Why I’m in Oxford

It’s 4pm and I’m sipping coffee in a small café in Oxford as I type these words. I’m here for Smashing Conference, which takes place over the following 2 days.

I had no intentions of coming to Smashing Conf. As a freelancer, I carefully weigh up which conferences to attend each year. And since Smashing Conf isn’t cheap ($499 / £326), it wasn’t on my shortlist.

This is the story of why I purchased a ticket without thinking twice.

It’s Saturday, 21st November and I’m in Munich, Germany for MODXpo 2015. The first day is coming to a close. At 17:50, Vitaly Friedman (of Smashing Magazine and Smashing Conf fame) walks on stage. He’s the 9th and final speaker of the day. The audience is tired and hungry. Another 40 minutes and I can dig into some pizza and have a beer, I thought.

About 5 minutes before he was scheduled to finish, Vitaly said he still had a 1000 slides to go. The audience laughed. And then he showed us his slide deck. He wasn’t joking.

My memory of what Vitaly specifically talked about is vague, but I do distinctly remember Vitaly’s enthusiasm and energy, and how engrossed the audience were. Which was no mean feat, considering he was the last speaker of a very long day.

The talk moved from travel photos and tips (which were brilliant), to observations on the current state of web design, to pattern libraries, responsive components, accessibility, and everything in between.

At 19:30, pizza and beer was served. Vitaly was still on stage. Everyone was free to leave, of course. But the majority didn’t. We were captivated and wanted more.

The conference organisers jumped on stage at 20:30, obviously nervous about Vitaly’s overrun performance, and asked if the audience were happy for Vitaly to continue. Of course we were. And so he did.

The clock was getting on 22:00 before Vitaly finished up, and it certainly wasn’t a lack of material or energy that caused him to do so. It’s the best talk I’ve ever seen.

I noticed two things about Vitaly.

First, he’s passionate and cares deeply about what he does. Passion is a word that is thrown around a lot these day, but if there was ever a person deserving of the word, here he was.

And secondly, he was incredibly generous. Generous with his time and with his knowledge.

On my nownownow.com profile, I wrote: “You get more out of a relationship if you expect nothing in return. Give freely and the universe has a way of paying you back.”

I could not think of a better example than this story.

And that’s why I’m sat here in Oxford.

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