Last June, I helped nine friends do something crazy. With the help of a few dozen volunteers, we staged a conference at the Portland Art Museum. We called this conference the World Domination Summit. After a year of planning and tons of work and worry, five hundred people came together and…well, the experience was truly awesome.

This year, we repeated the experiment but on a larger scale. Last weekend, this same group of ten people (along with another few dozen volunteers) brought one thousand people (1007 people, to be exact) to Portland’s gorgeous Newmark Theater for another weekend of networking, sharing, and inspiration.

Logan Smith prepping for World Domination Summit 2012
Logan makes some last-minute adjustments as the crowd arrives

What is the World Domination Summit? It’s tough to describe. And I know, I know — the name doesn’t help. It’s meant to be tongue-in-cheek. This isn’t a gathering for super-villains or call girls or terrorists. Instead, WDS is a place for artists, entrepreneurs, bloggers, and world travelers to come together and compare notes.

Organizer Chris Guillebeau says that WDS is meant to answer the question: “How do you live a remarkable life in a conventional world?” He says that the conference’s core values are Community, Adventure, and Service. Jonathan Fields described the conference as “Woodstock for world changers”, and that seems apt.

Jonathan Fields tweet

Change Your Self — Change the World
We had some great speakers in 2011 for our first World Domination Summit. I feel like this year, our speakers took it to another level. (And wait until you see who we have slated for next year!)

This year, our first speaker was Dr. Brené Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston. Brown specializes in vulnerability and shame. About seven million people have watched her TEDx talk about vulnerability:

For the World Domination Summit, Brown talked about what she calls “the one true currency”. What’s that? She says, “The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what you say to someone when you’re being uncool…All the stuff that keeps you safe from feeling scary emotions? They also keep you from feeling the good emotions. You have to shake those off. You have to become vulnerable.”

She also made two profound points that are important for me and where I am in life: First, who you are will always trump who you think people want you to be. This is something I’ve learned over the past few years. Embracing it has changed my life. Next, Brown pointed out that you can’t control if someone loves you back. She says you should love them anyway. Amen.

At the end of her talk, Brown draft Chris Guillebeau and the entire first row of the theater to come on stage to help her sing Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’”. (Though to make it more uncool, she used the Glee version.) It was great fun to be in a room with 1000 people singing this song.

Brené Brown at World Domination Summit 2012
Brené Brown brought a group on stage to sing “Don’t Stop Believin’”

Our second speaker was Scott Harrison, founder of Charity: Water. (Harrison and Guillebeau met while volunteering in Africa.) I didn’t get to hear much of Harrison’s talk, but all weekend were telling me how it moved them to tears. At the end, he asked each person in the audience to give up their next birthday in order to raise money for wells in developing nations. Almost everyone agreed to do so. It was awesome.

Other speakers on the first day included Susan Cain, who spoke about the power of introverts, and Scott Belsky, who talked about making ideas happen.

Day two started with Chris Brogan giving a geeky super-hero themed talk about being brave. He talked about untangling your life from other people’s scripts. Other people’s scripts weren’t written for you, anyhow. He urged attendees not to settle, to not finish crappy books, to leave a restaurant if they don’t like the menu, and so on. He also pointed out that it’s not who you say you are that matters. It’s what you do that matters. (This was a key theme in my talk, as well.)

Adam Baker at World Domination Summit 2012
Adam Baker briefly shared about making his film, “I’m Fine, Thanks

Unfortunately, I didn’t hear the rest of the day two speakers, which included Cal Newport of the Study Hacks blog. I was the final keynote speaker, and I was nervous as hell. so, I returned to my hotel room to practice my talk.

My talk — which I’ll publish in full on Monday — was about personal transformation, about making big changes in your life. I stressed three keys to change:

  • The power of yes. Yes is an open mind. Yes is a willingness to try new things. Yes is allowing yourself to be vulnerable.
  • The power of focus. The ability to focus only on those things that are most important.
  • The power of action. The strength to work hard, to get things done.

And, in the end, I argued that once you’ve made your personal transformation, once you’ve changed into the person you want to be, it’s your responsibility to give back, to help others achieve change, too.

J.D. Roth at World Domination Summit 2012
I spoke about personal transformation (I’ll publish the talk on Monday)
(Photo by Tera Wages)

I’m not a public speaker — I’m a writer — so this was a terrifying experience for me. I prepared for weeks ahead of time, and I thought I had my talk down. In the end, however, I lost my way. After the speech, somebody asked me how I thought I did. I’d give myself a C, to be honest. It wasn’t awful (I hope), but it sure wasn’t Brené Brown!

There were other great speakers too, of course, including eighty different workshop sessions in the afternoons. There’s no way I could attend everything. But based on the response of the conference attendees, World Domination Summit 2012 was a smashing success. People loved it.

