Conference Like A Boss!

This is a compilation of thoughts, ideas and actions taken during two four day (bi)annual conferences attended a few years ago.

From each of these two conferences I drew more value and actionable content than from just about all conferences combined that I have ever attended previously. Not because the conferences themselves were radically different from previous events, although they were of course better than previous events as the organisers do a better job with each passing event. What was radically different was my own mindset.

I approached each as a mission to be efficient, glean new data, and meet new people.

Success was found on all fronts, here is how I approached each event.

The eight steps:

1. Make the decision to go!

Guess who you see at industry conferences. You see the top producers, and future top producers. So book often and book early. The best part of deciding to attend every related conference in your field is that you can take advantage of early booking discounts on the conference, and when applicable, hotels and airfare.

2. Plan related mini-events.

When traveling out of town, book more than just a room to sleep in. Find out who else is attending and consider booking dinner reservations, a show, or even a conference room at the hotel to hold meetings in. What kinds of meetings? Meetings with others in your field who might be open to sharing.

I recently set up a series of such meetings over a four-day period by emailing the top 50 producers in our company. Several did not respond, some said no… but 28 said yes.

Admittedly the 6am – 8am meeting time was less than desirable for some, but to spend 15 early-morning minutes spilling secrets was a small trade-off to be able to sit and listen to seven others spill out their own secrets. A small sacrifice for a large gain.

What kind of ‘secrets’? If I divulged them they would not be secrets, such are the benefits of closed door sessions with other Brokers. Make your own happen within your own network.

3. Pre-work. Pre-connect. Pre-plan.

Get hold of top-producers lists for your company, get hold of delegate lists. Schedule as much as you can in advance, well in advance. Thinking of ordering a new suit? Get it done well in advance. Start shifting to a time change days in advance if applicable.

4. Plan to arrive refreshed.

Book your flight in advance, and prepare a flight survival kit: Bose noise-cancelling headphones and/or earplugs, eye drops, Chap Stick, a pack of gum, spare batteries for all electronics, USB charging cables. Use a taxi or a car service to ensure you leave on time and allow you to chat and email all the way to the airport, and more importantly to get your very tired self home safely upon return.

Personally I opt for the red-eye flights whenever possible as I would sooner lose a few hours of sleep than a few hours of office productivity. This is not a vacation — it is a work trip. Most major airports have arrivals lounges you can access for $25.00 in which you can nap for an hour or two, shower, shave, change into fresh clothes, grab a quick breakfast.

5. Arrive early, leave late.

Be the first to arrive and the last to leave. Arrive a day early if you can. Contact the organisers in advance and see if they could use a hand with setup; contact vendors you work with and see if they can use a hand; get the lay of the hotel and venue. It is also prudent to get all of your clothes laid out, iron all that needs ironing, polish your shoes…did you forget your shoes? The bonus of arriving a bit earlier is you have time to address that missing item.

In the case of a local conference, do not park nine blocks away to save $3.00. Pay the $20.00 to the doorman (most conferences are held in hotels) for parking. Once there, stay until the very end as every minute is another opportunity to meet somebody new, right up to the point when you’re waiting for your car to be brought around. Linger until they turn out the lights (in a social way, not a creepy, stalker way).

Can you catch the red-eye home? If so it is worth considering that perhaps it is better to lose a few hours sleep during the night to travel home, rather than an entire business day. I love my red-eye flights!

6. Avoid peer pressure.

Don’t drink at conferences, or limit yourself to one drink. Do not skip sessions, there is something useful offered in every single one and this is what you paid for. Do not sleep in, or bunk with a roommate that is only there to party. Avoid getting stuck in rambling non-meetings. Your pre-scheduling should give you somewhere to be every hour, and you should have a plan of what you want to address in each meeting. Eat right, sleep right, work out right. An early morning swim is one of the best ways to shake off jet lag.

7. Be front and centre.

Always sit in the front row(s). Eye contact with the presenter demonstrates interest in what they’re saying.

One side benefit of being in the front row is that you are unlikely to nod off. If you are going to pay good money, and take time out of your day to hear somebody speak, then do them the courtesy — and yourself the benefit — of paying attention. Those in the front row usually get their questions answered and are often able to meet the presenter afterwards to ask a few follow-up questions.

Most presenters welcome feedback. You may want to follow up with a phone call or email a few days later if you see the potential for a business relationship or at least an opportunity to refer their services out to others. At the very least, if you enjoyed their content, connect with them via the various social media sites and pay them a compliment when you can.

8. Do not underestimate yourself.

Look in the mirror and repeat to yourself, ‘Don’t you know who I am?’ or whatever you need to do to feel confident.  Confidence is key, especially in an environment filled with strangers, filled with bigger (they are not bigger, just different) fish. You are special because you are in the 1% of your industry peers that took them time to attend the conference. Props to you!

This next paragraph is really only for the men; ladies you already have this under control;

Get a haircut, shave, shower, spritz some cologne (but not too much), polish your shoes, buy a new belt, and keep it tight. Pack like you are going away for two weeks, so, yeah, a third pair of socks. You should have a suit and tie for the conference by day, and business casual wear for the evening, with an extra day’s change of clothes just in case of an incident, any kind of incident.

Go forth and conference, like a boss.

Be The Better Broker.

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Dustan Woodhouse