Taking place this past weekend, Northern Voice is widely considered to be the premier social media conference in Western Canada. It’s been held for the past eight years, and I just happened to attend it this year for the first time.

There were some familiar faces here, including former contributor at The Next Web Tris Hussey, and the auditorium where the event kicked off was filled to the brim with over 300 eager attendees. As the conference began, we were made aware that an integral part of Northern Voice’s history, Derek Miller, wasn’t able to be there. Miller, well known among the Vancouver web scene, is now known globally for his final blog post that he left behind before passing away of cancer earlier this month.

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After saying goodbye to Derek, April Smith of AHAMedia stepped up to the mic to deliver the opening keynote address, “Storytelling from the Heart of the City.” Smith is a true social media success story, with her work focusing on documenting the downtown east side of Vancouver from someone who’d been there and lived it themselves. The keynote discussed some of the stories she has put together in videos and blogs over the years, and it was very moving. Putting some distinct faces behind these stories was quite a moving experience, and to know that her own story was a very big part of bringing all of these stories to life was truly inspiring.

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Sessions for the conference ranged from managing social media identities to podcasting and all things in between. I attended only a few sessions myself, as I was offering my own on Friday. The best of those I attended was “Stop Apologizing for Your Online Life” by Alexandra Samuel, which was one of the best delivered talks I’ve been to at any conference. Samuel offered practical examples and profound insight as to why the term “IRL” is redundant in this day and age.

“IRL: In Real Life. It’s used as shorthand all over the Internet, to distinguish what happens online from what happens offline. But 21st reality is both online and offline. The sooner we embrace our online lives as part of our real lives, the sooner we can make our individual lives online — and the Internet as a whole — as meaningful and satisfying as they can and should be.”

Samuels suggested ten reasons to stop apologizing for your online life, and introduced methods on how to live your online life with intention and integrity. Her talk resonated on so many levels, making it accessible for those new to establishing an online life and to those already well-invested in it. She succeeded in showing that our online lives and offline lives are essentially one in the same, as long as we let them and make no apologies for that.

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But the most rewarding part of a conference like this is the ability to connect with others outside of the sessions. At any conference there will be sessions that can be researched online, which means that you can either not go to the conference at all or spend that time connecting with other attendees. I spent a great deal of time simply chatting with other attendees in the atrium, networking away with new friends and meeting up with old friends — some of whom I’d only met online beforehand. It’s those kind of connections that really remind me why I love doing what I do, and why I go to conferences in the first place.

So, whether it is Northern Voice, Social Media Camp, PAB or a conference outside of Canada such as South by Southwest or The Next Web’s own TNW Conference, being part of one of these events is an amazing experience. Of course, you only get out of them what you’re willing to put into them, but those that really want to be part of the ever-evolving landscape known as the Internet are going to put as much into it as they can, right?