Danielle, Jacq, and Chris B. Backstage at WDS 2012
Danielle LaPorte, Jacqueline Carly, and Chris Brogan in the Green Room

Testimonials
My favorite part of the weekend was seeing the skeptics won over. I know a lot of GRS readers think WDS sounds like a bunch of New Age hippie feel-good bullshit. Or that it’s a haven for internet marketers. Neither of things is true. This conference is about making lasting change — in yourself and in others.

Chris Brogan, one of our speakers, was wary of the conference, but at the speaker dinner he confided, “J.D., if I’d known what this was about I would have been here the entire weekend. I want to come back as an attendee next year.” (Read Brogan’s conference summary for more of his thoughts on WDS.)

At The Huffington Post, Ken Solin wrote:

I don’t recall any speakers talking about making money beyond following your dreams and hopefully making a few bucks. The speakers preached being doers, not talkers. These young men and women already know something I only discovered in my sixties: Life isn’t just about stuff. They could teach their parents something about that. For the first time in a very long while, I felt hopeful about America’s future. With men and women like those attending the WDS Conference, perhaps there’s hope after all.

And here’s a text that one of our team members received after the conference was over:

WDS Praise

But my favorite endorsement? I invited a woman I’ve been dating to sit in on part of the conference. It was completely outside her experience, and she didn’t know what to expect. In the end she wrote to me: “Thank you. I really enjoyed this weekend. Thoroughly impressed, J.D.” It feels good when something you work hard to build is well received by the important people in your life.

The $100 Investment
That last section sounds a little defensive. And maybe I am. It’s just that every time I try to share about WDS at Get Rich Slowly, some readers have a knee-jerk negative reaction. They’re unwilling to accept that this might be a positive force in the world.

And ultimately, that’s what we want World Domination Summit to be: a positive force in the world. We’re constantly brainstorming ways we can make a difference, not just in the lives of our attendees, but in the world at large. One of our three core values is Service, after all.

This year, this theme could be seen in Scott Harrison’s talk about his Charity: Water project, which has raised millions of dollars to build wells in Africa. It could be seen in my own talk about personal change (which I’ll post here on Monday), which I ended by arguing that after attendees change themselves, they should change the world. And it was seen in the attendee stories session, where folks shared the projects they’ve started to change the world.

But most of all, this desire to be a positive force in the world was felt at the very end of the conference, as Chris Guillebeau sent everyone on their way. He took the stage to tell a story. And to do something radical.

Backstage at World Domination Summit 2012
Backstage at the World Domination Summit

Last year, Chris lost money on the conference. WDS has no corporate sponsors, is run entirely on volunteer help (nobody is paid), and is essentially a not-for-profit organization. For the 2011 edition of the conference, Chris lost about $30,000 of his own money. This year, he invited more people and he raised ticket prices. As a result, we had money left over.

As Chris was pondering what to do with the money, he was approached by somebody who had attended the conference last year. This person wanted to do something special, something that might make a lasting difference. After some discussion, Chris and his “anonymous donor” reached an agreement. Together, they’d give $100 to every paid attendee, and they’d encourage folks to use this money to do something awesome.

Here’s a quote from the conference send-off:

Here’s what’s going to happen. In a moment, you’re going to exit…As you leave, if you’re a paid attendee, we’re going to ask that you pick up one of these envelopes…In this envelope, you’re going to find $100. And you’re also going to find some very basic instructions.

The instructions really are quite basic. We’re calling this the $100 Investment. We want to encourage you to make an investment. We want to encourage you to start a project. We want to encourage you to invest in someone else. All in support of the theme of Community, Adventure, and Service. But it really is quite broad: The money is yours. What you do with it is up to you. I hope that you’ll tell the world what you do with it.

The $100 Investment for World Domination Summit 2012
The $100 Investment

Several times during the weekend, I was almost moved to tears. One of those times was during Chris Guillebeau’s generous introduction to my talk. (As I walked onto the stage to speak before 1000 people, I was trying not to cry.) Another one of those times was during the announcement of the $100 Investment. To me, this is what the World Domination Summit is all about: Finding awesome and creative ways to make positive changes, both in ourselves and in others.

But to me, the greatest testament to the World Domination Summit is this: Our venue has room for 924 attendees. After the conference, we allowed about a day for folks to register to return next year. We sold 843 tickets. That’s how much people love the conference. And I love it too. I know some of you are still going to hate on it. I don’t care. This reflects more on you than it does WDS. Because truly? The World Domination Summit is one of the best things I’ve ever been involved with. I’m proud to be a part of it. And I can’t wait to help present WDS 2013 next year.

Further Reading

Here are some other write-ups of last weekend’s World Domination Summit:

Were you there? Tell us about your experience!

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