Sitting in the blogger’s lounge at Big Omaha 2012. (photo Malone & Co)

This past August, I attended Willow Creek’s Leadership Summit for the seventh time in some capacity. At the end of the first day I was underwhelmed by much of what I heard. I decided not to attend the second day of the conference and focus on some work I needed to finish. Before, I’d stick it out and hope I’d glean something. I can’t do that anymore. With launching the Online Campus, and being a husband and father of (soon-to-be) four, I don’t like wasting time.

If you go to conferences that have the same topic, the presentations usually have the same theme and principles. Many of the presentations start to blend together, and then their distinctives (if any) are forgotten.

For some, a conference trip is time out of the office, a refresher, vacation, networking or something else. Those are good, but at what cost? What good is attending a conference if all you come away from it with is saying you attended? What good is the trip if the highlight is making a trip to some local eatery? You took meticulous notes, posted updates on Facebook and Twitter about it, and quoted the speaker’s presentation verbatim. How did it impact you?

Is it worth losing a day or two of work, plus whatever expenses with going, to attend a conference? It’s a question I’ve been asking myself more as I begin to plan for 2013. (It’s why I nixed plans to attend SXSW.)

While I was thinking about this, I wondered what conferences/speakers had the biggest impact on me? What presentations have stuck with me?

It’s interesting to note that some of these presentations didn’t have an impact on me right away. It was only weeks or months later that I noticed something from the presentation sticking with me.

In a chronological order, here are some presentations that stuck with me. Sometimes, it was only a sentence that stuck with me. Sometimes, the entire presentation floored me.

Dan Allender (2005) – In the midst of a low point in life, I heard Dan share at Small Group Leader Conference. It struck a chord within me how he shared about the intersection of the gospel and realities of life. I wasn’t sure of much at the time, but I wanted more of what Dan was saying. A light I started to pursue.

God has authored our story, Psalm 139:16. God has authored every moment of our life, but he has not authored sin. God orchestrates sin for his purposes. Evil is on the move, but yet God orchestrates it for good. The Bible does not give clarity on the issue. It may make no sense, but stories don’t. God is not a formula or theology, but a person.

Dan Allender (2006)
– I was able to attend the Willow Creek Arts Conference, and I was grateful to listen to Dan again. His talk of artists and creatives being the next wave of evangelists was encouraging and inspiring. His astute perspectives on art, in and outside the church, were welcomed.

Most of the world doesn’t have language for trauma, but every culture has art and music. What’s changing the human heart is song, is music. It brings sorrow, hope, and joy to the surface.

Our work is the battleground for the human heart, that is why it is under attack.

Ashish Nanda (2006) – The staff at Christ Community Church usually attend Willow Creek’s Leadership Summit. This year, some of my coworkers (no longer at CCC) were making a stink about the conference since there were people speaking that weren’t church leaders. “What can we learn from them?” Ashish Nanda, a Harvard Business School professor, was one of those people spoken about, but if my former coworkers would have dropped their bias they would have learned something. Ashish’s talk about developing leaders from within, and the benefits it provides to an organization and its culture, has continued to stick with me. I can’t recall any of the other people who spoke that year at Leadership Summit (besides Bill Hybels who always speaks), but I remember Ashish.

There are no shortcuts, loyal staff are developed from within.

Dan Allender (2007) – Because of my experience with Dan’s previous presentations, I paid to attended his Story Workshop out in Seattle. Changed my life.

Craig Groeschel (2008) – Craig is the founder and senior pastor of, one of the pioneers of multi-site and online church. His message was simple, though. Don’t try and do everything at church. Don’t try and minister to everyone. You can’t. Know your mission, and have a “laser focus” on it. A great word for us at CCC, where there is often pressure to provide all things to all people.

Jason Fried (2009) – Jason was the opening speaker of Big Omaha 2009, and quickly upturned what you may have thought you knew about business. Here’s a snippet of what I wrote about Jason Friend in 2010.

“I don’t need some sideshow barker that uses smoke and mirrors to hide the fact they aren’t saying anything in their presentation. Sure, that entertains, but I want something I can take with me and apply to life and work. Jason will provide that…”

Micah Baldwin (2009) – He mentioned about blogging his greatest failure and how it generated the biggest response. I knew I’d be blogging about my greatest failure at some point.

