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PP 031: How to Experience Creative South Like a Champ in 2017

How to Experience Creative South Like a Champ in 2017

The Do’s & Don’ts of Attending Creative South (From My Perspective)

Are you feeling a bit stagnant in your work and desperate to get around like minded creatives?

If so, then it’s time you attended a conference like Creative South.

Here in a few weeks, April 6-9 to be exact, hundreds of people will invade the tiny downtown Columbus, GA area.

When you arrive, there is a buzz in the atmosphere as you know you’re around the right people. Shit, the tagline is even “Come as Friends, Leave as Family,” and this couldn’t be truer.

In 2015, I attended Creative South for the first time it sparked a massive swing of momentum in my life.

There were several reasons I purchased the ticket because I:

  • felt compelled to try something different.
  • needed to surround myself with like-minded individuals who are doing what I strive to do.
  • needed to get out of my comfort zone and get out of my little bubble in Cedar Falls, IA.

All three of these were accomplished and Creative South has become an annual affair for me. I’ve built so many amazing relationships that I’m actually bringing my wife, Emily Russell, this year so she can see what the hype is about. 

If you’re attending for the first time, this post is for you.

Here is a list of Do’s and Dont’s to ensure you experience Creative South like a champ in 2017.

Get the Most Out of Your Creative South ExperienceThe stage setup. Photo credit: New Media Campaigns 


  1. Attend All the Speakers

The speakers Mike Jones and company bring in are the real deal. They’ve built or are building a name for themselves in their respected industries. Their focus is to provide you with something to act on when you leave the conference.

Each year I’ve made an effort to reach out to several speakers who inspired me. It led to great conversations over lunch, dinner, etc. and resulted in some great relationships.

Some speakers I’m particularly hyped to see this year are Jamal Collins, Dominique Falla, Bob Ewing, Alicja Colon and Ced Funches.

Get the Most Out of Your Creative South ExperienceSpringer Opera House. Photo credit: Treehaus

  1. Take Notes

Listening is great, but these speakers are dropping gold and you’re going to want to refer back to some of the bombs they dropped.

You can even take sketchnotes like Emily Carlton who I’ll plug in the workshop section. You can then share your notes on social media with the Creative South #CS17 and let people know what they are missing!

In 2015, I shared my sketchnotes with Jason Craig after his talk. This led to a screen printed coffee poster collab and he also became a great friend and a mentor to me.

He even hung out with me back stage last year to help me prep before my talk.

  1. Attend the Bridge Party

Thursday’s opening mixer party is absolutely ridiculous and sets the tone for the conference.

They shut down an entire bridge and deck it out for one epic party. There are food vendors, drinks, fireworks, great conversations and Ink Wars…

Get the Most Out of Your Creative South ExperienceBridge Party. Photo credit: Alicja Colon

  1. Watch Ink Wars

Ink Wars is held Thursday on the bridge. It’s a setup of about 5 artists who are equipped with only a small sketchbook, a large white canvas and a massive black sharpie to go to war with.

The artists have 1 hour to create something based off a random topic. These constraints unleash some pretty wild concepts that’ll blow your mind.

Get the Most Out of Your Creative South ExperienceInk Wars. Photo credit: Autumn Glow Design

  1. Participate / Watch Adobe Creative Jam

Alright, this one is new to me and its’s replacing the beloved Type Fight…RIP.

Adobe Creative Jam is an event series where creatives share a behind-the-scene peek into their processes and projects. Meanwhile, teams compete in a tournament that puts their creative skills to the test using Adobe Creative Cloud.

Be sure to check it out wherever it’s hosted. The vendor hall is my best guess.

  1. Attend Workshops

Some of the best value comes from attending workshops which range from hand lettering, passive income, sketchnotes, etc.

Here’s a little shameless plug. This year I’m actually co-teaching a workshop with the homie Brian Manley called “Crafting Your Killer Talk.” If you’re looking to get into public speaking, podcasting, vlogging or videos in general, then this workshop is for you.

Sharing your brilliant and strange ideas publicly can be difficult but our workshop will:

  • help you overcome your fear of speaking publicly
  • give you the tools and structure to outline your ideas
  • boost your confidence in writing and communicating those ideas

I remember watching people on stage my first year wishing I could grow a pair and do the same. The following year Mike Jones asked to speak and it was the most terrifying yet life changing experience.

It’s since led to me speaking at upcoming conferences like Crop and Weapons of Mass Creation. Hell, it even sparked the inspiration to start the Perspective Podcast.

