there’s a huge feeling of relief that it’s done. And there’s a sense of accomplishment because I felt like it went really well.
Last year was our first year in Palm Springs at the Saguaro Hotel. We decided to host it there again this year and it gave us a chance to make a ton of improvements. That made me really happy. The hotel staff knew what to expect and really did a fantastic job. We knew better how to use the spaces at the hotel — like we had a fun Opening Party in the lobby hosted by The Happy Planner, and Day Owl took over the Pool Bar the whole conference and served free Rosé.
There were dozens of improvements big and small and I could really see a difference. It felt amazing. Like all those notes we took and plans we made and feedback we listened too and time we spent on details really paid off. Here are 10 things about Altitude Summit 2018 I want to remember (and the first one might save you some money!):
1) I learned the difference between WordPress.com and WordPress.org. And I think this new knowledge is going to cut my website hosting fees by $3300 per year. Not bad! If you’re paying monthly hosting fees for your website, they may be able to save you money too. Basically, WordPress.com has a new hosting service. They can register a domain name for you, allow you to use 1000s of WordPress themes, give live 24-hour support, and host your website — no matter how big it is — for $300 per YEAR (not per month). That’s a big deal. There’s also a $4/month version if you’re just starting out.
They had an awesome booth. They set up a help desk and attendees could come in and get one-on-one advice and troubleshooting for their websites — free of cost, and no appointment necessary. Plus, they kept their booth stocked with Diet Coke — a huge win with our attendees. : )
2) I had the opportunity to interview three amazing women during the Opening & Closing Keynotes. I LOVE doing interviews.
Stacy London, who you know from her long-running TV show What Not To Wear, was so cool to talk to. Total confidence. Super smart. I barely needed to ask any questions — she’s just really good at presenting. During one part of the conversation she talked about aging and said, “For all the fear I have of aging I have at least equal fascination.” I love that.
Justina Blakeney is a brilliant creative entrepreneur and I was so inspired. Do you know The Jungalow? Her work is stunning. She’s so intentional about how she’s built her business. I love how she thinks big, and how careful she is about the collaborations she does. Her talk was a kick in the pants for me. I also love that she brought her team and they all took part in the conference.
Minka Kelly was a delight. You know her as an actress in Friday Night Lights and Parenthood. She was super open and super vulnerable. During the Q&A with the audience, she talked about her childhood, and that she learned to talk in a babyish voice — even as she got older — because her needs often weren’t met as a child, and being childlike made adults more likely to want to take care of her. It was so insightful and so heart-wrenching at the same time.
I’ll be sure to share videos of the Keynotes when they’re ready to go.
The connection to Minka Kelly came through my friend Barrett Ward, the founder of ABLE (formerly FashionABLE), a brand I’ve worked with for many, many years. I adore ABLE because along with offering the most gorgeous products, they are focused on being a part of something bigger; creating jobs with dignity for women around the world, and celebrating that women everywhere, no matter what our story, are all ABLE to find purpose in our work.
They have an awesome design contest going on that you should totally enter — and you don’t need to be a pro-designer. They are taking submissions for leather bag designs! You can find all the details here. The winner will have their bag design produced and sold in ABLE’s holiday collection. The winner will also receive a $1000 shopping spree to ABLE.
3) The Sherwin-Williams booth was designed by Emmily Jones of Gatherist and it was STUNNING. I couldn’t get enough. You can find more images here. They had tons of pretty objects in their booth and attendees could combine them and rearrange them to make flat lay images (compositions you shoot from above). As you can imagine, this crowd really got into making flat lays. It was delightful.
Their booth had swatches of paint on pieces of linen. I wanted to take them all and sew them into a wall-hanging or blanket.
4) You know the famous Pink Door House in Palm Springs? You’ve seen it in a million Instagrams. Well, it’s privately owned and not something you can rent out or tour. But Alaska Airlines arranged to host a dinner there! It was epic.
This I only saw in pictures — I couldn’t actually go to the dinner — but I’m so impressed they even thought of this and made it happen. Pure genius! And such an amazing opportunity.
5) Despite our worries, the weather held! It essentially never rains in Palm Springs, but on Tuesday of the conference showers were on the forecast. Since so much of our plans were outside — sponsor spaces, keynotes, lunches — this was more than a bit stressful. I confess, in the days leading up to the event, I stopped looking at the weather because I was in total denial. But in the end, the weather held up. Hooray! Hooray! It wasn’t quite as warm as we had hoped on Tuesday — 65 degrees instead of 75. But it was sunny and blue skies and felt great.
