Posted inLeadership / Team Culture

Getting curious: 5 key takeaways from our 2024 company conference 

Stoke / Posted on / Comments off

Our thoughts on AI, storytelling, and why doing things the “old-fashioned way” still matters

At the opening session for the 2024 Stoke Conference, partner Laurie Lohner had one simple request: Get curious.

In early May, we gathered from around the world to meet in Salt Lake City, Utah, for a three-day event filled with industry learning and team-building activities. And we’re still talking about it! With only a few days together in person, Laurie encouraged attendees to keep their focus on asking questions and diving deeper, emphasizing the ways curiosity allows for innovating and connecting, and promising that with this open-eyed and open-minded attitude, our limited time together would be incredibly productive.

She was right. With full-agency sessions, team breakout meetings, small group dinners, and a mountain ranch excursion, this year’s conference truly proved that while curiosity may have killed the cat, it gives the rest of us a unique perspective on our work. In this blog post, we’re covering five of our favorite takeaways from the conference and how we’re thinking about big ideas in new ways.

1. AI is here to stay, but how we use it is up to us.

Artificial intelligence is one of the hottest topics in any arena, especially for those of us who specialize in the tech industry. And because AI is becoming such an integrated tool for our clients and competitors alike, thinking critically about how we engage with and leverage AI platforms in our work is top of mind.

Our recently formed AI Task Force, composed of team members from across the agency, allows us to collaborate, train, and evaluate how tools are used in their respective projects and how they see its integration in future work. As with everything we do, our focus is on keeping the work we create for our clients and ourselves authentic, creative, and inline with our clients’ overarching objectives. This task force seeks to ensure our teams know how to use tools available to them while also safeguarding their own creative abilities. However impressive AI gets, it cannot replace the “human watermark” that comes from having a group like Stoke put their heads together to solve a problem.

During conference breakout sessions, our video, design, and editorial teams talked about how we’re using tools like ChatGPT and Adobe Firefly to support our creative visions. We discussed how we want to engage with and contribute to the larger conversation surrounding AI, and how our ultimate goal is to remain client-focused: How we use AI in our projects will ultimately be determined in partnership with those we support and their marketing and advertising

2. Storytelling is still paramount.

While new tech tools are being integrated into the way we do our work, storytelling is at the heart of our business, and that’s not changing. In a discussion led by Jimmy Carlton, the editorial team discussed the art of telling a compelling narrative. Storytelling doesn’t always seem like it can — or should — be at the forefront of B2B marketing strategy for our clients. But that’s not the case; even when working with larger business-focused narratives, people still remain the heart of the product, company, or brand we support. Reminding ourselves that real humans are still our final audience helped the team apply storytelling techniques to projects that at first might not seem to warrant them.

3. Public speaking doesn’t have to be terrifying (and it definitely shouldn’t be boring).

In a session led by Adam Morgan, we talked through ways to make public speaking an integrated part of our skill set, rather than a dread-inducing job requirement. With decades of experience working with clients and teams, Adam gave real-world examples of how to conquer public speaking in six simple steps:

  1. Cultivate a personal mindset that nurtures confidence rather than anxiety.
  2. Know your audience and tailor your message to meet them where they are.
  3. Know your material well enough to adapt your message as needed.
  4. Read the room and provide the energy the crowd is looking for.
  5. Create a focus by telling people what’s most important and why it matters.
  6. Tell a story and lead your audience to a conclusion you’ve taken time to determine.

4. Our skills can translate off the screen.

Our design team does most of their work on digital platforms, but their incredible artistic talents can also come to life off-screen. In an afternoon breakout session, our designers took part in a hand lettering session led by Haley Francis — known by her online moniker of Type Affiliated — who has completed hand lettering projects for major brands like HGTV, Wayfair, and more. In an age where hand-drawn art is becoming less common, going back to the roots of the craft was a way to think critically about how we’re using modern technology to create beautiful content — and how enjoyable it can be to do things the “old-fashioned way.”

5. Connection to each other and our clients is at the heart of everything we do.

Stoke has been a remote agency since 2019 and has grown extensively over the past several years, which means we’re always collaborating across timezones (and sometimes across oceans). While we do our very best to stay engaged with one another in an entirely virtual environment, getting together in person still proved to be well worth the trip, especially when strengthening connections across teams and projects.

Our project managers are the guiding light that connects us to each other and our work. Without them, we would be lost. During the conference, our project managers flexed their skills and gave the rest of us insight into how they work. To bring everyone up to speed on the agency’s priorities, our project managers spent their afternoon breakout sessions giving overviews of their current client work. Teammates from across Stoke got a glimpse of what others were up to and provided feedback and insight. This kind of connection and collaboration directly translates to better work for our clients —when we work well together, the work we do reflects that.

What now?

Nestled back into our home offices, our conference takeaways are still playing out in our day-to-day work. Our teams are more in sync, our projects are more innovative, and we’re spending more time on the things that matter most. We’re telling better stories, leveraging tools like AI to create work that makes an impact, and getting even more confident in sharing our wins with our teammates. And with the coolest (and coziest!) swag in the business, we’re ready to tackle our work head-on.

If you’re ready to see how Stoke can help you tell your story, get in touch — we can’t wait to get started.