It’s been a few weeks since I had the honor of speaking at the Barkley-founded youth marketing conference, Share.Like.Buy in DC. I’ve been a little preoccupied with final edits to the uncorrected proof of my book with Jeff Fromm, Marketing to Gen Z (shameless plug). But I wanted to share some of my highlights from that experience. Some personal, some professional.

On the personal side, this was my first time traveling and first time back on stage since the stroke in July. I have to admit, I was so nervous about the trip and being back on stage. While I’ve mostly recovered physically, I’m still not comfortable in heels and walking up on that stage put me to the test (my left leg and foot weren’t happy with me about the heels)! I was also a bit self-conscious about speaking in front of a large group again. My speech is nearly back to normal but not 100%. I tend to stutter and take longer to get words out, so I wasn’t sure how I’d do. Everyone says I’m the only one who notices a difference, but it’s always in the back of my head. Still – I did a good job, all in all. Even on my BEST day, it’s hard to compete with Jeff Fromm up there. He is a fantastic speaker and I learn from him every time we present together.

On the professional side, what a great event. To start things off, Connor Blakley — founder of the youth marketing consultancy, YouthLogic, and a highly regarded speaker, author and Gen Z authority — opened the conference with an honest glimpse into his generation, how they communicate and what they expect from brands. I’m still amazed that at 18, Connor is such a comfortable, compelling speaker. He had the audience in the palm of his hand (So “Gen Z” of him!) Since Connor has been to our house and hung out with my kids, he jokingly called me his “road mom” when introducing me to a friend of his. I’m proud to be this kid’s “road mom.” I did go into “mom” mode a little during his presentation, however, as he tends to sprinkle in some cussing for effect. I cringed a little, imagining how I’d react if Sammy did that, but then, it had the intended effect! To drive home some important points!! That’s Connor and his adorable girlfriend hanging with my kids at my house back in August. And a shot of me and my “road kid” during the same visit.

Jeff and I were up right after Connor. Not an easy act to follow, but the audience was highly engaged throughout and of course, Jeff is always a crowd-pleaser. We did a side-by-side comparison of Gen Z to Millennials to prove how different the two generations really are. Then we shared five expectations Gen Z has of brands, along with examples of brands getting it right. To close, we invited Madeline Merrill, an articulate 14-year-old from Atlanta, to do a little Q&A about her interests, preferences, experience as a local influencer for Ivivva, social media habits and more.  I was nervous for her — picturing Gabby, my own 14-year-old daughter having the guts to do something like that! However, Madeline was a huge hit! Poised and authentic.

Over the course of the next two days, I was in my “happy place,” soaking up the knowledge from the rest of the incredible speakers, including Matt Britton from Crowdtap, sharing how the class of 2025 will enter a world that looks vastly different from today. Sorry – I was too riveted to take notes, or I would share some details with you. That pretty much sums up the next two days. I was far too engrossed in the presentations to take notes, listening intently to experts like Marcie Merriman from Ernst & Young, talking about how Gen Z requires retailers to up their game. And my pal Gregg Witt from Motivate Youth, moderating a lively panel with Steve Berra, co-founder of the professional skateboarding website, The Berrics, Miri Rodriquez from Microsoft, and Sarah Unger from Viacom (talking about Nickelodeon, and why SpongeBob SquarePants is still relevant with teens – after all, he’s one of them at the ripe old age of 18). My only complaint – the panel was way too short. The session, called “Delete.Hate.Buy – Why Gen Z Thinks Your Brand Sucks” – covered insights from teens themselves on how NOT to suck, with the panelists sharing how their brands keep from sucking. Fun stuff. (The photo at the top of this post shows Gregg and me hamming it up in the National Geographic photo frame on stage. NatGeo hosted the conference. The venue and staff were awesome!)

I also had the pleasure of hearing from my friend Mary McIlrath of C+R Research and YouthBeat. Mary and I met at the Marketing to Gen Z conference last year in NY. She shared their latest data about the purchasing differences of Gen Z and their families around the globe. I look forward to catching up with Mary again on her next business trip to KC!

I realize this isn’t the best re-cap post. I should be sharing key takeaways from each presentation. Unfortunately, being so preoccupied since returning, my mind isn’t as sharp as it was right after the conference. Let me just close with – I love what I do and am so grateful to Barkley for allowing me to do it! I get to focus on my passion – Gen Z – and be surrounded by so many others that share my passion.