Also weather related: All of our classes were held inside with one exception. Lowe’s planned this amazing photography workshop taught by Tessa Neustadt, focused on shooting interiors. And they built these free-standing “rooms” that were set up outside so that they’d be filled with natural light. (Thank goodness it didn’t rain!) The workshop was excellent. They were originally planning to limit the class space to 40 people, but they ended up with 60 people because it was so popular.
6) LaCroix was a new sponsor this year and did a bang-up job of keeping the sparking water free-flowing. I had the impression that LaCroix came on the sparkling water scene all of a sudden a couple of years ago. But I was totally wrong. During their mocktail party, I learned the brand actually started in 1981, but that it recently had a rebirth/transformation, and that now the focus is on rolling out fun new flavor combinations (I’m favoring Melon-Pomelo).
I found the whole story super inspiring. I also learned how LaCroix is pronounced. LaCroix rhymes with Enjoy! (Though my french friends who were at the conference pronounced it with a French accent and it sounded ooh la la.)
Sidenote: I’ve begun to think my kids’ generation (Gen Z) is going to cut most sugar out of their life, and products like LaCroix will be a staple instead of sugar sodas. (I suppose that’s a topic for another day.)
7) I attempted a Facebook Live broadcast with Amber of Damask Love and JOANN. We could not get a good signal but we kept trying and doing a bunch of takes and it made me laugh so hard. Eventually, we ended up doing Instagram Stories instead.
The JOANN booth was a total party. A really fun design — totally DIYed, fun staff, and cool things to make. And on Wednesday, they provided craft supplies for a Maker Break, where a bunch of ladies gathered on the big patio and made amazing necklaces. The perfect retreat for those who’s brains were filled to the max with info.
8) For this conference, as I was planning the content, the Harvey Weinstein news broke. And I made a decision then and there that at this event, I would only amplify women’s voices. I ended up having to ask certain companies to send a woman to speak instead of a man — but everyone seemed to get it immediately, and completely understand. Even at our 80’s Prom Night closing party, we made sure the DJ was a woman (and she was great).
I still feel great about the amplifying-women’s-voices decision.
And speaking of amazing women, it was such a treat to find out that my dear friend Lisa Valentine Clark would be at the conference filming an episode of Random Acts TV. I hoped she would come, but wasn’t sure she could make it, and I was over the moon to see her! We only had a short time to catch up, but I was grateful to get to be with her, even for 3o mins.
9) I always need extra help at the conference, and this year, I had two friends from France come to Palm Springs — the amazing Caroline, and her fabulous daughter Clementine. I also asked my talented niece Rachel to come out from New York. Oh my. They were hugely helpful and I can’t imagine what we would have done without them. They jumped right in and were willing to do whatever was needed, as if they’d been part of the team forever. I feel so grateful to all three of them.
I was also incredibly grateful to Laurie Smithwick and Laura Mayes. They’ve been part of Altitude Summit since the beginning — nine years and 14 conferences ago. Laurie took over slides this year which was a huge relief for me, and she also made killer playlists for the meals, and figured out walk-on music for the keynotes. Laura was the Keynote Wrangler and took care of hosting duties while I was on stage. I love these women so much.
10) Coming home to Ben Blair felt wonderful. On the last night, after we’d cleaned up from the 80’s Prom Party, I was on a total event high. And I was walking back to my hotel room and I had this thought: what if Ben somehow found a sitter, and came to Palm Springs, and is waiting at the hotel room to surprise me. I can’t wait to tell him everything that has happened!
Of course, that was a just a day dream, but it made me super happy just to think of it. And it made me all the more excited to get home.
Anyway, I think that’s it for my report. We have survey for attendees that’s live right now, and we’ve had a ton of responses so far. I’ll be interested to see if there are unexpected findings — like when I did the Design Mom survey in January.
Thanks for letting me chatter on about the event. It’s been a major part of my life for the last several months, so I’m happy I get to share it with you. Feel free to share your thoughts. Do you ever go to conferences for work? What are they like? Does Altitude Summit look appealing to you? Have you ever been? I’d love to hear.