Sunday, November 13, 2011

Seen Through My Eyes: Reflections on the YAA Conference

From the moment our plane touched down in Austin, Texas, I experienced a busy and meaningful time of connection with the Young Adult Alliance (YAA)! I observed and participated in this conference with unique eyes as I live in Calgary (Alberta, Canada) with my (Canadian) husband, Mike; am a supporter to him and the other young adult cancer survivors I’ve met; and am also an advocate for young adult cancer awareness. Although it sounds cliché to say it, both my husband and I were very honored to attend this annual meeting and hit the ground running with new-to-us faces, organizations, and a fervent zeal that was refreshing to engage in with others.

After a long day of traveling from Ottawa but a beautiful last flight, we arrived at the Omni Hotel in downtown Austin for the event. I did what any self-respecting traveler would do after a long day: tried out the bed!

It was nice, let me assure you.

After exploring the hotel we decided to grab a late-night dinner, chatting with a few people around the hotel but mainly getting excited about the event officially beginning soon.

Our initial impression of Austin was that it was a fun, thriving, “young” city, and the Omni Hotel left a similarly positive impression on us both as we enjoyed some food (fresh fish tacos! When in Rome…) and hit the hay for a full upcoming day. Wednesday began, after a short morning workout in their spacious gym, with our favorite meal of the day downstairs: breakfast! I’m always on the lookout for accommodations with healthy breakfast foods, and the Omni Hotel did not disappoint! I was thrilled to see steel cut oatmeal, fresh fruit options, strong coffee, my favorite nut butters, and even fage yogurt alongside the hot options like omelettes, waffles, and French toast. A healthy, delicious breakfast makes for one happy supporter!

Speaking of options, throughout the conference I was very pleased with the amount of optional breakout sessions that have were available to attendees to choose from and attend. Not wanting to miss any opportunity for learning and new information, my husband and I went to “How to Speak to the Media” by Jen Mills, Emily Peterson, and Amy Berry. It was jam-packed with information about public relations, including very practical “how to” moments with the opportunity to write down your own strengths, weakness, opportunities, and threats as a company or individual. It also highlighted the elbow work that has to go into solid PRC for a company – it’s labor intensive, requires hard work, and thrives best off of building into relationships with the media around you. This was extremely helpful for my husband with his new job at the Tom Baker Cancer Center in Calgary as well as for me personally as I begin to re-establish my job as a mobile personal trainer. I especially liked how engaging the session was, cancer or not, because it was practical and gave me tools to walk away with as I left.

The second session we attended and loved was entitled, “R2iSMASH: Tapping the Social Web to Reach Potential Members and Donors.” This session, run by Brock Yetso, Craig Lustig, Chris Chodnicki, and Samantha DeVita, was also full of relevant information because in the new field of young adult cancer, learning how to engage with and utilize social media goes a long way. Those affected directly (young adult survivors) are plugged into sites such as YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter, and knowing not only how to work those sites but how to engage in and build a community using those sites is extremely beneficial. Some key points to share that benefit everyone using social media:

1.) Get your house in order. In other words, perform a social media “audit” on yourself or your company in order to know how much of an influencer you are and whether or not you are truly engaging with your followers. (Helpful tools include Google Analytics, Hootsuite for Twitter, Facebook Insights, Klout, YouTube Insights, and Radian 6.)

2.) Publish audience-centered content that’s relevant. If the information isn’t applicable, then it doesn’t really matter! We all want to be spreading news as advocates, but we have to make sure what we’re spreading is information that those in the community want to hear. And lastly,

3.) Engage members and build relationships with influencers and brand advocates. Although the workshop was set up with a company’s social impact in mind, the information can certainly be brought to a personal level too as most of us today are using many, if not all, of the social media platforms out there. The truth is that if we are pumping information out, updating pages, and happy with the number of “likes” or “retweets” we’re seeing, if we’re not intentionally engaging with the social communities we’re helping to create then no true change is going to come from it. Those relationships must be maintained throughout the year and grown so they can take off on their own, member to member.

I was also reminded that it’s important to use each resource to its fullest advantage. For example, Twitter might be a great place to repost fast-acting, timely news targeted toward your demographic, while Facebook might work better for people posting photos and engaging with community events through your page. At the same time, a website or blog might lump them all together while streaming videos through YouTube is probably the most effective place to post film.

There was so much to take in, and as both a supporter and an advocate I got a lot out of the sessions because cancer or not, they related to me personally. I was also encouraged to see the positive benefits of what being intentional with technology can bring and reminded of how we can really use it to affect greater change than we perhaps ever could have before.

The power of social media: “Movember” in action.

From large group sessions to breakout workshops, from strolling the streets with new friends to networking over drinks, I learned so much throughout this conference and am so thankful we were able to interact with this thriving, passionate community in the United States. It’s a reminder to me of why Mike and I do what we do – why we choose to be involved and how we can be more effective in our involvement. I savored every bite, appreciated every moment, and enjoyed each experience and left with a sense of renewed vision and purpose in my role as a supporter and fellow advocate.

Learning, living, and growing,



  1. Social media can be used a number of ways by non-profits organizations, grassroots charitable efforts and those battling against cancer (like you mentioned) looking to connect with others in similar situations or like-minded individuals. Having the right platforms help but just being aware they exist is a great start. This sounds like it was a wonderful event!

    Best wishes,
    Community Manager | Radian6

  2. Thanks for the info. Getting more heavily involved as I take the position as section editor for the patient section of the Cancer Knowledge Network


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