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Carl Smith on the science of stress and being a deviant hippy

Owner and founder of nGen Works (opens in new tab), Carl Smith (opens in new tab) is one of several fantastic speakers who will be taking to the stage at net magazine's forthcoming conference Generate (opens in new tab) on 6 June in New York. (Not got your ticket? Sign up now!)

What are you going to speak about at Generate?

What a great question! The honest answer is I’m not sure. Everyday I learn so much about the world, our species and this industry. I’m inspired, shocked and worried almost everyday. As a result, when I get on stage there may be new things that have crept into my mind that I need to share with an audience.

Currently, I’m infatuated with the science of stress. Specifically social stress. The things we do to each other that derail a solid team effort. Psychologists, biologists and medical doctors are all coming together to explain the good and bad sides of stress. Once we learn how to leverage our stress as a positive and ignore our egos we can become so much more than we ever thought possible. More empathetic, more loving and more creative.

I'm planning on making the core of my talk about how we can start helping each other to achieve our goals instead of inadvertently blocking each other. I’ve been working to live this way for a few years now and the results have been great.

What do you think makes a good conference?

People, plain and simple.

A great organizer understands their audience first and foremost. They know what their customer wants to learn and what they want to feel. They seek out the best speakers to create that experience. They make the speakers feel welcomed and understand that while they manage the channel, the speaker is providing the product. It is also their job to set the tone for conduct and reinforce with speakers and attendees.

A great speaker takes chances and doesn’t just repeat what they’ve done the last time they were on the stage. They inject real life into their presentation and give the audience solid, actionable things to take away. They have an appreciation for the organizer and the audience and know how fortunate they are to share their thoughts and experiences.

A great attendee goes in with an open mind and provides honest feedback to the organizer and the speaker.

There is also a need for a good ratio of speakers to attendees. When I was an attendee I was always thankful for the speakers and wanted to say hello and express my gratitude. When they were appreciative it suddenly became a great conference. If I actually got to hang out with them at an after party it became the best conference ever.

What do you get out of speaking at conferences?

Honesty. Accountability. Motivation. I don’t have business partners or a boss I have to answer to anymore. When I know I’m getting on stage in front of a crowd of mostly strangers it kicks me in the ass. These people paid money to see me speak. To hear what I’m thinking. To better themselves in some way based on knowledge and experiences I’m going to share. That gets me up in the morning ready to research my assumptions and learn about being a better presenter.

It’s my responsibility to have something important and new to say. Recently a lot of my talks are recorded. That further motivates me to always have something new to talk about. People in my life watch these talks, so I had damned well better be honest or I will be held accountable.

Are there any speakers you're particularly looking forward to seeing at Generate?

That’s not fair! Honestly I’m excited to see all of them and bummed I’ll miss Nicole Sullivan. I’ve heard amazing things about her. I haven’t seen Ethan speak in a few years, and he’s such a great storyteller.

Karen is brilliant and always has great information that makes me feel smarter. Jenn inspires me and cracks me up whenever I’m around her. Dave keeps me up to speed on the best $30 beer to buy. Derek is the presenter’s presenter, I always learn just watching him. As far as the other speakers, I’m excited to get to meet them and learn from them.

What have you been working on recently?

It feels like something different every day. And sadly a lot of it I can’t talk about in detail. Last September I began a shift in my role at nGen Works from an active participant to an advisor. As a result I’ve had a lot of time to figure out what’s next.

Currently I’m also acting as an advisor for a few companies looking to emulate the Jellyfish model of work we implemented at nGen. I’m also an advisor for a couple of startups. There are rumors of a book and my podcast with Gene Crawford, Bizcraft, continues to grow. Plus articles and speaking. Doing nothing takes a lot of time. :)

What are the big ideas you're thinking about at the moment?

It sounds like I’m a dreamer, but I want to find a way to connect the industry and allow us all to work together. I’ve had some false starts in the past, but I won’t be discouraged.

We are building the future and there is so much to be done. We need to find ways to connect with each other and get the right work to the right people. Our industry has so much potential if we can get above the little things and move forward with respect and trust.

What does it mean to be a 'deviant hippy'?

Oh geez, I’ve been waiting on someone to ask me that. It means I want to be a spiritual being so badly. I want to give without any concern for receiving. I want Karma to guide my life and take care of me. But… sometimes I get pissed off and do stupid things. I generally recover quickly, but it’s tough staying on a “love everyone” path when some people throw so much negativity and hate at the world.

I read recently that the Dalai Lama gets frustrated at times. It made me so happy in a weird way. To know that one of the most understanding and open minds on the planet can have a bad day gives me hope and keeps me on the path to being a better person.

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