seanwes Conference

October 25, 2017 | 3 Comments

Before I get into my report from the seanwes conference that I attended in Austin TX in September, I want to give a little background.

When I left my day-job as an architect to have ‘a break and do a little teaching’ I thought that I was heading in the direction of a freelance lifestyle – doing some commission work (architectural renderings) and teaching the occasional workshop. I also thought that I’d probably need to go back to architecture part-time to support myself. I never dreamed I would be doing what I’m doing now!

When I announced my first online course SketchingNow Foundations in September 2014 I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I didn’t know how much time and effort was involved in putting together and hosting an online course nor the ongoing maintenance and customer support. I was thankful for all the skills I had developed from my years as a design/project architect and in my role as Associate Director of a small architectural firm. These skills really helped me ‘project manage’ all the tasks needed to be accomplished. But I really didn’t know much about running my own business and funnily enough it took me a while to realise that was what I was doing.

Another really interesting aspect of my new work life was working from home and working for myself. I had to develop new strategies for self-motivation and planning my time to get things done because it was all up to me.

Via a completely random route (from the craft site of A Beautiful Mess to Elise Joy) I discovered the world of podcasts and started listening to a number of business related shows. I began collecting advice for running small businesses, ideas for productivity and online marketing strategies. After exploring the broader business podcast space for a little while I found a handful of people who had codified some of the practices I had worked out through my own journey – practices based on generosity, not hard-selling.

Sean McCabe was one of these people and he introduced me to a number of radical new concepts –  such as taking small scale sabbaticals and giving away for free the top 10% of your content, not your bottom 10%. I subsequently joined the seanwes community as I wanted a support network of people in a similar situation and/or with more a tech backgrounds. It was also great to be hanging around a group who were really into video – as I want to do more of that.

Chatting online to numerous seanwes community members over the last 18 months has been great, but I knew that meeting in real life would be special – just as it is for urban sketchers who meet at a symposium. So I decided to treat myself and attend this year’s conference – to listen to some great talks as well as have some more meaningful discussions face to face with community members. I had also challenged myself to sketch ‘everyone’ at the conference – if somehow you missed it, I wrote about this in a three part article which starts here.

Meeting community members

At an urban sketchers symposium you get a lot from the various workshops you attend, but generally the thing that makes the biggest impact is being part of the incredible creative energy of so many like-minded sketchers in the one space. Just by hanging out and sketching together you pick up ideas and gain confidence to sketch more things out on location.

Being at seanwes2017 was the same. I had so many fantastic conversations with community members, sharing our day to day struggles and our big ideas and finding a lot in common despite the variety of industries. In fact the variety of industries made it all the more interesting!

The highlight of the conference was the two Community Time sessions where we had round table discussions with 8-10 people. Taking it in turn, each person shared a current problem (for 1 minute), the group had 3 minutes to ask clarify questions before the person got an addition minute to restate their problem. The group then had 5 minutes for advice. Wow! it was such an amazing experience to be part of a session like this – we all got so much value out of the discussions from everyone’s problems and advice – not just our own!

The Talks

As for the talks – they were packed with value – even the ones that were not specified related to anything that I plan to do (eg. Facebook ads) Here is a short takeaway or two from each talk (including my sketches of the speaker).

Scott Berkun
A wonderful way to start the conference with a talk about creativity. I really loved being reminded to use history to solve our current ideas and problems. (This was a big theme of my architecture work ad theory but I haven’t ever applied it to my art as much). Another great takeaway was that all great ideas start off  ‘being weird’ but we need to keep kicking them around in our head.

Also Scott gets a special gold star for mentioning Vitruvius and his Ten Books of Architecture – I never expected his name would come up at a business conference (sorry, this was an architect geek-out moment)

Sketch Note: I had planned to take notes of the talks and sketch the speakers, but when Scott mentioned Eiffel’s earlier designs I just had to sketch them over my drawn guidelines. I was a little all over the place with my notetaking and sketches in this first talk so started to plan a more flexible layout for the rest of hte conference.

Kevin Rogers
How to tell our story in 60 seconds in a way that will be more meaningful for others. The hero’s journey is all about identity, struggle, discover, result, call to action.

Sketch Note: Being more careful with my design of my sketchbook page – leavingmore white space for sketches, meant that I did less sketches during talk 2, so only one sketch of Kevin.

Scott Oldfield

The internet is swamping us with information, but what people are looking for is transformation. Scott stressed the need to be more relevant and focus on building relationships.

Sketch Note: Scott didn’t stand on the stage so it was hard to see him. I decided I needed to move to the front tables on Day 2!

James Clear

Oh! so many great ideas for building better habits. The biggest idea for me, was to make the beginning of a new habit as small as possible (little steps – 1% improvement every day). Starting my sketching diet is a result of a conversation I had with James, but doesn’t really fit into the ‘start small’ category does it?

Sketch Note: I wrote the most notes and drew the most during this talk. My rapid pace is evident in the sketches… and also I was longing for a speaker with a good hair shape!

Mojca Mars

A very interesting talk about Facebook Ads. Although I have no intention of doing this, I love learning about how Facebook works. A big idea running through her talk was giving value to making connections and strengthening relationships.

Sketch Note: Colourful clothing and long hair… Yes! what more can I say?

Brennan Dunn

A fascinating talk about personalisation with the big takeaway for me being: How well do I know my readers? I have the wonderful privilege of either having met many of my readers or having gotten to know them through my online courses or regular comments on my blog, Facebook or Instagram. But the rest of you??? How can I get to know you better?

Sketch Note: Starting to feel more freedom with sketching now, but trying to get the right head shape while taking notes at the same time was a challenge!

Chris Lema

An amazing talk about team building. This was the most powerful talk of the conference for me, not so much because I intend to build a big team, but it just provided many wonderful insights into how to get the most out of people and to work out what type of work you do best. So many great takeaways from the talk but here is one quote I liked: There are no experts, just people who are learning new things.

Sketch Note: Another talk where I sketched a lot as well as taking heaps of notes. You can see a video of me in action during this talk – refer to video section below.

Pamela Wilson

The final talk was also fantastic – all about building community. Pamela used a great analogy of hosting a party to explain a lot of ways of how we should be interacting with our audience more. The biggest actionable idea from her talk was to host regular live events. Oh ah! this is something I would love to do, so am thinking about how I can start to do that next year.

Sketch Note: So sad that this is the last talk… I want to keep going!

Vlogs and videos

If you are interested here are a few videos from the conference – you will see me in a few places in other people’s vlogs, sketching or talking – look out for the red bag.

A timelapse of me taking notes from Chris Lema’s talk

Cory Miller’s vlog

John Loudon’s vlog

It’s been really fun for me to write down some of the main ideas from the conference as I truly felt overloaded with information at the time. The common thread that I picked up through most of the talks and conversations was all about giving more value, building stronger relationships and trying to find ways of helping others. It was a huge reinforcement of what I am trying to do.

There is only so much that I can implement right now but it was inspiring to be filled with new ideas and encouragement to continue on!



  • Larry Goldfarb says:

    Liz, How do you manage to stay focused on a presentation and at the same
    Time sketch? For me, it’s either right brain or left brain. I’d love to do both at
    the same time. How?

    • Liz Steel says:

      Hi Larry, Great question! Most of my sketches were done while the speakers told stories so I wasn’t taking notes, just waiting for the punchline. As for left vs right brain, I actually use both sides when I sketch (radical thought I know…I could say much more about this and Walt Stanchfield talks about this a lot in his Drawn Fron Life books) so it is not a problem. I would have said that when I am really concentrating on a talk I would sketch less, the talks I was less interested in I would sketch more… but strangely it was the otherway around!

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