Backstage at World Domination Summit 2013

10 July 2013 · 24 comments

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.

1 Done by Forty July 10, 2013 at 08:57

That sounds like a great event! Though I understand having to set boundaries on what you are willing to sacrifice to participate in something like that. Once committed, it becomes harder to say “no” midstream, as the additional asks of your time keep piling on.

2 Tyler Tervooren July 10, 2013 at 09:22

Love all the pictures, J.D. Thanks for being a part of the team again this year; wouldn’t have been the same without you.

3 Cody Limbaugh July 10, 2013 at 09:33

Good re-cap! The story with Tyler really made me laugh!

Saturday evening was a true highlight for me this weekend. I so enjoyed getting to know such awesome people.

The theme was perfect for me. So many of the speakers resonated with me that I would be hard-pressed to choose a favorite.

To those of us who have attended many conferences, we know that a weekend of inspiration can be short-lived. Returning to old habits usually begins Monday morning. This weekend definitely stands out from all conferences I’ve ever been to (even last year’s WDS). For me, it was a perfect mix of inspiration, information, connection and steps of action.

I know it’s been a tough time these past few months (and I miss hanging out with my friend!) but I appreciate all the work you have done.


4 jdroth July 10, 2013 at 09:35

I’m not sure why some photos aren’t loading right now. It’s something on Flickr’s end, I think…

5 Eileen July 10, 2013 at 09:46

What an event! Loved the photos (fwiw, some didn’t load for me in Feedly, but are fine when I go straight to the website….seems to happen alot in Feedly with various blogs).

I understand your hesitance to re-commit. I think it’s important to make a decision now, while your memory of just how much time/effort (and maybe $) it takes to play the same role. On a much smaller scale, I volunteered for 3 years for something and each time I swore I wouldn’t do it again. The bulk of the work couldn’t be done in advance and it took up most free time in Sept/Oct which is really my favorite time of year to get out and do stuff. I wanted to continue to help the organization but at the end of the 3rd event, I made sure to say then, that I couldn’t play the same role (but I’d be there when the event actually took place). I still wanted to help the org, but I waited about 6 months and thought about what I could do, and do at my own pace, that didn’t include weeks of work at the end. Eventually I figured out how I could help in a different way that involved one of my own interests (photography) and it was great.

Here’s hoping you can find that thing and gain some of your own world back!

6 Logan July 10, 2013 at 10:07

Hi J.D.!

Thank you for this awesome update and incorporating the intimate photos behind the curtain. Tammy and I were there in spirit of course but I really appreciated the vicarious tour and experience you characterized here. It is truly amazing that the team hosted nearly 3,000 people from around the world. Miss you all! :)

In solidarity, :)

7 Andrea @ SavingsLifestyle July 10, 2013 at 10:27

WDS had some amazing speakers, so kudos to your hard work on coordinating all that is involved with this, J.D.! For me, the best part of the weekend was the time hanging out with some amazing people. Seriously amazing!

There are truly so many moments that I’ll remember. Fireworks on Thursday and the ride home (and seeing some really interesting things in the park…). VooDoo Donuts (the donuts were delish, but the company was even better). The dinner on Saturday and Sunday evening allowed me to meet some amazing people and connect. I loved that I now have some amazing friendships as a result of being in Portland.

And, THIS says it all:

“ have to dominate your own life before you can dominate the world.”

Again, thank YOU for your work at WDS! More importantly, thank you for being a great friend and having AMAZING friends!

8 Kathleen July 10, 2013 at 10:28

It was OUTSTANDING, sir! Thanks for all your hard work. I’m excited for your next adventure.

I’ll send you the link to my photos, once they finally all upload. There are some GREAT ones of you.

9 jdroth July 10, 2013 at 10:32

Uhoh. Why am I afraid to see these photos? ;)

10 Sara "Seester" D July 10, 2013 at 10:36

Really sorry I couldn’t make it- I just finished working on the house and moved in! I am starting to save my time and money for next year. I would like to contribute some time and effort to next year’s production- please contact me off list.

