Backstage at World Domination Summit 2013

by J.D. Roth

Yes, I know I haven’t updated this site in almost a month. To be honest, I haven’t done much of anything for the past few weeks — except work on this year’s World Domination Summit.

Last weekend, we brought nearly 3000 people to Portland to talk about community, service, and adventure. A million-dollar production like this takes a lot of work. More than you can possibly imagine. And so, I’ve been too busy to do anything else.

The hard work is now finished, though, and the conference is over. Our last official meeting about WDS 2013 will take place this evening. From what we can tell, it was a wild success. Beyond our wildest dreams, in fact. (Yes, there were some glitches. But the good stuff far outweighed the glitches.)

There are lost of attendee photos floating around the interwebs, but few from backstage. As I do every year, I carried my camera with me constantly so that I could document things from behind the scenes. Here are a few of my favorite moments from WDS 2013.

Let's get this party started! #wds2013
World Domination Summit…on the marquee of Portland’s best theater for almost a week!

Let's get this party started! #wds2013
Loading the trucks to take stuff to the venues.

Preparing to kick off the World Float, the first official event of WDS 2013.

We set a world record by creating a 620-person floating human chain.

Our media crew was on hand to document the event. So was the local news.

Meanwhile, our volunteers were working hard to prepare for registration at Director Park.

At the main venue, the tech crew was building the set and working with speakers and their slides.

Chris G. and Don Miller conferring on stage during rehearsal.

On Friday evening, we held our opening party at the Oregon Zoo.

Entertainment was provided by March Fourth, a combination marching band and circus act.

As always, my role on the planning team this year was to recruit and co-ordinate speakers. It’s a job I enjoy. It’s fun to create a cohesive arc from ten different presenters.

Every year, I work with a secret sub-theme as we put together the line-up. Last year, the secret them was: “Change yourself, change the world.” This year’s secret them was: “Live your life as a story.” As event organizer Chris Guillebeau and I chose speakers, I looked for folks like Nancy Duarte, people whose messages are clearly about story. I also looked for people with compelling stories to tell. And, when our line-up was set, I asked speakers to consider how their talks might be integrated into this unofficial theme.

The doors open at WDS 2013
On Saturday morning, doors opened for the main event. It took 48 minutes to fill the house.

WDS 2013 Attendees listen intently to a speaker
The audience was completely engaged with the speakers.

Jolie Guillebeau helps Superman (aka Darren Rowse) prepare for his entrance at WDS 2013
Problogger Darren Rowse shared his childhood dream to become Superman.
Backstage, Jolie Guillebeau helped him make that dream come true.

Bob from Bob’s Red Mill spoke about putting people before profit. [photo by Amrosa Studios]

Backstage at WDS 2013 during Jia Jiang's talk
At the tech station stage-right as Jia Jiang talks about learning from rejection.

Improv performer Gary Hirsch turned the audience into a rock band.

Journalist Tess Vigeland told her raw, personal story on stage. Here, she steels herself for her talk.

Tess took to the audience to ask some questions. Here she’s surprised by Carol Wain.

Steve Schalchlin was joined on-stage by the Portland Gay Men’s Chorus.

We wanted to end the weekend with a champagne sendoff. We settled for sparkling cider instead.

Among the glitches this year was the fact we underestimated demand for workshops. Our attendees put together a lot of amazing unofficial events over the course of the weekend, and we thought they’d draw more folks. We were wrong. As a result, workshops were overcrowded and we had to turn people away.

This year, I partnered with Leo from Zen Habits to create a workshop on overcoming fear and building confidence. We had a great time planning it, and thought we were well-prepared for our 150-person venue. We printed 200 handouts just to be safe. But when far more than 200 folks showed up to hear us (we think there were about 250), we had to improvise on the spot. We did the best we could given the situation, but we had to scrap much of our planned presentation.

Here I am improvising (literally!) during our workshop. [photo by Amrosa Studios]

After the conference was over, we held a massive dance party in Portland’s Pioneer Courthouse Square. As he has every year, DJ Prashant taught attendees Bollywood dancing.

See the guy on the ground in front of the stage? That’s me… [photo by Amrosa Studios]

…the photo I was snapping in the scene above. DJ Prashant teaching the crowd to dance.

Toni Anderson and Andrea Deckard have smooth moves.

My favorite story from backstage this weekend: When the event was over, as the after-party started, I hosted a dinner for the speakers. I was joined by WDS planning team member (and friend) Tyler Tervooren. After dinner, we walked to the dance party. Unfortunately, Tyler had lost his nametag, which was required to enter the square.

“But I’m one of the organizers,” Tyler said.

“It doesn’t matter,” the woman guarding the entry said.

“Really?” I said. “I can vouch for him. He’s been planning this for months.”

“I’m sorry,” she said.

Tyler seemed stumped for a moment, but I could see the gears working in his head. “How about this?” he said at last, as he fished in his pocket. “This piece of paper is the event-use permit for this party. It’s the document I had to sign with the city to rent this park. That’s my signature. Here’s my driver license to verify it.”

The woman laughed. “Okay,” she said. “You can go in.”

Tyler, producing the party permit in order to get in…

The best part of World Domination Summit is meeting the attendees. The people who come to this event are amazing. Unfortunately, I have less time to do that each year. This year, I managed to have dinner with attendees on Saturday night. I also spent most of Monday and Tuesday meeting with folks too. (I particularly enjoyed dinner on Monday night. Kim and I joined speakers Tess Vigeland and Jia Jiang as well as some close blogging colleagues. We had a great meal and a great conversation.)

Dinner with speaker Jia Jiang and some of my friends who attended WDS 2013

Now, I’m tired. Producing WDS 2013 took a lot out of me this year, physically and mentally and emotionally. I’m drained. It’s been two or three months since I’ve had time to work on my own projects. (As I mentioned already, it’s been an entire month since I had time to even update this site.) I love World Domination Summit, and I’d love to be a part of it in the future. But I’m not sure it’s worth the sacrifices I’ve had to make. After all, you have to dominate your own life before you can dominate the world.

Updated: 10 July 2013

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