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Dan Rose | 07.01.19

SmashingConf Toronto

You don’t have to look hard to find the “We The North” signs that emblazon the streets of Toronto. In the wake of the city’s first NBA championship this June, their beloved Raptors’ rallying cry is all too evident from the airport to downtown.

Suffice to say, I expected to see such fanfare given the timing of my trip. What I didn’t expect was just how natural the slogan ties into the area. It doesn’t feel forced, and it certainly has been embraced well before this season. Perhaps my NBA fandom skews my perspective, but it felt oddly seamless to see street lamps and t-shirts echo Toronto’s constant and confident pride.

SmashingConf may not have had such a banner to wave—I guess they did have an astronaut cat—but it reflects similar aspects of community and energy found in Toronto.

And dang it do they put on a seamless show.

a promo image for SmashingConf Toronto, with a cat dressed as an astronaut

Cats! Space! Canada!

Details Make the Event

Most of my conference experiences are from a speaker’s perspective, save the ones I organize or attend. Having spoken at SmashingConf a few years back, I knew they would nail all of the major facets. This time around, it was the details I found myself impressed with:

The SmashingConf team initiated the right amount of communication before and throughout the event, each instance being respectful of my time. It’s not lost on me that coordinating speakers can be a full-time job unto itself. Their friendliness and confidence equips them beautifully for this.

I also know it’s hard to balance scheduling activities and providing enough down/free time. The 9:30am starts allowed ample opportunity for exploration.

It’s a genuine friendliness that the Smashing team possesses, and that serves as the foundation for an inclusive, approachable event. It turns out that little things like launching balloons to kick off the event and advocating for the PacMan Rule go a long way towards making everyone feel welcome.

Collaborative note-taking is a brilliant way to ensure you return home with ample insights and resources. I’ve seen the good folks at Sparkbox do this, and was delighted to see it from Smashing as well (day one, day two).

Some of my other favorite details: the badge design, the movie posters, and Tobi, the conference DJ remixing snippets from each talk into songs I secretly dug.

Live-Design?

I had gotten wind of Smashing’s format shift a while back: no slides in favor of a live, demo-ish session. I’ve been itching to give it a try because, as an attendee, I can totally see the value in watching someone work. In case you’re wondering, it’s totally possible (and prudent, personally) to invest time preparing and practicing your demo, even though the temptation is there to spend less time preparing as you would slides.

At the same time, I think it’s also important to build in opportunities of figuring things out on the fly. Maybe it’s polishing the start of a demo and leaving the end unfinished, or in my case, asking attendees to live-design some adjustments to sites of their choosing. Seeing how speakers wrestle with sticky situations has value, and works to debunk the idea that anyone flies smoothly in and out of their work.

I hope to see more conferences take this approach, and look forward to seeing how Smashing refines it.

Seeing the Pages for the Components

As for my “talk”, I’ll link to the video once it posts. Alternatively, you can read my musings on the topic here:

I’d need another post just to run down the amazing talks from as friendly a speaker lineup as I’ve been a part of. So I’ll leave this with a heartfelt “thank you” to the SmashingConf team for inviting me, and to everyone I had a chance to reconnect with or meet for the first time.

If you have an opportunity to get to a Smashing show, don’t hesitate.

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