Essaying the Situation
Friday, August 29, 2003
"Sharing Wisdom Conference" Review
Sharing Wisdom Conference Review Features:
First Impressions
Promotional Goodies
Literature Rundown

Sharing Wisdom Conference
Moderator: Gary Barg
Keynote Speaker: Deborah Reynolds
August 28, 2003; 9:00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m.
Phoenix, Arizona
Pointe South Mountain

    I remember the year I saw Mary Poppins. The build-up of advance advertising was excruciating, not the least of which was that the movie was going to be shown in Guam's one commercial theater so we'd get to see it. I'm not sure what I was expecting, perhaps the children's version of Moulin Rouge, but I was disappointed, although my sisters and I spent the following summer singing the entire score of the movie every chance we got.
    I feel the same toward the Sharing Wisdom Conference [sponsored by] I attended today. I was expecting, hmmmmaybe the Moulin Rouge of Caregiver Conferences: Inspiration about all aspects of caregiving not only from speakers but from an atmosphere encouraging displays of the wisdom from the attendees; exhibits encouraging not only networking with professionals but among attendees; an exhibit hall at least three times the size of today's, filled with the flirting of a diverse, dynamic metro-community well-stocked with commercial and non-profit resources arrayed before me like waves of fan dancers; facilitated work-shop time designed to help attendees network with one another and the professionals regarding a variety of focus issues; a problem sharing forum so well organized that people on the panel cross-talked with themselves as well as attendees and issues were discussed rather than simply questions being answered.
    I liked the homey, accessible ambiance of today's production and I don't want to downplay this. Without intention (partly due to phone instructions received yesterday from the Pointe South Mountain, partly because I thought I might be battling some of the worst rush hour traffic in the nation driving to the conference), I arrived 40 minutes early. I bumped into Steven Barg of, who I assume is the foremost organizer of the conferences, and founder Gary Barg. Both welcomed me as a caregiver [versus a vendor, for which I was mistaken so many times I began to wonder who the conference was really intended to benefit]. One, I can't remember whom, said, "This conference is for you," and I felt he meant it and was echoing the sentiment of the other. Their attitudes and generosity of spirit further aroused my interest before the convention began. From both I learned that today's event was the only conference being held in Arizona. It is the same conference that operates nationwide as Fearless Caregiver's Forum and Fearless Caregiver's Conference. My own 'story' of hearing about the conference was solicited by both. I was astonished and flattered that Gary Barg remembered having viewed my website Mom & Me (which I've attempted, so far unsuccessfully, to have listed in's Personal Websites of Caregivers links section); mentioning, "It's the one with the medication schedules..."; the research for which led me, initially to I told them I'd be 'reviewing' the conference for my website.
    I was surprised at the turnout: Much less than I expected, maybe 300-400 in all. I understand the clumsiness and consumerism that could threaten a conference of this nature if it had been produced on a Women's Expo scale. I also think there exists a much more exciting standard for size that would have added electricity to the ambiguous networking air and could have solicited a lot more money and sponsorship. Successful conferences of this nature shouldn't, as well, charge entrance fees, no matter how grand. Having a much larger roster of vendor/sponsors would have taken care of some of this problem. Better PR aimed, perhaps, at the whole community rather than what is still considered to be a special interest segment might have also boosted attendance and the desirability for potential vendors (both local and national) to sponsor booths.

