I recently had a seriously hectic week of attending and presenting at 2 conferences that were somewhat inconveniently scheduled on opposite sides of the country 1 day apart from one another: The Nonprofit Technology Network Conference (NTC) and The Grant Managers Network Conference. So while my sleep schedule didn’t appreciate it too much my mind did because, as always, the conferences were a fantastic opportunity to connect with and share ideas with people both in the nonprofit design/development industry and at nonprofits across the world.

All-in-all, 4 days of great experiences that left me with 2 memorable takeaways:

First are the differences between presentations and panel discussions, and how both offer great opportunities for learning. Niki Hammond, our Technical Strategist, and I participated on a really invigorating panel discussion at the NTC on Branding, UX and Technical Strategy with folks from Big Duck, and Joleen Ong moderating. What made the session so rewarding was that an entire room full of people came eager and armed with questions on all sorts of topics. So rather than the usual 1+ hour presentation with 15 minutes of questions at the end from just a few people, everyone got the opportunity to really share ideas, which created a stimulating back-and-forth. The room was a-buzz and the Twitter activity at #ntcbrand during the session was much more intense than the usual presentation. Just seriously a lot of fun for everyone.

In addition to us offering insights from our collective experience to the room, we Niki and I both got so much more out of the session than in a typical presentation. When you give a presentation there’s a great opportunity to go in-depth into a subject and share a lot of your expertise. Done well, they really give people a lot to think about. But it’s obviously a one-way dialogue, if you can call it that. The panel discussion had the added benefit of giving us both a great deal of perspective and also allowed for a more organic exploration of topics of specific interest to the audience. As a result, Niki and I walked away with an enormous amount of fresh perspective based on the audience’s interests. You just never get that in a presentation and it made me wanting to make sure presentations we give in the future allow for much more of that kind of back-and-forth.

Second was because of the significantly different audiences at the 2 conferences, how the presentations were valuable to each in different ways. At NTC, there are a lot of folks who are very well versed in the issues and processes that nonprofits and design firms collaborate on. At the GMN Conference, I was presenting new ideas that were added specifically to help open some new avenues of thinking for folks who don’t normally think about issues relating to user experience, branding and communications.

As a result, at NTC, the ability to talk from an industry perspective in ways that would intuitively make sense was obviously easy. It also meant that bringing the same ol’ standard fare and twice-baked-over insights wasn’t going to cut it. Great, because that challenge always pushes your own thinking. Meanwhile at the GMN Conference, I first needed to make sure things I might take for granted were never left unexplained. I also needed to make sure the presentations were relevant to the interests of an untraditional audience, so focusing on fundamentals to educate, but doing so from a perspective that would be actionable to an audience not likely to be involved in their nonprofit’s website or communications.

Spending 4 consecutive days pushing my thinking in 2 totally different directions was challenging, never mind the jet lag and cross-country travel. But I left thankful for the opportunity to share insights with both expert and lay audiences, and new appreciation for how both panel discussions and traditional presentations allow everyone in the room to walk away learning a tremendous amount from each other. The result is greater chances for more effective collaboration and ultimately, that’s what it’s all about.