Why Attend a Creative Conference? An interview with Keri Cleverly

why you should attend a creative conference from dear handmade life part two

Welcome to our interview series about attending creative conferences! Since our Craftcation Conference is just around the corner (March 26-29, 2015) we’re sharing tips and advice from Craftcation attendees for making the most of your experience at Craftcation or other creative conferences. These lovely creatives share awesome insight about how to choose a conference to attend, make the most of your time, what to bring, how to be budget-savvy and how to meet people at conferences. If you missed our first interview from this series you can read it here.

Whether you’re a creative entrepreneur or a maker, if you’re ready to take the leap and make 2015 the best year yet for your business and/or creativity and expand your community, Craftcation registration is open now. Join us for four inspiring days of hands-on craft and food workshops, business classes and community events like our ever-famous dance party and opening dinner.

This week we’re excited to share this interview we did with Keri Cleverly from Clay Road Repurposed about her experience at conferences. Keri has attended all three Craftcation Conferences. I loved reading about Keri’s experiences meeting like-minded people, deciding to start identifying as a maker and building her skills in business and craft at Craftcation. She also has some great tips on how to prepare for a conference by researching presenters and workshops before you attend and I love this quote by her about her experience:

“My first Craftcation was like opening the door to a party, and I was invited!! … I attended many business conferences in my former career, but I never experienced groups of people gathering and laughing, introducing themselves, and excitedly comparing the workshops they’d chosen to attend.”

-Nicole S.

Now onto the interview…

Please introduce yourself.

Hi, my name is Keri Cleverly. I live in Moorpark, CA. with my husband, in the home where we‘ve raised and been launching our six kids. I’ve always been a creative person and once upon a time I enrolled in college as an art major. My Dad, however, staged an intervention and (sadly) convinced me that I could never make a living in art, so I changed my major to Math and Science. After many years and many life phases, I’ve found myself free to once again pursue my creative self. I’ve been designing and sewing under the name of ClayRoadRepurposed for about five years.

Most mornings I can’t wait to finish all the “necessary” things and to get to my little workroom. Many mornings the plans for a new project wake me up too early. I love that. I call myself a Re-Maker; my business mission statement is *Repurpose-*Recycle-*Reclaim. Creating is a much different process when the resources you rely on are sourced outside the usual supply chain. That’s the part of my process that’s really difficult. It’s often time-consuming and frustrating but I am dedicated to finding my resources and reusing them without creating additional waste. Repurposing became a focus as a result of research I had done trying to learn more about recycled fabrics. In America, our efforts toward recycling our waste from the fashion industry may be earnest, but they cannot really address the mountains of castoff garments and materials produced by our out-of-control consumerism. My efforts towards reducing that waste may seem tiny but if I can pass the idea of repurposing along to others through what I create and sell, then that may contribute to a larger momentum of change.

My online presence is updated sporadically, since posting on social media is not my favorite use of my time; I’d rather be sewing! However, you can find me on FaceBook, Pinterest, Instagram (Keri Cleverly or #clayroadrepurposed), Etsy and on my blog.

What conferences have you been to?

Craftcation (which I’ve attended multiple years) has been the only conference I’ve attended, mainly because I’m not aware of other Maker conferences, and/or I’ve not learned about them in advance of the actual event.

How do you choose what conference to go to?

Reflecting back on my answer above; I have only attended Craftcation conference- mainly because it’s been the only Makers Conference I’ve known about. Otherwise I do enjoy attending workshops both in person and online. Delilah and Nicole do a great job of promoting the Craftcation conference well in advance so planning for attendance can be accomplished. I have usually signed up for Craftcation the summer before in order to take advantage of a discounted registration fee. Another influencer is that when the first notices about the upcoming Craftcation come out, there’s a lot of information already available about who will be presenting and the workshops. It’s much easier to get hooked when you know what will be offered.
And to be honest, the fact that I can drive to Craftcation has been another very enticing consideration for me.

Why is it worth it to go to a conference?

Meeting like-minded people was the main reason I felt Craftcation was a conference worth attending. Also, the guest speakers and instructors were people I recognized from online sites I visit regularly. I was familiar with their work and admired the background stories of their success. I wanted to meet them in real life, hear more about their personal experiences and have the opportunity to ask questions. Craftcation allows plenty of time for question and answer opportunities; where ideas are just flowing-and being batted back and forth among the attendees. You really can’t experience that energy through a computer screen.

How has your business changed after going to conferences?

