Conferences are one of the most important aspects of any entrepreneur’s work, especially for one in the online realm, as I am. Conferences are invaluable opportunities to have precious face to face interaction with people we respect and admire, as well to make ourselves known to broader audiences.
I wanted to discuss conferences for this week’s audio blog for two reasons.
- Michael O’Neal, who I’ve featured in both episodes this week, has a course on how to make the most of attending conferences. It’s called Conferencetopia. The more I can promote his business on this fledgling podcast, the better 🙂
- Just last week, I got a phone call from an entrepreneur and motivational speaker that I respect and admire – Joel Boggess. I actually interviewed Joel a few months ago and I’m going to publish it in a few weeks. Joel was doing research for an upcoming talk on how to make the most of conferences and wanted my input. (How flattering 🙂
It seemed serendipitous that those two events occurred when they did, so here we are talking about conferences.
Joel asked me, “James, what would make a successful conference for you?”
I gave him an answer on the phone, but thought more about it after we hung up. I came up with a list of 4 things (isn’t lists what we’re all about in the blogcastsphere anyways?) that, for me, would make for a successful conference. Here they are, in the order in which I thought of them.
- Did I learn something I didn’t know before?
- Did a prior notion I’ve had become validated through what I heard?
- Did I meet successful people who would be able to contribute value to my audience?
- Did I take advantage of opportunities to prove myself as someone who can add value to other people’s audiences or followings?
I’ll expound a little bit on each of these things and keep in mind I’ll be drawing from Michael’s course in the material.
It’s amazing how people think they’ve got it all together. They think they know everything they’ll ever need to know about their profession or craft. We’ve all been that person at some point in our lives, so I guess it’s just part of the human experience and struggle with pure vanity.
One thing that sticks out to me when interviewing uber successful musicians is how humble they are, especially when it comes to learning. Sometimes it seems as though they’re putting on a show when they say how little they know about Music, or their particular instrument. I want to say, “What are you talking about, Vince DiMartino? You’re one of the best trumpet players in the world and you say you’re just getting started? I don’t believe you.”
The thing is, they’re not putting on a show. When the best of the best say that, they’re really saying quite a bit. What they’re really saying is, “I haven’t arrived,” even though by everyone else’s estimation, they’ve arrived many times over.
Then you have the guy who goes to the conference because he thinks he’s going to prove what a great musician he is. He hears what the experts say, but doesn’t listen. You know he doesn’t listen because he keeps doing things the same way he’s always done them. He’s somehow managed to play his axe well enough to get a few gigs, maybe even a steady gig somewhere, but he’ll never elevate his game to the highest level. Why? Because he doesn’t apply what he hears.
The truth is that most of us are somewhere in the middle of those two extremes. We know we haven’t arrived, but let’s be honest… We’re kind of stubborn when we get set on an idea.
Have an attitude that if you don’t learn anything, the conference will be a failure. Maybe the conference doesn’t provide any real value. It’s run by the second type of person I described. Well, you know to not go next year 🙂
Validate (or Nullify) Your Ideas
Maybe you have an idea on an unconventional way of doing this or that. You suspect that the mainstream of your niche isn’t ready to accept it because it’s unorthodox. Then you hear a lecture or talk at a conference that basically validates what you’ve been thinking. You’ve just made a new friend. Maybe that person is a person of influence and he needs validation of his idea. You can buy him a drink and talk your ideas over. Who knows? An alliance or even a business partnership may form form it.
On the other hand, you might hear from an expert that shoots your idea down. They don’t know that they’re doing so, but what they say makes sense and you know it’s not viable.
In either situation, you have an opportunity to make a connection. Approach that person after their talk and ask for clarification. Offer to buy them a drink and say, “I’ve had this thought for awhile, but what you said made a lot of sense. Can you go into more detail?” So you’re getting confirmation on either a good or bad idea, plus you’re making important connections along the way. Which brings us to…
Meet Influencers Within Your Niche
This is where it gets difficult because an influencer is usually one of the most sought after people at the conference. If you wait until after their talk to approach them, your chances of doing so are slim to none. They’re probably hounded by hundreds of people who didn’t do what I’m about to recommend.
