The SoDA Academy 2018 Review
It’s no secret that quality, meaningful conferences are hard to find. Many conferences are massive keynote-only presentations with everyone cranking away on their laptops and mildly paying attention. So when you find a conference that provides hands-on learning and a collaborative atmosphere, it’s a refreshing experience.
That’s exactly what happened to me at The SoDA Academy. First off, it’s branded as an academy, not a conference. The difference is subtle but meaningful. The event is a two-day, invitation-only learning environment exclusively for practice leaders in the digital agency community striving to balance their dual roles as makers and managers. Faculty leaders and attendees are carefully matched to one of ten discipline-related tracks (I found my niche within the Account Management track) and sessions are designed for peer-to-peer learning, knowledge sharing, best practices and accelerated professional growth.
It was a jam-packed two days of knowledge overload, but the time was invaluable, and the academy was a cut above the rest. Below are a few findings I found particularly insightful.
Relationships are still meaningful
In our increasingly digital age, it’s sometimes easy to forget when we’re spread out across the globe that face-to-face time still plays a role in enhancing quality client relationships. The leaders of our Account Management session, Pauline Ploquin and Dean Elissat, couldn’t stress this aspect enough. Relationship building was a common theme throughout the day, and throughout the academy. We need to take the time to slow down and remember it’s not always about the work. It’s about taking time to nurture the relationship. Take your clients to a baseball game, a golf outing, or even go to an industry conference together for shared learning opportunities. Get them out of their work element and find out who they are as a person. Take that time and in the long run it will be mutually beneficial. We can easily forget to see the see the people we’re working for and with when we’re so focused on getting sh*t done.
Don’t tell people what to do
On day two I attended a session led by Jack Skeels and Steve Wages of AgencyAgile. The talk was about team-driven briefings –the fact that a presentation by one person is not the effective way to get your team on board with client expectations and kicking off new projects. The discussion was based on the fact that as humans, we are curious in nature. We are all wired to solve problems. However, we tend to stifle the problem-solving mentality by telling our team actions to take instead of getting them to think through the problem and feel accountable. They gave us tangible insights that we can implement starting today, and I’m already contemplating how we can incorporate this more into our method of doing things at INK. At the end of the day, it’s a good reminder to pause and be more collaborative as a team to collectively work on issues together.
Nonverbal communication is just as important as what comes out of your mouth
In my last session of the academy I attended a discussion led by Mariana Lucia Marquez of Metaspeech. The session taught us why nonverbal communication during a pitch or presentation is just as important as what you say. Ultimately, it’s the combination of the two that leads to trust and gets your listeners on your side. One of the most interesting things Mariana said during the talk was that a trick to overcome being nervous when you’re giving a presentation is to remember it’s not about YOU. It’s about THEM – the people you are presenting to. This slight shift in mindset can help you focus on what truly matters. Tips and tricks such as “finding home” with your hands, lowering the pitch of your voice, having an active stance, fluid gaze, and purposeful walk were all insights she emphasized that lead to success in a presentation, conveying authenticity, confidence, and engagement.
The two days of immersive learning at The SoDA Academy was 100 percent time well-spent. Additionally, I was encouraged and invigorated by the fact that everyone at the academy was there to learn and engage with others. Instead of laptops being open through lunch, the energy was collaborative and focused on getting to know thy neighbor. I would highly recommend The SoDA Academy to any agency leader. Additionally, here are a handful of recommended books that folks at the conference recommended that I look forward to diving into as a next step: