It finally happened. From my introduction into the business world, I always felt I had something to say or contribute, something to explain. Later I’d realize that what I was gunning for was an opportunity to prove my intelligence, to be known as knowledgeable in the room. All for what?  In corporate conferences over the years, I’d find myself watching the subtleties of speakers on stage as they applied the gamut of gimmicks to captivate the audience at hand. I’d watch how what they had to say would compel people to stand at the end of the stage after the session, waiting for those few seconds of interaction. Then I’d watch as other people in the same audience would slip out the back only to beat the line for a quick coffee. Some speakers cared more and others cared less about the impact they had, but the common ground is that they all seemed to possess this higher level of knowledge than the people listening on and it was intoxicating to me. How foolish. Maybe it wasn’t that. Maybe, somewhere deep in my mind, I want to be a performer. You know, how cool would it be to drop down into a breakdance any time I felt nervous and then pop up into some unsightly version of a cheerleader high kick because I’m just not that flexible. Shouting hoo-rahs about how the world goes around when I have no idea. I’d rather just tell my story and that’s just what Chris was asking me to do.

Chris Garcia, the Creative Director for the Houston Astros, a crazy talented fellow designer and friend asked if I would be available to photograph, film, and speak at a conference he had put together to bring all designers from Major League Baseball together, MLC Connect. He went on to explain that he wanted me to detail my passions and tactics on collaboration. After all, I had just gotten back from Africa where I had been commissioned to photograph a diving school all based on a simple connection with a fellow traveler that I had met some time before while backpacking through France.

Chris outlined that I’d be speaking in tandem with another mind-blowing creative, Ismael Burciaga, founder of his own conference, Circles, explaining that it would bring clarity to the idea of collaboration in action. I had met Ismael through a distant design colleague who connected us over Twitter when he saw that we were both creating these funky fresh graphics called Cinemagraphs. When I learned more of Ismael’s conference, I immediately called Chris and told him that he had to check it out. As talent would have it, these guys hit it off and started collaborating on ideas all their own.

Then there I was, on stage, facing the crowd instead of being a face in it. The audience had to listen to me. They could choose to take notes or simply illuminate me out with electronics that were hard at work pulling data into a weak service area but regardless, I was up there. Leading up to the day, anyone I talked with about the event would ask if I would be nervous to speak. I’d always laugh and tell them that I equated it to something before a college basketball game (yeah, lame women’s basketball). I would go on to explain what can’t be told second-hand about how you spend all this time preparing for something without anxiety until moments before the game. Then in those seconds just before go-time, all hell would break loose inside.

That moment came there on stage, as I gathered my voice. The familiar butterflies began to whirl and that’s when the unexpected exploded; Irony. It was irony man. After all this time of feeling that I had so much to tell the world, I felt speechless and humbled instead. Standing abreast a room full of creative directors and graphic designers from all around the nation, what could I possibly have to say to them that they didn’t already know themselves? These weren’t new kids on the block (although Step by Step goes hard!). They were the beautiful minds behind some of  the nation’s most home-grown brands. Each person in the room had been hand-picked to represent the aesthetics of their city’s Major League Baseball team, a feat not for the faint of heart. Realizing the lateral nature of anything I had to say, I talked in terms of what works for me and recognized that what I did compared to what they do could be night and day different even if we were all opening the same Adobe product line to glide pixels across a canvas (Illustrator, Photoshop, InDesign and others). I quickly found myself searching for the knowledge that the room had as a whole, rather than pretending to be hot shit. I wanted to know what they thought, how they worked. I found myself wondering what their work environments were like, and what kind of music they listened to. Did they IV themselves into heavy bass headphones and rock 80’s music into the early hours of the night? How did they handle when a client or boss gave a negative response to their work? Anyone in that room could have been the speaker. And I was just lucky that it was me.

It was surreal to talk collaboratively instead of in a usual pecking order sort of way that corporate conferences seem to do. We all know different things and can do them just a little bit more effectively and I was glad that was my first experience as a speaker was in front of a room full of people all better at something than me, in some way or another. Ross from the LA Dodgers and Mike from the New York Mets had my full attention as I watched their major league stories unravel. These guys have seen a lifetime of culture become history and I had nothing but mad respect for them. Ben Jenkins, another speaker who runs many of his own businesses had me so wired to be better at my whole fucking life because this dude does it burning rubber in an Airstream just knocking shit out. I met Charlie, from Focus Labs and his beautiful wife, Kelly. I observed how Charlie was managing his business and personal life by meshing them together to bring Kelly to the conference (I have a real kind of girl crush on how cool this chick is). I felt this warm sense of excitement and hope for my own relationship because I’m lucky enough to have a kickass guy, Drew, who is just down for anything, can talk with anyone, and loves me for me. This conference opened my eyes to what the next 5 years of my life could look like. My passion for collaboration exploded even more after this conference and I realize in every day how it is the single-most important contributing factor to any business success I’ll ever have. People are so badass. I can’t thank Chris enough for having me and hope you enjoy the moments I captured through both photography and film.

MLC Connect :: 2014 from maigen sawyer on Vimeo.

mlc-connect-logo mlc-connect-circles-conference mlc-connect-chris-garcia mlc-connect-attendees mlc-connect-ben-jennings mlc-connect-astros mlc-connect-speaker mlc-connect-burciaga mlc-connect-speaking mlc-connect-focus-lab