I have always left Craftcation with a notebook full of new information and perspectives, and with my head swirling with new ideas. Implementing those ideas into my business has created a lot of positive change. Fundamentally, it may even simply be a change in the way I feel about what I do. For example, at the second Craftcation Nicole introduced us to the title “Maker”, and encouraged us to all think of ourselves in that terminology. It was actually kind of revolutionary. Being a “Crafter” sounded kind of old-school, but being a “Maker” sounded current and edgy.

What are some tips for conference goers on a budget?

I’ve been lucky so far in that Craftcation had been close enough for me to drive to and from daily. So, I don’t have lots of insight into where to stay or eat but I do save money by packing drinks and snacks so I won’t be spending extra dollars in stores. Also, I park my car on a side street away from the conference and walk a few extra minutes. It saves parking fees and the walking gets me energized.

What was your first conference like?

My first Craftcation was like opening the door to a party, and I was invited!! The lobby was decorated with handmade signs and art work. At the welcome desk I was greeted and handed lots of little gifts as well as notebooks, a tote bag, and the schedule of events. I felt totally equipped for an adventure. I attended many business conferences in my former career, but I never experienced groups of people gathering and laughing, introducing themselves, and excitedly comparing the workshops they’d chosen to attend. On the last day of the first conference, everyone was feeling melancholy that it was all over. We traded business cards and said we’d keep in touch. It was like having spent a good weekend with distant relatives at a family reunion.

What was one of your best conference moments?

For me it was attending the workshop with Sé Reed. I remember scribbling notes as fast as possible (Sé is a fast talker), and trying not to miss anything she said. I had been really weak on understanding media-techie stuff, and Sé brought us up to speed, and beyond. I really felt informed. I left that workshop with a lot of new skills and was excited to go home and tweak my contacts. Another great moment was when I attended a presentation on food preparation. I am not a food vendor, but I had an open hour and it was an unfamiliar topic, so I went. The workshop was held at the City Hall in a courtroom. The presenters, including Delilah in her apron, sat behind the bar and the attendees sat across from them in rows of chairs. I remember thinking it was a bit hysterical; the courtroom setting was too evocative- as the presenters related their stories it was like they were on trial giving their testimonies, and then as they answered our questions, it was like they were being cross-examined. I still remember that workshop as being a bit surreal.

Have you connected with new people at a conference and what are your tips for attendees to network at conferences?

The workshops and round tables are great venues for introducing yourself and meeting new people. You just can’t be shy, it won’t benefit you. Although I am not naturally an extrovert, I made it a priority to connect with as many people as possible. Everyone I met turned out to be, at the very least pleasant, and at the most a real joy to meet. Just assume it’s going to have to be you to say hello first and to get the ball rolling. I don’t remember anyone that I met who would have rather been just left alone to themselves. Everyone is looking to connect.

What are the essential things you bring to a conference?

Honestly, this is a loaded question for me. I’ve never been the type to just carry a pen and pad around. My everyday purse is literally a piece of luggage. Having said that; be sure to bring a water bottle (especially by the last day of Craftcation, the water tanks are empty), something to take notes with and to make sketches, business cards, small projects to give away, a laptop to Google new ideas and information on presenters, snacks, gum, mints, Tylenol, (one woman brought her toothbrush, and when I saw that I wished I’d brought mine too), comfortable shoes, a sweater (the conference rooms get cold), money for afternoon coffee, and OF COURSE money for thrift store shopping at lunchtime.

How do you prepare for going to a conference?

The weeks before the conference, I spend time researching the guest speakers and presenters. I try to familiarize myself with their businesses, products and talents. Often while doing this, I’ll make a list of questions that I may want to ask if they have a question and answer forum. I also check out the website to find the sponsors for the conference, and what their products are as well.

How do you make the most out of your conference experience?

I have met some amazing fellow Makers during hands-on workshops so I always choose a few of those to participate in. Also, I schedule as much each day as possible by attending an event every hour. I have always learned new things even when the topic is something I’m very familiar with. The main presentations I try not to miss are on topics that I need to learn more about, skills that I wish to be introduced to, or in areas where I have a weakness. The point is to not waste any time and to take full advantage of all the cumulative talent that’s available.

How do you apply what you’ve learned to your business/creative pursuit?

Throughout the conference I’ve kept it in mind that my business will hopefully grow and change, then I’m more inclined to attend presentations where more seasoned information is being offered. The information may not apply to me at the time, but down the road it might be very helpful. Also, after each Craftcation, I bounce around the new ideas I picked up with my family and friends who are familiar with my small business. I ask them to be open and to give feedback about how these new ideas might improve what I do.

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