Launching conferences, nailing your story, and differentiating from competitors | John Watson, Founder of DLAC


In this episode of Build Momentum, Sarah and Katie are joined by John Watson. John is the founder and CEO of the Evergreen Education Group, which runs the Digital Learning Annual Conference (DLAC) and the Digital Learning Collaborative.

Some Questions We Ask:

  • Tell us about your background and how you got into this space. (1:04)
  • What are your thoughts about partnership? (5:34)
  • When reviewing hordes of conference proposals, how do you gauge the value they will provide? (7:20)
  • What are some of the trends and themes in recent submissions? (10:43)
  • You mentioned that our thoughts on partnership in one of our previous podcasts resonated so much you sent it around to your colleagues. What other topics intrigued you in that podcast? (13:54)
  • Tell us more about what launching a conference is like. (21:06)
  • Has it been rewarding? (23:27)
  • What is your experience with earning profits from conferences? (29:07)
  • What are the future plans for Evergreen Education Group and DLAC? (30:23)

In This Episode, You Will Learn:

  • John’s background (1:06)
  • Advice for DLAC sponsors and Digital Learning Collaborative members (6:48)
  • Strategies companies can use to frame their conference proposals around how they were able to help districts solve problems (7:56)
  • Trends in submissions and themes that people would like to hear about at DLAC (10:50)
  • How to manage massive email volume (14:08)
  • The experience of launching conferences from scratch (21:33)
  • The growth trajectory of conferences and the rewards for organizers like John (23:36)
  • The pandemic’s impact on conference profits (29:10)
  • How district leaders can work more collaboratively with partners (30:31)
  • Evergreen Education Group’s future plans, including rolling out new platforms, a content library, live videos, and webinars (33:31)


“We encourage companies to talk about the districts that they are working with to solve a problem for students or for teachers [in their conference proposals]. … “We've identified this problem, and here's how we're trying to address it through a product or a service.”

“That whole partnership terminology is a way of trying to hide the true elements of what the vendor-customer-slash-client relationship is.”

“The approach we've always taken with our conferences, you may have noticed, we don't pay $25,000 to have a keynote speaker show up and tell everybody what they're supposed to think. [In] four years, we've had much more than four keynotes—none of them professional speakers— telling their stories. And that to us is a key element.”

“When you initially look at a budget, it's kind of like, ‘How can this not make money?’ And the answer is because there's always a lot more cost, and everything will be more expensive than you think. No matter how good your people are, it still comes in way, way higher [than projected].”

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About "The Secret to Transformational Leadership," which Sarah co-authored with Dr. Quintin Shepherd: