In the next few days I will attend Women in Biz Network Conference and The Art of Leadership. It costs a lot of money to go to a conference.I usually get sponsored whenever I go to one, but I still invest a lot of time. If you follow my blog, you might know I believe nothing is for free. My time is very valuable and I prefer to spend it wisely. This is why,
I don’t attend a conference for content.
I know it does not make sense to most of you. But from my experience, I learned that most of the time I get no value from attending conference just for the content.
1. Nothing will be groundbreaking
Most of the time that will be the case. If you have kept up to date with your industry news which you should, nothing is going to be new. Most of the speakers at conference have at least a book and/or a blog. They usually have shared their most juicy information online already. They are just going to tell the same story in a different format. It is much cheaper to subscribe to their blogs, follow them on social media and buy their books on Amazon. The content is created for the masses and not an individual. It is usually too general and won’t be the answer to your problem. Remember most of these guys have consulting businesses. They cannot give out everything if they want to stay in business
2. You can gain access to content after the conference
Just assuming I was wrong, and there is some important information that you need to know. Many conferences will upload videos on their websites a few days after the conference. You can watch all the talks later whenever you want. If that is not the case, I am sure at least a few people will blog about it. With a simple Google search, you will find all the key points that you need to know. If you are lazy like me, you will go on Twitter and follow the conference hashtag.
3 Sometimes the speaker is not the expert
Last year, I had a dinner with someone I met at a social media trend forecasting event. And we had a very interesting conversation.
Me: Why am I good enough to have dinner with you but not good enough to be followed back on Twitter?
Mr. CMO: Sorry I haven’t checked Twitter in a while, I will follow you now
He took out his iPhone and tried to login on a browser.
Me: What is wrong with your Twitter app? Why don’t you use it?
Mr. CMO: There is an app for Twitter?
Me: You didn’t know that? 0_0
Mr. CMO: I am a location based guy.
Me: I don’t think you checked in on Foursquare earlier.
I spent half an hour showing the guy how Twitter works and he still didn’t get it. Two weeks before that night, the same guy was on the stage talking about the future of social media.
Most of the time, companies send their executives to represent them at conferences instead of the experts who are behind all the work. It doesn’t make sense to me to listen to someone who might be more clueless than I am.
A lot of the time the expert is sitting right next to you. Last year at Podcamp Toronto at one of the sessions, the speaker did not show up. Some people left and a few stayed. We took turns in sharing what we know about the topic. It was better than all the other sessions I went to that day. Everyone is teacher, I always learn something from them.
The best lessons are in the hallway.
4. Why should I listen to someone when I can talk to that person directly.
I am very lucky to have many successful friends. A lot of the time, I already know the speakers before the conference and exactly what they are going to talk about. If I don’t, I know I will manage to get to know him/her at some point soon. I prefer to have a chat with the speaker over some good wine. Usually you will learn more from them outside the conference. Of course, not everyone has the same network as me. But you can pretty much become anyone’s friend if you master the art of relationship building.
If I don’t go to conference for the content, what do I do there?
I go to conference to meet new people and catch up with friends. It is time for me to build relationship and nurture the ones I already have.
I don’t go to conference just to exchange business cards. It is not speed dating in the business world. I take my time to get to know people. I can spend a good half an hour just listen to someone’s life story. I show them that I care. We have one and only one first impression, and we should make it unforgettable.
Do you want to have a stack of business cards or do you want people to remember who you are next year?
And when I am not skipping the conference to chat with someone in the hallway, I would be on my laptop writing email or connecting with people on social media. The best part is the person will get the follow-up message right after the conference. It makes you stand out because yours will be one of the first follow-up emails. In my honest opinion it is the best time because your mind is still fresh. You still remember exactly who you are writing to. Have you ever woken up the day after a conference and have no clue who you met the day before?
If you don’t have time to write an email, make some notes on their business cards as soon as possible. I also like to take pictures of the business cards and save in my Evernote just in case if I lose them. If you are really good, take a picture of everyone you meet. My father does it all the time, he always says it is for his phone book. Everyone in his contact list has a photo. I am very very very bad with names. One time I spent 15 minutes trying to remember my stepbrother’s name. A picture is worth a thousand words, it can be very helpful the next day.
I also use Hashable to keep the list of people I meet because I always lose business cards. [Sadly the app no longer exists. My current favorite is CardMunch by Linkedin. Thanks Casie Stewart for showing me at WIBN Conference]
The best thing you can do at a conference is building relationship and invest in people. I met some of my best friends at conferences and you can too.
Ten years from now many of the information you learn at the conference will be out of date, the only thing will last is the relationship you build today.
Photo: 1 Martin Bekkelund