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How I Went From Attendee to Closing the Conference - Dann Petty's Awwwards LA Story!

Article by Awwwards Team in News - July 20

Originally, I was going to attend the Awwwards Conference in LA as just a regular attendee. I’m pretty sure I bought one of the last tickets as I caught their last announcement with only a few spots left. Incredible FOMO was settling in. One of the event managers saw that I was coming and we ended up working out a sponsorship deal, where I’d be filming the event for Freelance.TV.

So there I was, at the event running around filming on day one.

What most people don’t know is that it was an incredibly stressful day as my gear kept breaking on me. I broke two shoulder mounts, my adapter for my light (it was dark in there), and forgot my headphones (and couldn’t use my iPhone 7 headphones— dang it Apple!) so it was a complete mess of filming. I was becoming incredibly discouraged as I badly wanted to give something to this event. That first night was a long night, up until 2am trying to fix my unfixable gear. I ended up tearing apart my tripod in order to rig together a hand held mount for stability. Fun times.

Some snippets from Dann's talk

I of course wanted to get up early to capture the sunrise and everyone lining up into the event outside, however when I woke up my batteries to my gimbal were dead. Apparently I left it on all night after setting it up for the morning. More fun times. As you can see, everything was going wrong. Stressed and defeated, I checked my phone only to find an incredibly stressful email, Twitter DM, and a text message asking if I’d be open to filling a speaker slot. Not just any spot, the closing spot! It’s a good thing they didn’t know I’m a very anxious person and prone to panic attacks nor that I was already having a crazy couple of days, haha.

I didn’t respond right away even though I knew I was going to say no. I couldn’t. I wouldn’t. I’m not cut out for things like that. Especially speaking in front of 700 people. Why do you think the events I run are only 60ish people? But the more I thought about it the more I put myself in their shoes, as an event host, I know the pain when something goes even slightly off plan. I remembered the times people came to my aid at my events and stepped up so this was me paying my dues, as hard as it was to suck up. I was doing this for myself, as I knew it wouldn’t be a good talk. Nor did I even want to be known as a person that gives talks.

Finally, around 9:AM ish I told Awwwards I would do the talk, which was at 4:30PM that afternoon. I had nothing to talk about and obviously nothing prepared. I’m NOT on the speaker circuit. To get the courage up and in the hope of seeing slight nervousness in other speakers that day to make myself feel better, I sat in the crowd for bits and pieces of other talks, trying to think of what I could say. But nothing was coming to mind. It’s now almost 2PM. I’ve got nothing. Not one slide and I have to close this event down with something.

The next 2 hours were me opening Keynote (for the first time in a few years), and making the first slide that just said “@dannpetty” — I at least knew that much. After a few moments went by I decided to just wing it on what was going on in my life currently. Three things came to mind:

  1. Anxiety. It’s something I’ve been dealing with forever and keeps creeping up on me in my career, usually holding me back causing me to sell out myself over and over again. And due to current circumstances, I was feeling it!
  2. Valuing my time. It’s something I don’t do enough and constantly need to keep reminding myself. We have so little time, yet our culture endorses “hustling” all hours of the day and speaks on how that is what, and usually only what, success is.
  3. Relationships. These are the most important things in not only our careers but our lives. We can get so many more opportunities in life when we focus on actual relations.

These were the things on my mind. Things that have been on my mind for a long time now. I’ve personally been struggling with all of this. I thought, if I’m going through this, I’m sure at least a few others in that room are too and if I’m going to wing it on stage, it might as well be on something I’m actually feeling right now. So that’s what I did. In the last hour or prep, I managed to put together a handful of slides based on some old tweets that I found. To get in the right mindset, and to stop thinking about the 700 people I’m about to be in front of, I twice watched this video I made of my family as I paced back and forth behind the curtain until my name was called, throwing out a nervous tweet right beforehand.

As for what happened? Well…

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