I’m back in the office after a life-changing trip to Fishers Indiana. The first annual CU Watercooler Symposium was a giant success. It was an experiment that could have gone totally wrong. As a meeting planner and public speaker for years, I have to say it had so many opportunities to implode. The planning was unconventional, the coordinators for the most part inexperienced, the venue, a credit union – and did I mention in Fishers Indiana?

I was one of 11 editors tasked with pulling this off. I “hired” a speaker for expenses only. Always dicey. Let’s face it – there are two schools of thought on this strategy. You get what you pay for and he doesn’t really have a contract so if something better comes up, I’m screwed.

I met my speaker choice the night before the gig. I trusted that he would a. show up, b. show up sober and c. deliver the goods. I’m happy to say he did all three and more. He was so great CU Times approached him directly after his speech and this appeared by the end of the day!

The Watercooler was streaming live to audiences all over the nation. Most attendees live tweeted. There was no place to hide. The CU Warrior and Tim McAlpine just put it out there. And it was brilliant. They took everything we hold sacred in the conference arena and just tossed it lovingly out the window.

The biggest difference for me though was not the agenda, or the way speakers were “found” but the audience. These people wanted to be there. There was no golf, we stayed at the Hampton, we ate buffet food and we partied at Cheeseburger in Paradise.

It felt like some weird version of summer camp. At the end there was hugging and “see you next years” and a sense of belonging I’ve seldom felt at a regular conference. In just two short days there was bonding on the level of a DE or CUNA Management School. We worked hard, we played hard.

At this stage in my career, I feel very blessed to have been a part of this. A page has turned. Here’s to the next 10 years. The 2020 vision of credit union conferences is changing. Long live the Watercooler!

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