My 5 Takeaways from Teaching at Alt Summit

The Saguaro Hotel Palm Springs

Alt is where it all started for me.

Somehow two years ago I got it in my head to apply to be a speaker at Alt. I pitched a bunch of different ideas and was chosen (woot) to speak on editing, specifically "How to Develop a Consistent Style". I prepared for weeks and the classed turned out pretty good (although it could have used some finessing).  Since then I've found the courage to pitch different classes at other conferences and even hosted my own workshop, each time honing in what works and what doesn't work. 

Upon hearing Alt Summit would be in Palm Springs, I applied again to be speaker at Alt and got those magic words from the Design Mom, Gabrielle Blair, in response, "Congratulations! You've been selected as a speaker for Alt Summit 2017." I would be teaching a photo editing workshop. I literally screamed when I got the email. 

Fast forward to Thursday morning of the conference, with my hair and makeup did, I taught photo editing to my cozy class of 25-30 attendees. The hour and fifteen minutes flew by, and I felt so completely happy with how it turned out. So I just wanted to shared some takeaways I learned from teaching at Alt this year. 

1. Unexpected challenges can foster creative problem solving and better results.  

In that same email congratulating me on being a speaker, Gabrielle snuck in a little fun surprise, "The room will not have a screen or projector. So please plan your class as a true, hands-on type workshop." Yikes. Those words haunted me. How do you teach a class about work done solely on a computer without a screen or projector? What does hands-on really mean?? Blerg. Can you feel how stressed I was?

So that was my challenge: how do I effectively teach a bunch of people "blindly"? I queried one of my handy facebook groups and got several helpful suggestions which eventually inspired my final solution. I ended up asking all the students to bring a laptop and gave them each a digital folder containing a pdf of the slides of my talking points and a Lightroom catalog for them to follow along with. I made sure my entire spiel was only twenty minutes so I could spend the rest of the time going around helping people one-on-one. Overall I think this workshop was more successful than any of my other talks, and I owe it to not having a projector. Had I had a projector and screen I imagine my workshop would have been pretty dry. The way I presented ended up being completely much more effective as I was forced to go table to table to help attendees individually and see what their specific needs were. 

2. Teaching will bring out the best or the worst of you. 

Teaching is no joke. It's not easy. It's stressful and challenging for someone like me. I honestly had to learn to be a better person while I was teaching my class. There were plenty of moments when I thought I was going to go crazy. I definitely had to exercise plenty of grace and patience, but it all worth it. 

3. Ask for help and accept it when it's offered. 

Like I mentioned before, in a facebook group I asked how I could teach an editing class without a screen or projector. The help and resources I received from that simple ask were invaluable to me. I really owe much of the success of the workshop to those who helped me in that group. So often someone else has already solved your problem, so why not take advantage of their knowledge and save yourself some of the legwork. I saved so much time figuring out my pickle by simply asking for help. You really have nothing to lose by asking for a little help. 

At my workshop I had an Alt representative. I wish I could remember his name because he was so incredibly helpful. While I was preparing to speak, my Alt rep went around helping people load the workshop material on their computers. That little bit of help was really loads and loads helpful to me. Part of my personality is to always turn away help--I never want to put someone out or inconvenience them, so over the years I've really had to learn to accept help when it's offered because utilizing the people around me is really such an invaluable asset. 

photo by justin hackworth

photo by justin hackworth

4. Trust yourself. 

When I was in college I presented a multi-million dollar housing project to Bank of America for a competition. I was super nervous, but I'll never forget what one of my teammates said to calm my nerves, "You know this material. Trust yourself." To this day her words have stuck with me. Even though I'm pretty snazzy at editing, I was scared about my workshop. What if no one learned anything? What if no one showed up? What if I didn't make sense? What if my screen/projector solution didn't work? But I knew the material backwards and forwards, so I trusted that. I trusted myself. In the end that's all I needed and everything worked out. A couple people might have even told me it was the best class they'd been to at the conference. (cue happy dance.)

