How To Get The Most Value From Conferences In 6 Steps

Image Credit: Conference by Startup Stock Photos, Pixabay.com

Image Credit: Conference by Startup Stock Photos, Pixabay.com

Learning and growing from Internet resources and connections is powerful. You can watch a YouTube video learn a new knot for putting on neckties, read a tutorial about Microsoft Excel and seek inspiration from a TED presentation. I have done all three of those ideas. However, there’s a limit to what you can do with the Web.

Conferences remain one of the best ways to advance your career in a short period of time. Here are several people who transformed their careers and companies through conferences:

  • John Lee Dumas, founder of Entrepreneur on Fire, launched his podcast by attending the BlogWorld conference in New York City in 2012. In 2013, Entrepreneur on Fire generated $101,000 in profit and has continued to grow significantly.
  • Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen, co-authors of the mega bestseller series of “Chicken Soup” books, found their publisher by participating at the American Booksellers Association convention in 1992. Since then, their books have sold millions of copies.
  • Jennifer Lemerand launched her career by attending the HOW Design conference in 2007. By using a creative approach to make herself memorable, she soon obtained several promotions in the communications and advertising industry.
  • The Portable Bar Company grew significantly through participating in trade shows, conventions and conferences.

As these examples show, it is possible to achieve fantastic results by participating in conferences, trade shows and other live events. Yet, many of us have attended conferences in the past with no results. Speaking for myself, I can think of at least two conferences I attended in the 2000s where I derived little or no tangible career benefits. That all changed in 2015 when I attended the World Domination Summit in Portland, Oregon.

Here are five ways you can grow your career by attending a conference based on my experience.

1. Identify your top business or career goal.

 Goals give your daily activities focus. Based on John Lee Dumas went to BlogWorld to start finding people to interview for his podcast. Mark Victor Hansen and Jack Canfield went to a conference to find a publisher for their book. In my case, I set two goals. First, I wanted to learn how other people had built successful Internet companies (and apply these ideas to ProjectManagementHacks.com). Second, to enjoy and explore a new city I have not visited before.

 Action: What is your top goal (or problem) that you are seeking to achieve?

 2. Write a short list of conferences that relate to your goal

Once you have identified your goal, it is time to come up with a list of possible conferences to attend. As with many problems, a few Google searches will point you in the right direction.

Example: You are seeking to launch your career in New York City. By searching for the terms such as “New York conference” and related searches, I found the 99u Conference. If you are working on getting ahead as a project manager, I suggest the PMI Global Congress 2015.

Action: Spend 10-15 minutes doing Google searches to find relevant upcoming searches. Note that you may have to broaden your search to events outside of your city in some cases.

3. Do the conference pre-work

If you’re not presenting at a conference, the idea of conference pre-work may sound strange. What exactly do you need to prepare? In my experience, there are a few preparations to make.

  • Incentives & Early Bird Promotions. Some conferences offer “VIP” tickets and other bonuses to people who register early. Whether or not such bonus incentives are offered, it is vital to register early.
  • Write A Contact List. Write a list of people that you are interested in meeting at the conference. In my case, I was interested in meeting people delivering workshops, others interested in online courses, and productivity experts. I suggest starting small with 5-10 people on contact list. (Thanks for X, author of Y, for inspiring me to create a contact list.
  • Save Up A Conference Budget. There’s a cost to attend conferences and get the most value out of them. Plan to spend money on restaurants, drinks, taxis and other expenses. In my case, I actually returned home with a surplus from the conference.
  • Look For Small Groups. Attending a conference with hundreds or thousands of people is intimidating even if you are outgoing. After all, where do you start? That’s why there is such value in searching for small groups such as meetups, committees and other activities. If you are not sure where to begin, contact the conference organizers and ask for suggestions on where to find meetups and small groups related to your interests.

Action: Do the pre-work steps outlined in this section.

 4. Talk To New People Every Day

Conversations and meeting new people is a key reason to attend conferences. Given that purpose, go out and introduce yourself! Most if not all conference attendees wear name badges which make introductions even easier.

  • Note For Introverts: If you consider yourself to be an introvert like myself, this activity may feel a bit daunting. My recommendation in that case is to fall back on preparation and small goals. First, I used my contact list to arrange conversations with a few key people. Second, I set to start a conversation with a minimum of two new people per day. I strongly encourage you to watch The Power of Introverts by Susan Cain (it is a great TED talk and I also recommend her book, “Quiet” which I read this year).

Action: Commit to introduce yourself to at least one new person each day you are at the conference.

5. Take Advantage of the Post Conference High When You Get Home

Going to a conference is often an inspiring and energizing experience. You are full of new ideas, you may have enjoyed some great drinks and have a stack of business cards. On the trip home, you may feel exhausted and happy. What about a few days after you return home – how do you take advantage of the conference high?

Start with the following actions:

  • Send a short email to the people you met at the conference.
  • Send a note to the conference speakers you enjoyed.
  • Review your notes from the workshops and other activities you participated in.
  • Buy and read a book recommended by someone at the conference – I have a stack of books to read by speakers!

Now it is your turn to take action. What conference will you attend to grow your career this year? Conferences remain one of the best ways to grow your network, receive instruction from experts and set yourself apart from others in your field.

Action: Send an email or make a call to someone you met at the conference after you come home.

6. Write A Conference Report For Your Company

If your company or organization paid for you to attend a conference, you are very fortunate. The best way to repay the organization is to use information and connections from the conference to do your job better. In addition, I suggest writing a one page memo summarizing your key insights from the conference. You can then take this summary to your manager and offer to circulate it with the rest of the team.

Action: Write out a list of 10-20 bullet points of information and insights you gained from the conference.

Field Report from the World Domination Summit: Online Business, Relationships & Great Workshops

I have followed Chris Guilebeau’s blog and books for years but only attended his conference, the World Domination Summit (WDS) in 2015. When Chis came to Toronto in 2014 to promote his new book The Happiness of Pursuit, I had the chance to meet him (see below) and interview him (How Quests Transform Your Leadership — An Interview with Chris Guillebeau). I was also delighted to receive a Willy Wonka-style “Golden Ticket” to attend the World Domination Summit – a thoughtful touch that I appreciated.

Image: Bruce Harpham and Chris Guillebeau during the “Happiness of Pursuit” Book Tour in 2014.

In today’s article, I will share a few of my observations, lessons learned and other notes about my experience. In addition to being a testimonial in favor of WDS, please read this post as a reminder of the benefits of participating in conferences.

Networking Through Meetups

Before the event started, attendees were invited to propose and register for “meetups”: unofficial networking groups for people looking to explore their own interests. I love connecting with people in small groups, so this was a perfect fit for me. There was a great deal of options available and I ended up attending three meetups.

  • Online Courses: I hosted this meetup and was delighted with the experience. My approach to hosting the event was informed by reading Mastermind Dinners by Jayson Gaignard. Several of the attendees have continued to stay in touch with me.
  • The Live Your Legend Event. During this event, I met Mike Vardy and Charlie Gilkey, productivity experts who have made great contributions.
  • Firepole Marketing Event. I have studied with Firepole Marketing for months to help me learn how to build ProjectManagementHacks.com. It was a pleasure to meet some of the Firepole team in person (hi Megan!) and enjoy some Oregon Pinot Noir.

Lesson: Look for small groups, meetups and other events at the next conference you attend. It is an excellent way to deepen relationships, have fun and make the most of the conference experience.

  1. Learn Marketing at WDS Academies

As my friend Jennifer Polk recently explained, some people have a tendency to treat conferences like a course: furiously take notes, study and avoid socializing. That’s a tendency I sympathize with and put to full use in attending the WDS Academies (i.e. three hour workshops dedicated to specific topics).

On the Thursday of the conference, I participated in two academies that connect with my goal of building ProjectManagementHacks.com into a business.

The Location Rebel Academy is based on the idea of building an online business that you can run from anywhere in the world. I found the program that Sean laid out – earning money through freelance services before transitioning to a passion business – a good idea. A highlight of his Academy was bringing in several people who presented case studies on their ideas and how they have built their own online business. I also admire Sean for publishing his bucket list (and I’m impressed at how many of the activities he has already completed). In Sean Ogle’s event, I was the first person on stage to ask a question. Unintentionally, this meant that a number of other people knew about me and introduced themselves later in the conference.

Jonathan Field’s academy explores the art and science of crafting a clear brand or marketing message for one’s company. I found the marketing message templates he provided (e.g. “I help [TYPE of PEOPLE] overcome [PROBLEM] despite [OBSTACLE]”). It was also great to take notes during the extended question and answer session at the end of the academy. Of course, it was also a pleasure to briefly chat with Jonathan at the end of the event.

  1. Discover Portland

 

Image Credit: Armosa Studios, Official WDS 2015 Photo from Flickr

Image Credit: Official WDS 2015 Photos on Flickr.

Prior to the World Domination Summit, I had never visited Portland, Oregon. I very much enjoyed the idea of exploring a new city and playing the part of the tourist. Based on recommendations from several people, I made Powell’s – Portland’s famous independent bookstore – my first stop. I also enjoyed several meals at Portland’s food trucks (I most enjoyed a vegetarian Indian food truck) and one donut at Voodoo Donuts. Here are a few of the highlights from my exploration of Portland.

  • Powell’s City of Books. One of the best book stores I have ever visited in the world! Wow! I ended up visiting Powell’s several times, sometimes simply to relax in the café at the flagship location (over 1 million books on site, according to their website) at 1005 W Burnside St. A serious reader and lifelong learner simply must explore Powell’s during a trip to Portland.

 

  • Exploring The City Through Runs. Years ago, I never would have brought workout clothes on a conference trip. In my 30s, I’m more interested in keeping up a steady stream of fitness. During my two runs through Portland, I enjoyed exploring the city and the waterfront. It was fun to meet Jim Hopkinson of com during the Friday morning fun run with about 20-30 people at the conference.