JD- Thanks for being such an inspiration to me :)

11 Mitzi July 10, 2013 at 11:45

This looks like it was such a fun and empowering event. The photo are great and empowering. Thanks for sharing.

You and Leo guys are freind in my head :)

12 Kerry July 10, 2013 at 16:47

Hey JD,

I bought myself and my husband WDS tickets for my birthday, on a bit of a whim – based on watching the video from you last year. And, I have to say — it was spectacular.

The speakers were beyond incredible. Tess in particular, her story spoke so deeply to me. Her vulnerability in getting up on stage and sharing such a huge story when it doesn’t have a happy ending yet was astonishing. I went into the weekend unsure what I would get out of WDS, and what I would give, but ended up making some amazing connections. I’m now booked for an interview on a podcast about how to become a pro software nerd, and set up to be a beta tester on a wine recommendation app. Who would have guessed?

Anyhow — thanks for your hard work putting the weekend together.

13 Jeffrey Trull July 10, 2013 at 23:24

Secret’s out, you’re gonna have to ban entry by city permit next year :) But I did laugh pretty hard at that one!

Fantastic photo recap! Thanks for all your hard work to make WDS 2013 amazing, J.D.!

14 Toni July 11, 2013 at 07:24

My word for the weekend is “outstanding.” From friendships to speakers to experiences I appreciate all the work you did to make this weekend amazing. As a conference organizer I understand what goes into these things and I’m thankful you worked so hard to help create an outstanding experience for almost 3,000 people.

Above all, I loved meeting your friends and Kim. It was truly the highlight of my year. :)


15 jlcollinsnh July 11, 2013 at 08:29


Looks like a fantastic time!

OK. Rest up. You’ll be “on” again in September.

See you in Ecuador!

16 Andy Baio July 15, 2013 at 09:35

Great writeup. So fun to see everything from behind the scenes.

17 Sara July 15, 2013 at 09:42

Thanks for the backstage look and all the work you put in for WDS. This was my first year attending. The speakers were fantastic! I was at your workshop with Leo. Having too many people interested in what you have to say is a nice problem to have in a way… I didn’t noticed any other glitches, so great job!

18 Kristen Wallway July 15, 2013 at 13:04

Ha! J.D., I read Get Rich Slowly for years and occasionally drop in here to see what you have to say. As I was scrolling down through the photos, I was amazed to see that the one photo you took from March Fourth happens to be my sister-in-law, Nayana Jennings. I hadn’t even realized they played for your event. Small world. I guess that’s good, if you want to dominate it! Cheers-

19 Mindy Crary July 15, 2013 at 14:28

Oh, I LOVE that there is a secret theme for the main speakers every year!!! I was trying to figure out what that could be (not that I knew there was a secret theme, just that I wanted a through-line!). “Live your life as a story.” Awesome.

20 John Bardos July 15, 2013 at 22:47

Hi JD,

It was great to finally meet you at Powells on Tuesday.

Thanks again for all your hard work putting on another amazing event.

21 Caelan Huntress July 16, 2013 at 09:58

Thank you for the peek behind the curtain, JD! I’m just as interested in the tech-rehearsal-geekery that puts a show together as in the performance itself, and I have to commend you: this was an incredibly well orchestrated event.

Your team is incredible. Exceptional, really. Given the theme of the conference, I wouldn’t have expected anything less.

22 Britt Reints July 17, 2013 at 05:17

Everyone talks about the connections made at WDS, and those were FANTASTIC. But I was immediately impressed by the content as well. I think the official sessions were so well attended, in part, because the mainstage content was so good. I know for me I decided immediately after Nancy spoke that I wouldn’t be missing a single session.

Thank you for what you pulled together. If you never do it again, I’m grateful for all the work you did so I could hear that amazing group of presentations.

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