Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Reinventing SmallTown

I started this post the morning after SmallTown 2012 (State of NOW, fka 140conf). I was tired. But I was also thinking, thinking that we can make this event better, much better. Jeff Pulver and I have been talking about this even while we prepared for this year.

We need your help to do it. We're ready to rethink (almost) every aspect of this event.

1. I need help. 

I did too much of this event myself. We need an entire team of people working on this, taking on promotion, recruiting, sponsorships, registrations, the website, onsite volunteers, meal arrangements, and more.

Are you in? Tell me what you want to do.

2. We need attendance. 

SmallTown2012 - Photo by Alan Weinkrantz. -016
Honestly, the 100 or so people we hosted this year is not that many. We've had over 200 previously. I think the right size for this event to be big enough to be powerful, but small enough to feel connected, is about 200-300.

Every year our buzz and attention grow. We draw people from more states every year, 20 states and 2 countries this year. We've drawn more amazing people, both big name and small name. This year, we trended on twitter. Twice. Over 200 more people (unique viewers) tuned in live online, from 6 countries and 31 U.S. states. Even more will watch the videos after the event.

I need you to help to find the people who should attend and connect with them.

3. Should we move? 

The #140conf crew tours the new gallery at the Cosmosphere. Geek out!
I don't know. I love doing it in Hutchinson. We get to play in a salt mine 650 feet underground and in a space museum of world-class quality. We revel in the splendor of a 1920's theatre. We enjoy exceptional support from the Hutchinson CVB (Convention and Visitor Bureau). Local volunteers pitch in. And I get to drive instead of fly.

But.... it may be time for a change.

This is risky because I've had people tell me I need to bring this international event to their doorstep before they'll turn out. "Well, if you do it in Hutch, why not do it in my town?" You can do it in your town. You are invited to create your own local event in the State of Now in your town. Or region. Or state. Or industry. We (me, Jeff, Deb Brown, and many others who have hosted one) are willing to offer advice, feedback, and suggestions. We'll help spread the word.

But there is a place for one big SmallTown event. Part of the magic is that validation that you are not alone. Other people do care about small towns and rural areas. And rural people are far more different and interesting than even you imagined.

Down at the bottom of this post, I'm opening it up for you to tell us where to go. One of you knows just the right place for this event to go next.

4. Should we change the format?

A dangerous question, I know. Jeff came up with the theater-style event we've used for all three years. For some people, it's a huge honor to stand on the stage and share their story. Some are not experienced public speakers, but it matters that you get to share your piece of humanity with the audience. And you always amaze me.

The unconference this year gave me a glimpse of something else that can work. One person would ask an open question, one they didn't know the answer to, and people from the audience would jump in to help. People made connections and excitedly exchanged contact info as they realized they could benefit each other.

Lanna Lee Maheux, Tina Clark and Doug Mitchell

After reflecting on this for a month, I think I have a plan.
1. Unconference becomes Collaboration Time: we'll do at least a half day of collaboration like we did this year. Anyone can pose a topic, and we all offer the best of our experience to help each other. If you're kind of new to social, or you've doing it for a few years, you'll gain a lot here.
2. Learning Tour: we'll spend at least a couple of hours touring a business or organization, to talk through how they are integrating social tools into everything they do, or how they want to do it. Even if you've been doing social for 5 years or more, you'll gain from seeing how it integrates into everything a business does.
3. Take the Stage: this is the part you know, the part we've always done. People from small towns all over take the stage and share from the heart why being connected matters to them. We all gain from this section. It's personal more than practical.

What do you think?

Request for Proposals

We're opening ourselves to new locations for the next SmallTown State of Now. Here's what we are looking for, and how you might nominate your own small town to host. 

1. Size: We don't want to go any bigger than Hutchinson, KS, so 40,000 population is about the max. In fact, we'd welcome much smaller towns or even neighboring small towns working together. (and yes, Hutchinson people, I'm open to hearing from you, too, if you want us to stay.) 

2. Location: Your town needs to be reasonably close to an airport with commercial flights. Transportation from the airport matters, also. How will we get people to your town? 

3. Venues: If you have a theater that can seat 200-300 or more, that can host the main event. For the collaborative session, we need an open classroom-type space for about 150 people. In the past, we've hosted receptions at cool local attractions in Hutchinson. If you have a cool place to show off, this is one way to do it. WIFI will be critical at all these locations. You may need to contract with a service provider to add extra wifi to handle the 100+ connections simultaneously.

4. Hotels: It's always a guess, but I think we'll need about 50-60 hotel rooms. You can get creative on this, if you have alternatives like B&Bs or can come up with a way to host us. 

5. Locals: Can you bring in 150 attendees from your state or region? We will bring in another 150 small town people from 20+ states and other countries, so it is a terrific opportunity for your local businesses to learn, your startups to network, and your students to expand their connections. 

6. Sponsors: We're looking for about $10,000 in sponsorship. Can you find local companies, utilities, banks or organizations that can cover this? 

7. Team: People make all the difference here. You need local and regional publicity, 5 or so helpers at the events, people to record and stream video, someone to create name tags, someone to arrange lunch and receptions, and someone to acquire furniture for the stage. 

8. Date: What time of year works well in your area? We can be flexible, though we do have to work around our existing commitments. Since the global State of Now event is in June in NYC, June is not an option. 

Think your town is the right place? Tell me about it. I'm excited to hear from you. 

Join the Mailing List

If this is the first you've heard of the conference, but you can't wait to see what we come up with, please join our mailing list. If you've attended any of the three SmallTown conferences in Hutchinson, you're already on the list.


  1. You know I'm all in! Of course we love, love, love having the conference in Hutchinson. We're not likely to get bored with that anytime soon, and would love to have the State of Now come back again. However, regardless of where it is held, I will do my best to attend and will certainly encourage others to do so as well.

    One of the difficulties we've had in Hutchinson is explaining what it is to people who aren't already engaged. I mention that only to indicate that maybe some brainstorming on that will come up with some ideas. The State of Now name change helps, I think.

    I'm in!

    1. Patsy, you've been a great supporter since day 1, and I appreciate you! The difficulty in explaining this event is a valid point. We talked about making a promotional video, but we could also work on finding the right simple description.

  2. I am going to bring this to the attention of the Tahlequah Main Street Association, Tahlequah Area Chamber of Commerce,and the Cherokee Nation Community Tourism. We also have Northeastern State University, which would probably be a wonderful location for the State of Now.
    Tahlequah, OK is rapidly progressing in many areas and would love to have local and international input as to how we can improve as well as what other communities are doing.
    Thank you for all of your hard work! --Sheri Gourd

    1. Sheri, thank you so much for starting the process in Tahlequah. It's a terrific town, and it's been too long since I had a chance to visit.