5. Share knowledge generously. 

I once had a mentor who shared everything about his business with me from his business practices to his insurance agent. He was generous with his knowledge and I'm indebted to him for that, so I've always used that as a model in how I want to interact with other creatives. I tell my creative friends I have no secrets with regards to my business. And I really don't. If there's something you want to know about my business I'll share it with you. 

At my workshop I was so happy to see that the attendees were learning something. Even if it was just one small thing, I was happy I could share that with them. There's no reason for me to keep this editing knowledge to myself when I could instead be helping people with what I know. 

All in all I felt like my workshop was a total success. I'm so thankful for the people who attended my workshop, their patience with me, and the really, really good questions they asked. 


Saguaro Hotel, Palm Springs, CA. February 2, 2016 | Fuji x100s

my favorite camera bag

Whoa. The last week's been a blur. Last night I returned from Salt Lake City, Utah where I spoke at Alt Summit, a conference for creatives and bloggers.  I connected with some amazing women & brands and learned a lot.  The highlight of the conference, though, was teaching my very own class!  I taught editing and how to find your voice.  I nearly fell apart when I realized one of the bloggers I admire (and have a girl crush on) attended the class and loved it!

I'll talk some more about the class in another post, but first I wanted to thank ONA who graciously gave all my students a discount code for their new website! When I found out I'd be a speaker, I immediately reached out to ONA.  I love their bags.  They are the perfect blend of purse and camera bag.  And I refuse to use those ugly, generic camera bags that shout "I'm a camera bag. Come mug Meg! She has a camera!"  More than often, people compliment me on my bag, then swoon when I tell them it's actually my camera bag.  These bags are made of quality leather and materials.  They're durable and distribute the camera weight amazingly. Check out my feature on their blog from my Ireland trip!

So… I'd love to extend my coupon code to you! Use MEGANALT10 before January 31, 2015 to receive 10% anything in their shop.  My bag is the leather Bowery.  I'll be likely buying the Prince.  And the ONA insert is good for anyone who'd like to protect their gear in their own suitcase, messenger bag or tote!

Downtown Salt Lake City. January 24, 2015 | iphone 6

alt summit 2014 | the recap, on inspiration

1343 alt summit01 It's easy to get into a funk. I work primarily by myself in a creative field.  So while I'm constantly searching for inspiration, I don't have many people to bounce ideas off of.  That's where Alt Summit comes in.  Surrounded by creatives for three days really gave my personal store of inspiration a well needed fill up.  I listed to so many incredible speakers and met some equally incredible new friends.  I learned a lot from the speakers and my new-found friends were the perfect cheerleaders.  You see, I thought up all these great ideas but realized I was a bit too scared to execute them.  But you throw in all these amazing ladies I was meeting, and they gave me the courage to go for those new dreams and act on those new ideas.  #mindblown

So because I love lists, here are some take aways from Alt Summit.

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Align your goals with your core.  It's so easy to become overwhelmed.  In fact nowadays it seems like I'm always overwhelmed.  But in the "Overcome Overwhelm" session with Hilary Rushford of Dean Street Society and Whitney English  of the Whitney English Blog I learned that you need to strategically pick and choose which projects you work on.  When you go about saying yes to everything (like I do a lot), it's easy get bombarded with projects you're not so passionate about.  So Whitney suggested identifying your core and choosing projects based on what aligns with your overall goal.  And to figure that out you need to identify your values, passions, strengths and purpose.  During the conference I became to do some soul searching, checking in with myself and evaluating where my business is going.  Hilary and Whitney's session was the perfect way to start off the conference.

Get Creative. I went to a panel about "Growing Your Community", and my takeaway for that session was "get creative".  I do need to get creative!  Oh, yeah. I forgot!  The panel encouraged us to get creative in marketing and reaching out to our audiences.  After their talk I was inspired to try new things and experiment and just get out there.  When I was writing my thesis in architecture school, my professor assigned us five experiments.  It was up to us to create and develop experiments relating to our thesis.  For my experiments I created all sorts of interesting projects, and looking back those projects and my final thesis were some of my most creative projects.  At the time my professor assigned experiments I had no idea what to do with something so open-ended, but now I see so much value in that assignments.  In fact when I experiment with cameras and photography I certainly feel very inspired and creative.  (This panel consisted of Jen Hansard of Simple Green Smoothies, Susan petersen of Freshly Picked, Jessie Artigue of Style & Pepper and Salem Stanley of Vacation Races)

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You'll never please everyone. Maybe I am but I don't consider myself much of a person to want to please everyone.  I probably air more on the inconsiderate side. haha.  I went to a roundtable with Jill Nystrul of One Good Thing where we discussed "Creating Compelling Content For Your Blog".  I immediately liked Jill.  She gave a lot of practical advice.  And I appreciated the reminder that I'll never be able to please everyone.  It certainly reinforced what I was learning at the conference up to then.  I love a good reminder.

Progress not perfection. Ben, oh wise one.  Ben Silbermann of Pinterest gave the closing keynote, and it was just so candid and refreshing.  I met Ben at the SF Alt Pinterest Party and immediately liked him.  He's a very kind, down-to-earth guy, and his closing keynote was very much align with that first impression I had of him.   He told us not to let failure hold us down, but to instead focus on what works and build on that.  I reminded myself that every bit of progress is good progress.  I get so bogged down with wanting to be in control of everything to make things perfect, but progress not perfection is a much more realistic goal.

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This is my journey.  Oh, it is?  I lose sight of this pretty often.  I think about what I should be doing and what other people are doing.  In the "How To Get the Most Out of the Next 2 Days" session with Sara Urquhart, she emphasized "THIS IS YOUR JOURNEY".  I should map out the direction of my own business.  I am ultimately the one who lives with the consequences, who does all the dirty work, who makes all the hard decisions, so why not do it my way?  I want to figure out the best way for me, and ultimately look back on my failures and successes and know that I remained true to myself.

Lead with passion.  I walked into "Emotional Analytics: Well-Branded is the New Well-Rounded" with Erica Domesek of PS I Made This without a clue.  In the session description it just sounded great, and honestly the other sessions at that time slot sounded boring.  But this accidental session was definitely my favorite.  Erica is the exact opposite of me; at first she was hard to swallow, a little too loud and extrovert for my comfort level.  Then as I listened she grew on me.  Erica is an incredibly passionate and warm woman with a lot of ideas and a whole storehouse of energy.  She's amazing and incredibly inspiring.  Listening to her you just get the feeling that she sincerely wanted every single in that person to succeed.  I loved that about her.  It's no wonder that her businesses and blog, PS I Made This, are such successes.  She runs her life on passionate, and that alone is admirable. I want to lead with passion and to live without regret.

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Go for it.  The resounding encouragement of my fellow attendees was "GO FOR IT, MEG!!!"  I have to owe much of my positive experience to the seriously amazing ladies I met.  They just met me yet they were so confident in my abilities.  With their encouragement I've already took a leap with some of my ideas and was surprised they actually worked!  I owe it wholly to them because otherwise my fear would have kept me from pursuing my goals.  holla.

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alt summit 2014| photo styling with House of Brinson.

I haven't talked much about my experience at Alt Summit yet, but I will soon.  For now, I couldn't wait to share what I learned from Susan and William of House of Brinson.  At Alt they put on "design camps", much like a hands-on workshop.  I definitely wanted to learn about photo styling, as I know nothing about it (and I'm pretty boring/simple with my own photo styling.)  I waited in line (lots of people wanted to go to this one), and it proved to be a great choice.  At the House of Brinson photo styling design camp I learned a lot, like developing a persona or mood for consistent styling and building a library of props, textures and fabrics. (My mood is definitely girly with edge…. or maybe just manly. haha. )  Anyway,  aside from admiring House of Brinson's body of work, I appreciated their openness in teaching.  I was so fascinated with their techniques that I forgot to take notes, but thankfully, my new friend, Tina of Franklin Eighth shared the 10 Photo Styling Tips she learned from the design camp.

