This past weekend my husband and I attended Ideas@50, the AARP national conference held in San Diego. We’ve been AARP members for over a decade and have never attended any of their events. Now that we’re starting to seriously plan for retirement, it seemed like a good time.
AARP typically has two national conferences every year; one on each coast. The next one is in Miami next May and the last one was in Boston. This was the first Ideas@50 theme but I really don’t know how that differs from the previous Life@50 conferences.
1. Tracks: The conference content was organized by tracks which were Health & Wellness, Money & Work, Technology & Innovation and Travel & Lifestyle. I thought this was a great organization of information. It was hard to choose sometimes which session to attend because of competing interests.
2. Speakers: The speakers were for the most part topnotch. I attended sessions by Samantha Brown, Arianna Huffington, Jean Chatzky, and Frank Abagnale. Speakers I didn’t see included Martha Stewart, The Doctors, Guy Kawasaki and Joan Lunden.
3. Organization: The event was well organized. There was signage everyone and volunteers at every entrance to help attendees find whatever they were looking for. One guided us directly to the per-registered desk to pick up our badge holder and bag when we arrived. Even though we didn’t really need help I appreciated the effort. Sessions started on time and I never ran into a cranky person or disorganized moment.
4. AARP Bookstore: Many of the speakers are authors and AARP had a bookstore where you could buy their book for the book signing following their appearances. These books appeared to be sold at cost. The Arianna Huffington book “Thrive” was sold for $8 less than I paid at BlogHer in July!
1. AARP Tek: The TEK stands for Technology Education Knowledge. AARP must think everyone over 50 is a neophyte when it comes to technology. Their TEK sessions had only basic offerings such as “Email and Inbox Safety” or “Does this Plug Into that?” and my favorite “#WhatIsATweet Twitter Basics”.
I can see these would be helfpul for some attendees (and from what I saw they were well-attended) but what about the advanced tech users like me? We were ignored as if we didn’t exist.
2. Exhibitors: The surprising thing to me was the number of exhibitors that offered products that were stereotypical “old age” products. There were so many booths for mobility aids, hearing aids and emergency devices it was depressing. What I thought would be my favorite section of the expo (health) was the one I wanted to avoid.
I can understand the challenge in trying to meet the needs of such a diverse group age-wise. The boomers interest would be in things to keep us healthy and mobile while the older generation needs help managing conditions and limitations. Having said that, I just walked on past most booths.
3. Conference Guide: In our swag bag, we each received a big conference guide. Come to find out all the information was on a great mobile app. I didn’t see any promotion encouraging attendees to use the mobile app. Given that probably at least half the attendees had a smartphone, it would have cut costs down greatly to encourage the use of the app instead of the paper guide. I only found out about the app from a sign at the conference.
4. Social Media: What I mean by this is the lack of social media interaction by AARP. I saw very few tweets by AARP and couldn’t even find an official account on Instagram. Yes, I understand a large number of attendees won’t use these tools but there is a subset but that wants to and AARP is losing out on opportunities to engage us.
Concert: AARP has offered members the opportunity to attend concerts at a reasonable price in a smaller venue. Past event concerts have included performances from top artists including Elton John, The Temptations and Gloria Estefan to name a few. The Saturday evening concert this year had performances from Mavis Staples, Los Lobos and John Mellencamp.
The venue seated a few thousand but was maybe 2/3 full (being generous with that estimate). We had a wonderful night enjoying great performances from Mavis and John. We thought Los Lobos was just okay.
Kevin Spacey: The opening keynote included an interview by Soledad O’Brien with Julia Louis-Dreyfuss and Kevin Spacey. Kevin stole the show. He demonstrated he is just as brilliant as you think from his many outstanding roles and funny as heck. He likes the F word and I am getting Netflix just to watch House of Cards.
We also enjoyed Soledad’s interview the next morning with
Geordi LaForge Levar Burton and Rhoda Morgenstern Valerie Harper. I was over the moon when Soledad retweeted one of my tweets afterwards!
Event Pins: It’s the little things that make us happy sometimes. There was a collection of 10 pins commemorating the event being given away at various booths. I was determined to find them all and did. Now, what I’ll do with them I don’t know but it was a fun exercise.
Tourist in Hometown: We had so much fun staying downtown and playing tourist in our own city. Our suburban neighborhood is about 25 miles north of downtown (although the same city) and when we do venture to the city, there’s too much traffic to really explore.
It was enjoyable to wander the Gaslamp Quarter in the early morning and really seek the sights. We tried several new (to us) restaurants.
All in all, we had a great time attending our first AARP event. Although we won’t attend another one right away I can see us attending more in the future.