Saturday, May 24, 2008

Why Attend Conferences?

Just got back from the ASCII event in Cleveland. Saw some old faces. Made some new friends.

And this morning I filled out the evaluation form for the SBS Migration conference a few weeks ago in New Orleans.

One question asked about the value of the conference. For me, the greatest benefit of the conference was:

I had two important conversations that will affect how I do business in the next year.

You can't ask for more than that.

Every once in awhile someone will ask me why I attend all these conferences. After all, they cost money. Even "free" conferences like the ASCII event cost money. I took three days off work, paid for cabs, and had to buy expensive airport food.

So it costs time and it costs money.

But if I can have a handful of key conversations every year, I can learn ways to grow my business, get connected to great people, find new products, and learn techniques that will increase profits and decrease expenses.

Let me be very clear here: I love meeting people and I've made some life-long friends at technical conferences. But this post is strictly about business.

Sometimes, my employees hate it when I come back from conferences. I buy equipment, invest in tools, change vendors, change directions, and do all kinds of things they didn't see coming.

I still haven't implemented all the great ideas I've gotten from conferences. But I have them written down. They're on the wall next to my monitor at home. There is a plan. We know where we're going.

Don't Be Obsessed With Content

If you've never been to a professional conference before, everything's new and good. You can't attend enough sessions. You are sad because you have to choose between track one and track two. Your brain is full of new ideas on day one and you're overwhelmed by day two.

Don't forget to write down action steps that you'll take to turn this enthusiasm into changes in your business!

After you've gone to two or three or four conferences, you begin to believe that you've seen it before. You bought the E-Myth and all the other books. So you don't need another seminar on managed services, recurring revenue, and managing your vendors. You think, "It's all the same."

But that's not what conferences are about.

A professional conference is a place for you to soak in the professional community for a few days. Learn with these people, eat with these people, party with these people. Immerse yourself in an environment where people talk about computers and business for two or three days straight. In the elevators on the way to breakfast, all through the day, and in the bars at night.

Soak it in.

Let your imagination loose and let the sparks fly.

The role of the conference is to set the tone. It should get people to start thinking about a topic and give them a chance to talk to each other about it. The best conferences for me are the ones where people walk out of a session and spend an hour in the hallway arguing about the presentation.

But don't forget to talk to the quiet people who take a lot of notes, never ask a question, and only give their opinion when you ask for it. I've found that a lot of these people are from the larger partners. They are doing almost everything being discussed on the stage. But they come to the conference to get their imagination going, to make sure they don't miss a trend, and to find out what the industry's up to.

You have a lot to learn from these folks.

But to do that, you need to be at the conference.

To paraphrase the former mayor of Portland, Expose Yourself to Consulting.

I'll see you June 6th in Washington, DC for ICCA. Meet me at the night tour of the monuments and we'll argue about managed services while we gawk at Abraham Lincoln.


  1. Karl's right, and I do the conference circuit myself for all the same reasons.

    If you're not attending at least one, you're missing out.

    Karl, I much prefer gawking at Jefferson. His memorial is much better, and I'll show you on that night tour.

  2. Anonymous11:58 AM

    Some good feedback on what to gain from conferences. Thank you.

  3. Anonymous5:30 AM

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