The Diabetes UnConference experience.

Over the past two years, many people have questioned me about the Diabetes UnConference. What happens? How do you decide what to talk about? What do you mean, “meaningful connections”? And what’s that no-social-media thing all about? I’ll tell you, in the past two weeks, I even had someone call me out on Twitter over that last one.

So, from start to finish, let me walk you through what a participant experiences when they sign up to attend the Diabetes UnConference.
To begin with… when you sign up, you’re on the list. That’s my term. But whatever term you might use, you are on the list. You’re added to the list of attendees who will receive e-mails about what to expect when you arrive. What the meeting rooms are like (they’re often a little cold). What meals are part of the UnConference schedule. Timing of the different events.

You’re also on the list receiving the survey. The important survey where you list the things you really want to talk about on UnConference weekend. Hey, we’re the experts in our diabetes. The UnConference idea centers around the attendees setting the agenda and sharing what they know, instead of another guy in a blue suit and red tie showing you his PowerPoint presentation. The survey results are compiled, and as much as possible, we try to include all the subjects important to the PWDs (People With Diabetes) and PLUs (People who Love Us) that will be joining us.

But you’re not on a list, or on an island, by yourself. You’re also added to the Diabetes UnConference Facebook group, the one that includes only the attendees and facilitators for your specific UnConference. This is where the bonding begins, where people start to get to know one another. Where the tribe begins to form. We begin with introductions and share stories well in advance of our weekend together.

Wow, we haven’t even gotten to the actual UnConference yet. Stay with me.

Registration begins on Friday afternoon. For the facilitators, it’s a chance to meet new attendees for the first time and answer any questions. For returning attendees, it’s a chance for smiles and hugs and a little catching up before our meet and greet on Friday evening.

At the meet and greet, attendees are finally in the same space all together for the first time. Old friendships are made new again. New friendships begin to take hold. I usually hear a lot of comments like “Oooh, I like the color of your pump”, or “I make that too, but I do it gluten free and it’s delicious”, or “Where did you find that cute patch to go over your CGM sensor?”. All of that sets us up for Saturday and Sunday.

Saturday, we start to delve into the things that matter most to the people in attendance. Just a few topics are covered with everyone in the room. Mostly, PWDs gather to talk about what PWDs told us they wanted to talk about, and PLUs discuss things they shared via their survey. These are the moments that can be the funniest, the most raw, the most scary, and everything in between. And this is the reason for the no-social-media-during-the-sessions policy.

When people are sharing things that, in some cases, they have held close to their heart for many years, it would just be unfair to share that with the rest of the world via Twitter or Facebook. That is not why someone opens themselves up like that. They do it because they’re in a place where they feel protected, safe, without judgement. It is a protective cocoon where members of the tribe know there are no wrong questions. It’s a place where people can speak and know others are listening instead of reading another online news story on their phone. It’s where we feel respected. Where we feel valued as members of the tribe.

Often, at meals, in between sessions, and even during sessions sometimes, additional conversations are taking place in the hallways among people who connect even further on specific subjects that are more important to them than anything else going on anywhere else at that time. This is all part of those “meaningful connections” we often speak about.

Saturday night, the group gets together for a bit of a party or an outing as a group. After a day full of discussion on some heavy subjects, we need a little time to blow off some steam. So if you see posts of people letting go on Saturday night, this is why.

Once the last session is complete on Sunday, and people begin to head home, there are hugs and tearful goodbyes and contact information exchanged. There is a lot of hanging around and sharing one on one or two on two, etc. This can last for hours after. First-time attendees become alumni. Alumni look forward to continuing the conversation via the Diabetes UnConference Alumni group on Facebook, where alumni from all the UnConferences talk about their achievements, or vent about their frustrating day. Once the tribe forms, you’re part of the tribe forever.

You know, that’s a lot of stuff packed into just three days. Three days plus the time leading up to the UnConference, and the lifetime of friendships that come after. Still, a lot of stuff.

Yes, the Diabetes UnConference is unique. No, it’s not exclusive in any way. Yes, you will be welcomed as an equal whether diabetes has been a part of your life for 50 years or 50 days. It’s not always about “hey, I was able to lower my A1c”, though that happens sometimes. It’s more about knowing you are the expert in your diabetes, regardless of where your A1c sits at the moment. It’s about a shared experience with people who, if you let them, will be a part of your life for the rest of your life.

The Diabetes UnConference Las Vegas will be February 10 -12, 2017. To join the tribe, register here:

Full disclosure: I am part of the 2017 team of facilitators for the Diabetes UnConference.

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