This workshop is about getting you on this level too as you have something valuable to share and you can make an impact outside of your art as well.

  1. Spend Your Life’s Savings in the Vendor Hall

Last year I spent all my money at the Inch x Inch, DKNG and Draplin booths.

You’ll find a ton of other booths sporting posters, t-shirts, pins, stickers, etc. You even will have the chance to screen print your own tee with Real Thread.

I have no doubt you’ll leave with plenty of swag to plaster in your office, on your sketchbooks, laptop, skateboard or pretty much anywhere.

  1. Get Out of Your Comfort Zone

If you want the full experience you gotta ditch your introverted tendencies. Being reserved and escaping to your hotel room will extinguish any chance of having any impactful conversations and epic relationships.

While I’m an extrovert, I still came here all by myself in 2015 and didn’t know anyone. My anxiety was through the roof like a new kid from a small town in a massive high school.

However, I forced myself to mingle and now my best friends who I talk to the most are the people I met here.

You’ll get back what you put into it!

  1. Reach Out to People

When you arrive, it’s going to be like you’re around hundreds of familiar Instagram avatars. Start connecting names and faces beforehand through social media so you can jump right into a conversation when you meet in person.

Doing this will make getting out of your comfort zone and building relationships that much easier.

Again, the speakers are so down to earth so don’t be afraid to approach them. Oh ya, try not to gush about how great they are—it’s awkward so treat them like the normal people they are.

  1. Try the Local Food

There is so much great food in downtown Columbus and you have to make the effort to try it all.

My personal favorites were Iron Bank Coffee Co. in the mornings, Picasso’s, 11th and Bay, Tommy’s BBQ, The Black Cow and the Loft just to name a few.

I promise you will not leave hungry.


  1. Treat it as a Business Networking Event

For the love of everything good on this earth, please do not show up throwing your business cards to as many as people as possible. This isn’t the place for that shit.

Build relationships and hand out some stickers, patches or pins. Get to know people and their story. I’m not even bringing business cards this year but if I did, I would only hand them out to someone if they asked me.

  1. Be a Grimey Salesman

Along with throwing your business cards out to people, don’t go pushing your products and services on people either.

This place is about building community. It’s not a breeding ground for you to sell your stuff. Sign up for a vendor booth if that’s the case.

  1. Be a Fly on the Wall

By hanging back during the day and going to your hotel each night, you can’t experience Creative South like a champ.

Even if you don’t drink, that’s totally fine! This is an intimate setting and you will get your full money’s worth by investing in yourself and taking every precious moment possible to engage in deep conversations.

  1. Feel the Pressure

Many people hand out cool things like stickers, pins, patches, coasters, etc. Don’t feel the pressure of needing to go all out on swag to hand out to people. Soak up the Creative South experience instead.

People won’t remember you necessarily for what you handed out — they will remember you from the connection they made with you.

  1. Get Too Hungover

Party away, I know I will be, but don’t miss out on speakers, panels, vendors, conversations, etc. because you were too hungover and need puke in the comforts of your room.

This is a sure bet to waste your money and your experience. I understand taking a nap or recharging for a bit, but being a hungover mess isn’t going to impress anyone.

  1. Be Afraid to Get Weird in Good Taste

I was a bit reserved my first year, but last year and this year are far from the case.

There will be plenty of opportunities to embarrass yourself for awesome prizes. You can let loose, do karaoke, hug strangers or dance freely because seriously, no one cares and you’re even weirder playing the “too cool” game.

Experience Creative South

Alright, so if this is your first year then I can’t tell you how excited I am for you. As you can tell, I’m driving home the point that this place is all about the people and the motivation you will take home with you.

Be yourself, but also break out of your shell and do things you normally wouldn’t like introduce yourself to one of your favorite speakers.

Follow these guidelines and you’ll be sure to experience Creative South like a champ!

ps. Definitely, make sure to come say hey to me as I have 2 types of pizza stickers to dish out.

Key Takeaways

  • Surround yourself with like-minded individuals
  • Familiarize yourself with people via social media beforehand
  • Don’t be afraid to reach out and strike up a convo
  • Participate in every social event possible
  • Take notes / sketchnotes
  • Take a workshop, especially mine.
  • You’ll get back what you put into it
  • Relationships > business cards

Finally, if you need some more reasons to attend Creative South in the future, check out my friends Lenny’s Top 10 Reasons to Attend Creative South.


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