Most professionals have been there: midway through a conference, questioning the value of taking time away from the office and regretting the thousands of dollars spent to attend.
In last week’s column, I admitted that the first half of my experience at the National Speaker’s Association (NSA) conference in Phoenix, Ariz., was not particularly productive, despite my dedication to the recommended pre-conference-planning activities.
But with two conventions days left, I was determined to script a different outcome to this story.
The first step was to re-evaluate my goals for the conference. It was obvious these needed to be adjusted, but I wanted to keep to my overall objectives:
- To connect with a leader in the industry.
- To seek tips on how to grow my business.
- To find good fodder for my future columns.
With a little added strategic flexibility, I was ready to embark on the rest of the process.
Once my expectations were shifted, I deliberately gave myself a quick attitude adjustment and challenged myself to make the most of the otherwise dull situation. My networking wingperson and I were all set.
Strategies that work
Other than a few people I met at the convention first-timers’ reception, all of my new contacts from the trip were created after my attitude adjustment. This leads me to believe that most of the success at any event is related to a person’s attitude. Ultimately, the turnaround was quite successful, thanks to a few of these strategies.
Instead of focusing on my disappointment, I focused on opportunity.
My idol — an author who had inspired me, and whom I had arranged to meet for coffee after his appearance, only to be brushed off — may have been rude, but it gave me a great opening for a future keynote speech and reminded me how I would never want to be perceived.
That incident opened my eyes to all the other leaders in the room, one of whom oozed hospitality and restored my faith in how polite and personable successful speakers can be.
I also realized that a lot of neat people at the conference were involved with a specific social group that had a big outing planned, so I joined, which gave me another excuse to connect.
To conserve energy and time, rather than trying to go to everything, I was very strategic about break-out sessions and main-stage activities. I asked a trusted colleague about the presenters and chose accordingly.
If I ended up in a session that wasn’t working for me, rather than trying to be polite by staying, I quietly slipped out the back door and went to another room that better fitted my learning objectives.
Two of the sessions were absolutely fabulous and made my entire trip worthwhile. Two factors, I believe, made the difference:
I got involved by asking questions and volunteering to go on stage
I connected with each speaker afterward. The collection of keeners standing around the speaker was a great chance to meet other like-minded people with similar interests.
At mealtime, as I watched the cliques head to their usual tables, I looked for a single seat and asked if I could join them. They always said yes and each time, I met more great people.
Many attendees traded cards with everyone they met. This didn’t make sense to me, because they hadn’t connected enough to make the card trade memorable. There is no sense heading home with a bunch of business cards that have no meaning. So, even though I had a lot of great conversations, I ultimately only traded about 10 cards.
Next week, we’ll explore how to follow up after a conference to be sure ideas learned and the contacts made aren’t forgotten.