Scott Harrison (2010) – Quite possibly the best presentation I’ve ever seen. I’ve posted a few things about Scott, his presentation, and the impact on me. Here’s a sample from a post.

Watching Scott deliver his presentation was amazing. He didn’t shrink from his story, but rather embraced it. He allowed God to work in him and use it for good. While he was living a new way, he didn’t cut himself off from people in his past. He leveraged those friendships for good, and along the way deepened the level of friendship he had with them. He understood the need for excellence in brand, marketing, and presentation, realizing that in the non-profit organizations miss out on people donating resources because of bad design.

Scott’s story about how he was a former nightclub promoter, with $40,000 debt, now being used to champion clean water around the world is amazing. It’s challenging and inspiring. What can we be doing with our lives? What can I be doing? I’ve asked myself that a few times. I don’t want to get complacent in my faith.

Dennis Crowley (2010) – A number of presentations are more entertainment than anything. This was entertaining, but also inspiring. Dennis’ work on how to bring video game experiences/mechanics into our real life was fun. It had me thinking creatively what could be done with churches.

Tony Hsieh (2010) – Tony was the final speaker of Big Omaha 2010, and it was great. Here’s what I said back then.

There were a lot of good points Tony made, points that you can hear from any number of speakers at conferences. What sticks with me is developing and establishing a culture for your business. Sticking with the core values you espouse.

What stuck with me was the carryover from his talk that is applicable to the church. How often does the church have fancy slogans and sayings, great sounding goals, only to not truly abide by them or pursue them? How often does the church talk about establishing a culture within its walls and the community it is within? It’s a nice talk, but then a few days later people revert back to the way it was and the culture remains the status quo.*

*It seems to be a joke with people in ministry who go to conferences now. They’ll go to a conference, get excited about some new idea, come back to their ministry, stick with it for about a week, revert back to what once was when they face a bit of resistance, and be left wondering why things never change.

What is your culture? What are your values? If you’ve identified them, are you going after them? If not, then whatever you are doing and going after is your culture and your values.

Jim Collins (2010) – Jim is a staple at Willow Creek’s Leadership Summit. His talk, based on his book How The Mighty Fall, was good. The story of how his wife’s breast cancer stuck with me, and how the principles from that carryover to all organizations.

As examining question, saw they fall through stages. August 2002 went running at Colorado pass with wife, who is a champion triathlete. I started walking and saw my wife running on switchbacks. Two months later got word that my wife had cancer, and she had a double mastectomy. Image stuck in my mind of my wife who is picture of health and strength, and she’s already sick on the inside. Are societies and individuals like that? We look strong on the outside, but sick on the inside. Hard to detect early, but easy to cure. Easy to detect late, hard to cure.

There are five Stages of Decline. You don’t see the decline until Stage Four. Disease analogy is apropos except in one way. These stages are self-inflicted in organizations.

Neil Blumenthal (2011) – At Big Omaha, Neil shared about his company, Warby Parker, and how they want to get affordable, and fashionable, glasses to people. They want the experience to be fun, easy and inexpensive as well. Selling eyeglasses online? Great. Providing glasses to those in need around the world? Genius.

I have a pair of Warby Parkers, and I’ve lost track of how many others I’ve sold on getting a pair of Warby Parkers as well.

Bo Fishback (2011) – The last speaker of Big Omaha 2011. At the time, I was not following Bo’s talk closely. He was talking about the effort it took to start, develop and launch Zaarly. Over six months later, when I was working furiously to get the Online Campus ready to launch, his words came back to me and were an encouragement in the midst of the “chaos”.

Steven Furtick (2011) – I still need to get around to writing the post I want to about Steven Furtick. I couldn’t have been more pleasantly surprised with Steven’s talk. One of the best I’ve heard at Leadership Summit, and one that reminds me to keep dreaming and going after those dreams.

We need to stop comparing our behind the scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel. If you will dig the ditches, God will send the rain. Do what you need to do, and God will do what he needs to do.

Mama Maggie Gobran (2011) – Her talk challenged me to do more in the city, and it ended up changing the trajectory of children’s lives.

Steve Case (2012)One of my first posts on this blog were my thoughts on Steve Case’s talk at Thinc Iowa. In recent days, I’ve been in a number of conversations about the direction of CCC. I’ve referenced Steve’s talk often, and how the church can’t afford to settle into the status quo.

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