Monday, November 05, 2007

The Conference Commando

I have just returned from a fantastic, if exhausting, weekend at the Annual Convention of the Professional Speakers Association, where I was honoured to be elected to the Board.

This was my third such convention and, by far, the most valuable. For many small businesses, the investment in such events, both in time and financially, prompts a lot of thought about where the value lies and whether it is worth their while attending. This weekend will see a return of several times my investment should I follow through with a number of the connections made. That's what I call a 'no-brainer'!

That has not, however, been the case before. Previous conventions, while enjoyable, have not necessarily produced similar results.

At my first convention, three years ago, I learnt a lot, an incredible amount. I wrote pages and pages.....and pages.... of notes from the excellent speakers and focused workshops. Over the weekend I came up with idea after idea after idea which could transform my business.

And I put none of them into action.

The simple fact is that I learnt too much. I didn't have a plan to put the ideas learnt into action, hadn't put the time aside to review my notes and implement key thoughts, I failed to allow for follow-up. One of my contacts took the following week off just to go through her notes and ideas and look at her business, how many of us can add this to the time already invested?

Wary of this problem the following year, I was too resistant to new ideas and didn't really understand what I was going to get from the convention. I didn't really understand why I was going and got exactly what I planned for from it...nothing.

As a result of that experience, I didn't attend in 2006. With the change in my business in January, coupled with my impending election to the Board of Directors, I needed to be there this year, so I started to think about what I could get from the convention.

I knew not to write page after page after page of notes from the speakers. Instead I kept an 'Action Sheet' at the front of my notes and focused on writing down the two or three key points from the convention that, added to my business model or speaking style, could make a difference. I wrote only a few notes beyond that, most of them focused on particular areas I need to address.

That is no reflection on the quality of the speakers and workshops. I learnt a lot from some of the best speakers in the world; but there is a huge difference between what you learn and what you implement.

The main focus for me at Convention, however, was the networking. That may sound obvious coming from me but my networking this year was far more focused and planned than previously.

The week before the event I was reading Keith Ferrazzi's book 'Never Eat Alone'. In his chapter 'Be a Conference Commando', Ferrazzi talks about networking at conventions and says, "Conferences are good for mainly one thing....they provide a forum to meet the kind of like-minded people who can help you fulfill your mission and goals." Going to a Professional Speakers Convention and focusing on time away from the talks may seem strange but, in a lot of ways, that's where the value is.

Taking Ferrazzi's advice I contacted some of the attendees in advance of the events, suggesting that we take time to meet over the weekend. I arranged breakfast meetings, rather than focusing on finding a spare seat, and spent time with individuals. In addition, I have a range of meetings to set up over the next few weeks with other contacts made in the last three days.

The opportunities already created from these connections include a promised meeting with a Director of an NHS Trust to look at networking within that Trust, an invitation to speak to a group of Chief Executives, a meeting to discuss synergies with another speaker that may lead to the creation of a new CD and cross-referrals and the possibility of establishing speaking opportunities overseas.

That's not a bad return for an investment which, although for many may look large initially, pales into insignificance against the potential return.


  1. Hi Andy

    I really can relate to your comments about your first convention. I am also guilty of taking down lots of notes and valuable points, but failing to schedule enough time afterwards to actually act upon them. Good idea about contacting delegats before hand - nice touch!

    I also have some contacts in the NHS if you like. Just give me a call.

    I will take heed of these points and I am sure rewards will follow.

    Congratulations on your appointment!

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Thank you very much for your comments and kind offer of connections.

    Unfortunately, your post is anonymous as I can't link to your profile. Please contact me seperately or post here who you are!



  4. I agree Andy, the networking and what goes on in between the sessions at any conference is often more important than what happens during the programme itself. Yonks ago I was at a conference at the Loews Hotel in Monte Carlo - big pharma company conference. Loads of sessions lasting all day. But during the "gaps" I struck up conversation with one of the people working at the conference. That led to a long term contract for the conference organisers with me appearing at several of their meetings. I reckon that 15-minute coffee break conversation was worth in excess of £750,000 over the years I worked with them. Valuing conference attendance by looking at the programme is a mugs game. Value a conference by looking at who will be there and who you can connect with. If you learn something in the sessions, than that's a bonus.

  5. Hi Andy,

    I just returned from what is billed as the biggest online media and marketing convention in the world. AdTech at the New York Hilton. As an exhibitor who sells a really nice laminated style picture business card, I may be a little biased, but here is my networking advice to all: Put your picture on your business card. The worst business card in the world is the one where at the end of the day, your card looks just like everyone else’s. There were plenty of people that I really wanted to remember their product or service but their card was of NO help in recalling our conversation. Like an old song that brings back lyrics you thought you couldn’t possibly remember, the human face is an instant trigger for what is already stored in the memory. Don’t worry about whether you’re good looking enough. The benefits could be tremendous and your card will never look just like everyone else’s if your picture is on it. Just get a decent picture taken and do it.
    Here comes the shameless plug: …and if you want a picture style card that often prompts a “Wow” comment, check out Our customers tell us the most common response when they hand out one of our business cards is, “Wow! That’s a nice card! Can I keep it?”

    Mark Marston