At the end of the design camp I quickly "styled" and photographed these two images, after watching Susan.Alt Summit | House of Brinson Photo Styling Design Camp Alt Summit | House of Brinson Photo Styling Design Camp

 Susan walked us through her thought process as she styled this floral arrangement.  Plants and flowers give life to images.  Will and Susan told us to buy multiples because you'll ultimately need backups if you change your mind or something happens.  Susan suggested that when styling flowers to cut off most of the stem to get the flowers to face the way you want.  As she styled Will took pictures with his camera mounted on a tripod, releasing the shutter with a wireless trigger.  He shoots on a long shutter, so a wireless trigger is essential to sharp images.  The light source (a nearby window) is diffused with a large diffuser.

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We were encouraged to put what we learned into practice with Susan and Will on hand to answer all of our questions and share some advice from their experiences.  Below Emmily of Charming Details gives a go at styling some flowers after the design camp.  I love how eager everyone was at implementing Susan and Will's advice into their photos.  Instagram was blowing up with pretty styling pictures from this design camp.

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I love how Susan styled these citrus fruits.  She described what made "pretty" fruits; we should look out for even skins and try to have the stems and leaves on if possible.  William suggested we ask local vendors at farmers markets to keep the stems/leaves on if we can't find them at the grocery store.  During the design camp, Susan and Will emphasized the value in planning.  In this setup I love the rich color of the linen.  Usually when I'm photographing a wedding or styling an image I want fabrics completely flat without any wrinkles.  Susan and Will emphasized texture, so they leave their fabrics unpressed and utilize them in the images to give depth and interest.  (See how their fabric isn't completely flat. Mind blown.) I also realized how beautiful a little bit of messiness can be.  It adds a touch of reality that adds a tangible dimension to pictures.  I would have never thought to cut these fruits open.  So for this setup alone I learned a ton of useful tips.

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Towards the end of the design camp, Susan briefly describe how she styles soft materials.  Using batting or tissue paper underneath these soft items, she creates depth by pulling the items off of the background.  The goal is to give the items life.

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House of Brinson is definitely a blog you'd want to follow.  Peppered with beautiful imagery House of Brinson is a visual indulgence.  And you have to see the manor they just moved into. It's beautiful!  His pictures are breathtaking and her styling is impeccable.  I love how they work together, and I think they even mentioned they were high school sweethearts.  Make sure to check them out!

alt summit 2014 | the business of business cards.

So one of the big things about Alt Summit is the business cards and the swag.  Leading up to the conference I was wracking my brain for business card ideas.  My normal business card is pretty simple, so I knew I had do something special and different for my alt cards.  I decided to include pictures on one side of my business card and my blog/website info on the other side.  I also made a note that I was a photographer and traveler so people would know what my job was and what my blog was about.  I had little buttons made to include with my business card, a pink one that said "love always" and another that had my paper plane logo on it.  I had a lot of fun talking with other bloggers and seeing what they came up with for their designs.

Alt was such a wonderful place to cultivate relationships with other bloggers as well as the perfect prescription for any lack of inspiration.  Alt was alright as a conference, but the networking and connections I made really made the conference worth it to me.  I can't wait to share more about my experience at alt in future posts.

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Cards and goodies from Me | Little RetreatsDamask LoveGladys Happy Pace | Elita | Design + Life + Kids Magical Day Weddings | Frock Files  | In Jackie's Shoes |  Quinn Cooper Style | Holly Hickey Moore Alt Summit Business Cards

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Legal Miss Sunshine | Suburban Bitches | Moorea Seal | Design Lotus | Sparrow Soirees Summer Wick | Commona My House | Jacolyn Murphy | Fletcher and Fox | Hands Occupied | Style & Pepper Alt Summit Business Cards

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This is some swag from bareMinerals (that I received at my Collectively dinner and a mini party) as well as samples from Bremenn Clinical. Alt Summit Business Cards

pictures taken with my fabulous Fuji x100s