    There were few vendors. A shortlist in the program contained the names of 29. There were three additional exhibitors not listed. Of those on the list there was one potential vendor at whose booth I would have lingered because of my mother's health profile, The American Diabetes Association. I don't think they made it. The areas of interest lined up like this:    Although I was not displeased with the individual vendors attending, they were too few and too unprepared. Interactivity approached zero. Where were the commercial accoutrement product vendors? Where were vendors selling and offering products and services that addressed themselves to the needs of both caregivers and their charges:    The more I think about possible vendors showing and giving away samples of their wares and services, the more I am surprised at the paltry showing at this conference. Where were the personal product vendors, the software vendors, the communication product vendors, the market researchers looking for in-the-trenches information on what might be successfully designed and marketed to people who are primary caregivers and their charges? The booths were stuffed with outgoing, talkative, energetic representatives who, unfortunately, weren't being supported by their materials or their environment.
    As a caregiver I came ready to network with my peers and those who are interested in displaying their products and services to me. I even designed and made 'calling cards' listing my name, website and email address. Although such an idea didn't occur to me until I was at the conference, I would have loved the presence of a miscellaneous, on-the-spot caregiver booth, maybe designed like an outdoor cafe with a free coffee/tea/water/maybe juice bar where attendees can relax and go through their collection of information, plan their next assault, trade and maybe even display on free counter space their own calling cards and small presentations, etc.; maybe replete with literature racks with copies of magazines and books for perusal that might be of interest to caregivers.
    The miscellaneous goodie factor was underwhelming both in variety and quantity. Although this doesn't need to be a draw at well-planned, well run conferences, it helps; and, anyway, if there aren't free goodies and there's a cover charge, it's usually called a "Benefit Luncheon/Dinner", and there are still goodies. Caregiver conference organizers, by thinking creatively about what products primary caregivers use ubiquitously, both the obvious and the peripheral, could enter into a mutually advantageous, reciprocal relationship with companies seeking to promote their products to one of the largest advertising demographics in the nation. Want to know who these people are and what they'll buy? Think about your product in our hands then bring your product and your ideas to one of our conferences!
    I was surprised that the burgeoning literature for this demographic, both instructive and pleasurable, wasn't represented. It was also too bad that copies of Gary Barg's book The Fearless Caregiver weren't available. The book was between hardback and paperback editions. Toward the end of the conference I grabbed the display copy of the hard cover edition and approached Steven about buying the book for cash on the spot if I could get Gary (who was approaching from behind) to autograph the book. My mother is now reading it voraciously, " order," she jokes, " hold [me] up to standard." I'm pleased she's reading it (as well as reading again, by choice). I love discussing aspects of her care and caregiving in general with her from all angles. This book looks as though it's going to provoke many such discussions between my mother and me. Plus, I have an autographed, hardcover First Edition, my all around favorite kind of book.
    The first presentation was led by Gary Barg. After honoring caregivers he suggested we "share the wisdom" by turning to our neighbor and soliciting their story/introducing ourselves. We, the audience, didn't take him seriously until he dropped the mike and paced the stage. So we did, for less than 10 minutes. I would've much preferred audience groups organized by interest or issue, even off the cuff, with appropriate facilitators chairing discussions, asking questions, taking directed surveys (what a great way for research companies to get information about this life style). I was also very curious about the designation of "The Fearless Caregiver" and was hoping for more direction, which was not forthcoming in this conference.
    I was unaware of the local hero who received the 2003 Care Award, although I assume she was worthy. I just hadn't heard about the nomination or the criteria.
    There was a question and answer session fielded by a small, curious panel. Advice was given (in some cases, inappropriate or non-sympathetic advice), but wisdom wasn't sought or displayed.
    I had envisioned a type of floor organization that supported the forming of groups designed to, say, practice journal writing; discuss community resources for medical information; talk about the dilemma of having to doctor one's charge often to the expressed disapproval of the charge's doctor; etc. This atmosphere remains a vision although one I think is easily achievable.
    Debbie Reynolds, the keynote speaker was entertaining. I had been excited about hearing what she had to say, knowing that she has spent decades in intense needs caregiving for at least one of her parents. I didn't know that she is continuing to caregive. She played to the crowd and told jokes. The questions she fielded, although dropped in a box during the 'networking' part of the conference, seemed to have been specially selected and answers prepared ahead of time. I don't fault the conference for this but all except one of the questions had been addressed during the previous forum. As I listened through Ms. Reynold's keynote address and question fielding I couldn't help thinking about an interview with Kirk Douglas I heard some months ago on one of my mother's favorite afternoon shows. He talked about how the encouragement and irritation of his wife was his primary spur to recovery and revitalization. Although I caught the interview serendipitously, the mere mention of the struggles these two people took on when Mr. Douglas suffered his stroke has inspired me since hearing it. I would have loved to have heard more, to have been able to question this couple about their journey, their gained wisdom. I would have loved this couple as a keynote speaking team. Although Ms. Reynolds provided a copacetic end to a copacetic conference, I left thirsting for so much more and disappointed because I expected Ms. Reynolds to be so much more.
    Since this is the only Arizona franchise (so far) of a series of several local caregiver conferences scattered around the country, I was expecting and I would have liked to have seen more resources from other parts of the state. Aside from mom and me living in two unique parts of the state depending on season and availability of services, a great deal of intra-state travel goes on within the group of citizens most likely to be caregiving or partaking of caregiving. Community-to-community resource information would not only be of high interest to attendees, such an effort by conferences to encourage local resources to recognize their out-of-town constituency might promote easier coordination of services between communities.
    I see a lot of commercial and social possibilities for conferences directed at caregivers and their charges. There are so many issues that our 'special interest' group is capable of bringing to the fore and conferences such as these can promote the defining and addressing of these issues from a variety of fronts. I'm not sorry I attended this one. I certainly think I'll be singing the material from this one for some time to come. The catch is, much of the material I'm having to improvise from the provocative, yet ill developed suggestiveness of this conference. I'd love to be involved in the brainstorming, planning and/or organizing for the next such conference if my caregiving duties permit (which they might).
    I noticed one man at my table who attended half the conference with his mother, the owner of a small in-home care/respite business. His obvious youth prompted me to ask him if he was a caregiver. He replied, "Everyone's a caregiver. If you are not taking care of someone you're not alive." Wouldn't caretaking conferences inviting the commercial, social and governmental thrusters of our society to combine in support of and solicitiation to this ideal make for a splendid conference? That's the one I'd like to attend.

Update - 3/20/04:  The Arizona Women's Expo is happening this weekend in Phoenix, probably at the Phoenix Civic Center. It is a 250,000 square foot commercial and informational extravaganza including celebrity speakers, mini-seminars, all kinds of samples, hawkers, things to buy, activities and memberships for which to sign up and the price, this weekend, is being advertised as "$8.00". I don't know if this includes the $1.00 discount being advertised if you buy your ticket at one of two local chain grocers. I wish I could go this year. I now have a concerted interest, since the Sharing Wisdom Conference in scrutinizing how these events work. The Arizona Women's Expo has what is probably a temporary website that I hope to take some time to study before it disappears, to see how they gather the capital to put the expo on and how valuable the sponsors consider a presence at the event. Why couldn't a Caregiver's Expo be designed along the Women's Expo structure? The entrants wouldn't need to pay $45.00 for a dinner when they can lunch on free samples or buy whatever they like for a minimal price from kiosk vendors promoting their food at special prices. Consider the opportunity to combine commercial and community concerns. Surely someone out there, maybe even a PR firm, has the resources to pull something like this off nationwide once a year.
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