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The Lavacon 2013 Conference – a Review and Travelogue / by Ed Marsh

I last attended a conference in the late 90s (say what you will about that). This year I got back into the "con" scene. I attended the Philly STC chapter's intimate Mid-Atlantic conference and more recently, the blockbuster Lavacon conference for content strategy and technical communication folks in October, held in Portland, OR.


Lavacon was jam-packed with sessions and keynotes; frankly, by the end of the conference I was pretty burnt out and exhausted from trying to absorb all the knowledge. The speakers were all knowledgeable, including rock stars like Joe Gollner, Sarah O’Keefe and Ann Rockley, as well as some new faces like Noz Urbina and Misty Weaver. Many spoke about how to prove the value we as content professionals provide; others gave concrete case studies of content successes at work. At every session I took something away that I could immediately apply at work. I collected some of the important links I heard on my blog. You can also view most, if not all, of the 2013 Lavacon presentations on SlideShare.

What’s changed since the last time I went to a conference?

The conference food. It sure has come a long way since the 90s. For the foodies among us, myself included, Lavacon was paradise. The food alone made it worth the price of admission. How often can you say that? Our first meal was a plated, sit-down lunch complete with a cellist. Lunch on day two featured a "live" salad bar, and every meal was outstanding. Never let it be said Mr. Jack Molisani doesn't know how to throw a great party!

Live salad bar, Lavacon 2013
Live Salad Bar, Lavacon 2013
The “live” salad bar. Photo by Ed Marsh

For me, the biggest difference was the change in technology. Twitter was invaluable to make introductions and learn from others. Attendees tweeted relevant quotes from their sessions, and through these interactions I met many new friends and Twitter followers. I got to finally meet many people, in person, from across the country that I had only known for 140 characters at a time. Twitter also served as a session and event schedule.

I also used Evernote for the entire conference, on my iPad, as my note-taking and business card-scanning tool. I even wrote the first draft of this article on my phone in Evernote. My iPad ended up being all I needed to take from session to session; a laptop is now a heavy, unnecessary item.

Extracurricular events

Oh, the social events…

On the Saturday before the conference, the Lavacon team organized a trip to the iconic Multnomah Falls and three other waterfalls that are an hour’s drive from downtown Portland. Already on board when the van picked us up at the hotel was Google Glass aficionado Marta Rauch, and fellow New Jersey native Danielle Villegas, theTechCommGeekMom. It was a great way to start off our trip with some breathtaking views. Any thoughts of being corralled into sessions for several days were few.

Portland Falls Tour. Photo by Ed Marsh

The Pacific Northwest is a haven for hops (most US hops are grown in the region), and beer lovers like me will not be left wanting. Many an evening ended at either Rogue or Deschutes breweries, both of which are restaurants with great pub food. For those of you less inclined to beer, Portland is also known for its vast collection of food trucks.

If you are a content pro, you shouldn’t miss Powell’s Books. If you go early or stay late, the Saturday Market is an eclectic collection of shopping, food and stalls full of artisans and their goods.

If you appreciate nature, bring your camera to the Portland Japanese Garden, which is particularly gorgeous (if not a bit misty) with the autumn colors.

Also, if you go to Lavacon, be sure to attend the karaoke night. Yes, I know, I know; I'm a drummer and I hate karaoke, too. But as a social event it's an unparalleled night of laughter.

To sum up, there’s something for everyone at both Portland, Oregon and Lavacon. I could go on and on about how great Lavacon was overall, but I will keep this summary brief by saying I fully intend to go back next year, and you should be there, too.