Friday, July 8, 2011

Success at an Annual Conference: WHAT'S THAT?

So you've registered for this event called an annual conference, with hundreds or thousands of attendees, and an overwhelming number of learning labs.  You spent the time convincing a supervisor, CEO, or yourself, that the return on your investment is going to be worth the effort to pack clothing for four to five days; that the time away from the frantic pace of the office, and spending long days learning and networking, are worth the money spent.

When you consider time, effort, and money, a tremendous amount of resources go into attending an annual conference.  Yet, I personally am amazed at people who get to the end of a conference and say the words, "I really didn't get much out of the conference!"  REALLY?  I'm thinking, "I learned the one idea that is going to reshape our membership, or revenues, or our entire value proposition."  What sessions were they in?

Having reviewed conference surveys for a number of years, how do we have one attendee that says, "I've been coming to conference for 30 years, and thought the keynote was the best EVER," and another person says, "I didn't get the keynotes presentation?"

Ten years ago, I implemented a system for myself to attack any conference, to guarantee I would come away with ideas that could transform our association over the next 12 months.  Remember, true success is not about a one time dynamic shift in all you do, it's a small set of incremental changes, made over a period of time.  Staff and boards can handle small incremental change much easier than sweeping change.

Using the simple system noted below has provided me the ideas that have helped our association over the last five years grow its member surplus over 450%, increase per member revenue 28% on just 7.5% growth in total members.  All this, through the up and down economies of 2009 and 2010.

So here are the keys to getting the most out of any conference you attend:

Decide whether you want information or ideas - I always ask people the question, "would you rather return with 12-legal size pages of great information, or 2-sentences of an idea that could transform your association?"  I find people are so focused on writing down what the presenter is saying, they never transform what they are saying into something actionable.  Me personally...I want the GREAT IDEA!

Define and write down the 2-top challenges your association needs to solve now, and the 1-top challenge it needs to be looking at solving in the next 24-months.  This keeps you focused in the presentations to listen and write down the actionable ideas you know will work for those challenges.

What to write down at conference - I don't require myself or my staff to write any notes on what the speaker is saying at any session.   I only require we make note of the following items for each day we are at conference to review at the end:

1) A new idea or new way of doing something we already do
2) What are we going to do differently on Monday when we return
3) One person I met who can help us make the change we need

Putting focus on these three items each day of a conference has helped us cut through the mass of information, and zero in on ideas and people that have led to the amazing growth and excitement we have experienced.  ...And it is continuing in 2011.  We are slated to grow our member surplus by another 17%. 

A couple of closing comments:  Don't get caught up in the information.  Get caught up in the ideas that you can actually implement, that are clear, achievable, measurable, and support the future vision of your association.  If you have reached the end of a conference and don't have any ideas, you need to change the crowd you hang with at conference.  I personally could miss every session at conference and still walk away with a great return on my investment, because I feel I hang with the most innovative minds in the industry.  We like helping each other solve our challenges so we can achieve the greatest success both personally and professionally.

So get your pad or mobile device out, and define your challenges you are looking to solve.  If you are looking and listening, you will find all the answers at conference.

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