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innovative meetings Jennifer N. Dienst

traditional keynote presentations and panel discussions — although DIG SOUTH had those as well. Interactive sessions that allowed the audience to co-create the experience and connect more intimately with each other took precedence. “Speed Dating for Startups” let attendees chat up presenters in a 45-minute, round-robin–style conver- sation about whatever they wanted; while the “Straight to Video” workshop let them show their YouTube or Vimeo videos to experts and get one-on-one advice on production, editing, and other topics. And, steering away from hyper- specific education tracks, Gray designed all of DIG SOUTH’s sessions to include an array of experts representing the entire spectrum of the audience — including a panel with an app developer, a software developer, and a nutritionist who uses apps in her work with clients. In addition to showcasing that the

Southeast is a hotbed for innovation with speakers like Katie Caperton, editor-in-chief of Atlanta-based HLNtv. com, Gray brought in success stories for inspiration. For example, speaker Holly Burns, content strategist at Facebook, was formerly an editor at Charleston magazine. “For me, that was symbolic,” Gray said. “If you can launch out of Atlanta, there’s no reason why the next Facebook or Twitter can’t be launched here in Charleston.”

MUSIC + MOBILE Taking cues from SXSW, Gray supple- mented DIG SOUTH’s conference and expo with the Sideshow — a com- pendium of music concerts, comedy acts, networking happy hours, and other nightly events. Performers were handpicked by Gray to represent all parts of the Southeast. Ofeat spaces in Charleston such as the Redux Con- temporary Art Center, a hybrid gallery and studio space for artists, and The Alley, a part-restaurant, part-sports bar,


part-bowling alley, were used as venues. For Gray, the Sideshow was an effort

to demonstrate how thinking creatively and experiencing creativity are mutu- ally beneficial. “Steve Jobs was a soft- ware developer, but the iPod wouldn’t exist without music and video content to put on it,” Gray said. “He was obvi- ously inspired by music and film — he also founded Pixar. So to me it’s natural to put these two together. “Some people like [these conferences]

to be more like a workshop — let’s drill down and learn how to code. But that wasn’t our mission. I’ve always loved the idea of bringing different types of people together and exploring big ideas.”

DIG SOUTH V2014 Total attendance for DIG SOUTH was 3,162, with 454 people attending the conference portion (about 50 more than Gray’s goal) and 55 exhibitors participating in the expo. Sunday’s pro- gram was slower than expected, so Gray plans to add another day and move to a Wednesday–Saturday schedule in 2014. Finding a supportive network, Gray

said, was key to launching an event on the scale of DIG SOUTH. “It’s essential to get community buy-in on multiple levels, from business and government leaders, universities, creative com- munity groups, the local chamber and others,” Gray said. “But it’s equally important to trust

your vision and not allow it to be diluted by the compromises of commit- tee thinking. With DIG SOUTH, keen attention to the quality of content and the participant experience remained our guideposts. We were very careful not to compromise on those two fronts on every level, from the selection of presenters and exhibitors down to the music and every morsel of food.”


Contributing Editor Jennifer N. Dienst is a freelance writer based in Charleston, S.C.


Strut Your Stuff Coming up with new ways to reinvent

the ubiquitous happy-hour event is a never-ending challenge for planners. So instead of hosting the same-old cocktail reception in a hotel bar or ballroom, DIG SOUTH’s Stanfield Gray essentially turned the entire city of Charleston into a revolving happy hour.

Studio Strut, as it was called, served as the kick-off to DIG SOUTH, lasting from 4 to 6 p.m. on the first day of the festi- val. Twelve area businesses, from ad agencies to website-design companies, opened their doors, served drinks, and invited in anyone who was interested in learning more about what they do — whether they were a conference attendee or not.

“Initially, I went to companies who wanted to participate in the Strut with the idea of grouping them together at a bar,” Gray said. “We would advertise, ‘If you want to meet people at these four companies, go to this bar.’ But Robert [Prioleau, partner and strategy director] at Blue Ion [website-design firm,] thought it would be a cool con- cept to bring attendees into the studios, let them see the actual workspaces, and bounce around between them.”

Since most of the participating com- panies were located within walking distance of each other in downtown Charleston, the end result was a progressive happy hour that mixed curious locals, out-of-town presenters and speakers, and festival participants in a casual, come-and-go-as-you-please atmosphere.

In all, Gray estimates that close to 500 visitors participated in the Strut, although an oficial tally isn’t available.

“Studio Strut was also an opportunity [for us] to offer another free event,” Gray said. “For a lot of people, espe- cially entrepreneurs in their early 20s, they can’t afford [festival tickets]. This was a way for them to get out and meet people.”

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