Inspirefest 2018: A love letter to the launching pad of ideas
In a world where conference organisers continue to weasel out of having gender parity between speakers, Inspirefest goes above and beyond and commits to have 65% women speakers. This gives the lie to anyone claiming that they can’t find women speakers. They’re just not trying hard enough or looking in the right places. The speakers come from diverse backgrounds, from all over the world and all age groups - the youngest speaker this year was 11 years old. And if all this sounds a bit “too sweet to be wholesome,” as my mother would say, it’s not. There is plenty of food for thought and it shapes up to a fascinating two days of inspiring talks across a wide range of topics from personal stories, technology, finance, engineering, science and the arts. Thanks to a sponsored bursary programme, tiered pricing for “boot-strapped start ups”, low and precarious income pricing and an international presence the attendees at the conference are almost as diverse as the speakers.
Taking place in the Bord Gais Energy Theatre the conference manages to feel both intimate and expansive. Connections made during the breaks and at the fringe events in the evening can lead to lifelong friendships, business partnerships, funding and the support to share a secretly guarded idea with the world. The on-stage talks form the basis for the off-stage conversations. You can almost see lightbulbs flashing on and off over heads in the audience!
I take copious notes every year and soundbites of wisdom from previous years still resonate. From 2016: “when was the last time you did something for the first time?” from Raju Narisetti, from the following year: “Say yes more than you say no” and “don’t stay on the path if you’re not happy” from France A Córdova. It’s still too early to say which of the many thought-provoking statements will become mantras in the years ahead, but a few of the top contenders were from Shaun O’Boyle’s talk on House of Stem about not being afraid to hear no, Katie Burke’s observation that “sometimes we overshare the bad news and don’t emphasize the good news”. Or from New Yorker cartoonist, Liza Donnelly’s spellbinding talk “Listen. Watch. Wait. Observe”.
There is a band of loyal Inspirefest attendees, both in the audience and among the past and present speakers, who return every year (myself included, my biggest regret is that I missed the very first Inspirefest!). Those who can’t physically be there make their presence felt on Twitter where #InspireFest trended and previous speakers connected with current ones. The feeling of friendship, encouragement and family comes from the top down, from founder and all around national treasure, Ann O’Dea. This year I decided to volunteer and was surprised to see Ann at the volunteer training session on a Saturday morning just a few weeks before the event. I’ve volunteered at a variety of organisations in different capacities over the years but this was the first time I can remember the CEO attending a volunteer training session for an event. Ann welcomed and thanked the volunteers before Inspirefest and Bord Gais Energy Theatre staff led us on a venue walkthrough.
Being a volunteer gave me an even greater appreciation of all the hard work that goes into making such a big event seem so effortless! It also means that I still have half of the Inspirefest talks to look forward to, the ones I missed when I was accompanying speakers to the green room or retrieving lost property or sitting in the cloakroom. Luckily Silicon Republic will keep me going, I’m going to try to ration the talks to make the Inspirefest magic last just a little bit longer. I'll also be downloading the Inspirefest podcast for interviews with the speakers and panellists. And I’m going to start working on my secretly guarded idea that I started to bring into public view in conversations at the Fringe events. Watch this space! In the meantime, limited ultra early bird tickets for Inspirefest 2019 are already on sale. Do yourself a favour, book one today and give yourself something to look forward to next June.