 

  • Portland River Cruise. On the Saturday evening of the event, I enjoyed taking a cruise through the Willamette River. It was fun to meet such a variety of people working on different goals. Some people are building software companies, others are working on charitable projects and others are giving thought to the next stage of their lives.

 

  • Oregon Historical Society. As a long time student of history, I enjoyed visited the Oregon Historical Society. I found it fascinating to see all the parallels between Oregon’s history and Canadian history (e.g. the key role of the fur trade and the long history of mistreating visible minorities). Of particular note was the Second World War special exhibition. There were original letters from soldiers, one of General Patton’s revolvers, a map used by the Enola Gay bomber in 1945 and more.

4. Notes from Main Stage Events

During Saturday and Sunday, the main stage events of the World Domination Summit unfolded at the the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall. Here are three speakers that I find most interesting and relevant to my interests.

  • Jon Acuff. As the opening keynote, I had high expectations for Acuff and he delivered. He spoke about finding one’s voice and other inspirational topics. I bought one of his books and have it on my steadily growing to-read list. His proposal for DO Summer 2015 aligns well with my recent series on summer projects (read: Why You Need To Start A Summer Project).
  • Jeremy Cowart. Have you ever been blown away by a presentation’s visuals? Cowart delivered a stunning presentation that told his story and how he learned photography. In addition to his considerable professional accomplishments, I’m impressed by Cowart’s work in developing countries. The Voices of Reconciliation in Rwanda (“love is a weapon to destroy evil”) is a testament to the power of forgiveness, I’ve never seen anything quite like it.
  • Derek Sivers. As the closing keynote address, I found Derek Sivers was an excellent speaker. He told the story of his company, CD Baby which was sold for over $20 million. Overall, he made a great point that original ideas, on their own, are not enough. Success takes a combination of ideas and execution: in fact, outstanding execution can multiply a medium quality idea.
  • The Creative Live Gift Card. The World Domination Summit has a history of surprises (e.g. the $100 investment – giving $100 cash to every attendee to start something remarkable). This year, the organizers made a generous decision to give every single attendee a $150 gift card for Creative Live. As some of you may know, Creative Live is a producer of high quality video courses. I used my gift card to purchase the Launching an Online Business with Lewis Howes courses.

5. Notes from Monday WDS Academies

I stayed an extra day in Portland in order to attend the Monday Academies. It was well worth the effort and time. As an added benefit, the Monday Academies I attended were smaller (i.e. around 100 people each vs the 300+ on the Thursday Academies) which meant more interaction with the presenters and other attendees.

What a great workshop in concept and execution. Many people make the mistake of attending a conference, absorb new ideas and experiences and then never act on the information. This workshop provided a workshop, great discussions and a roadmap to work on our goals. I went into the workshop with a firm idea of a specific 2015 goal for ProjectManagementHacks.com. As a result, I have firm ideas on what to work on next.

 Wow! This was an incredible workshop covering a variety of topics related to body language, conversation and related skills. At times, I felt somewhat overwhelmed by the depth of Vanessa’s material. Two of her recent blog posts will give a sense for what she can provide:

Body Language of Leaders: Harvey Specter (as a fan of SUITS, I liked that post!) and 7 Days to a Better First Impression. I have more work ahead of me to review Vanessa’s material and make the most of it.

6. Book Report

Anyone who knows me well knows that I love books. I brought books with me to read at WDS and ended up buying several while in Portland. As this post is already quite long, I will share just a few highlights:

Books Read

  • The Beam Season 1 by Sean Platt and Johnny B. Truant. An outstanding science fiction novel set in 2097 – a world filled with sharp class distinctions where the wealthy benefit from nanobots and the world outside the North American Union is called the Wild East.
  • Red, White and Drunk All Over by Natalie McLean. An excellent book all about wine. What I loved most about the book was the friendly tone and the breadth of coverage – wineries, wine retailing, and much more.
  •  Anything You Want by Derek Sivers. I bought and read this book in 24 hours after seeing Derek speak (and the book inspired me to write an article at CIO.com: 5 best practices for on-time innovation)
  • The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt by Edmund Morris. I have long been interested in Roosevelt and I’m still working my way through this fantastic Pulitzer winning biography.

Books Purchased (at Powell’s and the WDS Bookstore)

  • Plutarch’s Lives (Volume 1 and 2). A collection of short biographies about the ancient Romans and Greeks. I have long been fascinated with the ancient world and look forward to diving into these books.
  • The End of Eternity by Issac Asimov. A novel by Asimov about time travel? That’s all I need to hear.
  • Body of Work by Pamela Slim. A book about how to build a career given our world’s changing business landscape.
  • Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. An excellent book that I finished reading this week. Among other points, Cain presents evidence about the ills of open plan offices. To get a sense of her ideas, watch her excellent TED Talk: The Power of Introverts.

For fun, let’s end with a photo of the Darth Vader Bagpiper (aka The Unipiper) who made an appearance during WDS:

Image Credit: Armosa Studios, Official WDS 2015 Photos on Flickr.