If you know there’s someone that can add value to your entrepreneurial venture, you should reach out to them well before you’ll have the chance to meet them. Send an email, contact their assistant and initiate a dialogue. “I’ll be at this conference in May and saw you’re on the slate of speakers. I’m looking forward to hearing you speak!” Leave it at that.
Then, share their stuff with your own following. If they’ve published an article, tweet it out and tag them so they get notified of it. If they release a YouTube, share it on Facebook and tag them. I guarantee they’ll appreciate the effort on your part. Your chances of getting an audience with them at the conference has increased exponentially.
Of course, knowing how to make light conversation is essential. For some, it comes naturally. For others (I’m the worst at it) not so much. A good acronym to remember when making conversation is FORM.
Show Yourself to be a Person of Value
This is what will really set you apart from just about everyone else. Most attendees have a take, rather than a give mentality. There is no plan of action. They simply show up, not really expecting anything out of it. But on the bright side, since they don’t expect anything, they’re not disappointed when they receive nothing!
Ask someone their favorite drink at Starbucks, then offer to buy it for them. Organize a dinner for influencers you’d like to know better. Everyone goes Dutch, but you get the credit for organizing an event where ideas are exchanged.
I bought a table at the International Trumpet Guild conference last year. The problem is I’m a podcaster, so I didn’t have anything to sell! I spent most of the days going around the other vendor tables doing on the spot interviews, then publishing them on my Trumpet Dynamics podcast. I only spent a few moments here and there at the table and that was mostly to collect my thoughts. I don’t think anyone sold a trumpet because of what I did, but my efforts of providing value didn’t go unnoticed. A few of the big fish were annoyed when I asked for a quick interview but most really appreciated it. This year, my wife will be with me so she can collect email addresses while I do basically the same thing.
Be aware of your unique talents and abilities. Be willing to share them for free with the expectation that you’ll win the respect and maybe even admiration of people who can help you with your entrepreneurial endeavors.
If You Didn’t Get All That, Get This
If you have a plan of action when you attend a conference, you’ve already separated yourself by miles from just about everyone else there. The more specific you get with your goals, the better chance you have of achieving them. If I want to get 6 people to commit to interviewing on my podcast, that’s good. If I want to get Allen Vizzutti, The Avett Brothers and Victor Wooten to commit, that’s even better. Now I know where to focus my efforts. You can correlate to whatever your priority is with attending a conference.
The bottom line is that you need to show yourself to be a person of value. You need to add wood to the fire pit before you can enjoy the warmth of the fire.
I think that’s the main difference between an employee and entrepreneurial mindset – but I digress.
The MusicPreneur Creed
Part of my daily routine is to do an affirmation. Some people call it a “pep talk.” It doesn’t really matter what you call it, so long as you really believe what you’re saying. I’ve created an affirmation that I have begun saying to myself every morning. It takes all of 30 seconds but it reinforces why I’m doing what I’m doing. Keep in mind I don’t just think this. I say it out loud. Never underestimate the power of the spoken word! I’m sure you can think of an affirmation that suits your own personality and goals better than this, but I thought I’d share it in case you need some a little help getting started! If you’ve followed this blog, you’ll notice it’s right in line with the post I wrote and record “How to BE A MusicPreneur.”
- I am a musician first and foremost. My priority is producing the best musical product possible. Money is simply a means of validating my work as a MusicPreneur and only follows hard, dedicated work on my end. My income is in direct proportion to the amount of people I touch with my music.
- I am an Entrepreneur, not an Employee. I may need to have a job while my business plan develops, but I’m not content to work for someone else.
- I am innovative and creative. I will patiently wait while others reject my ideas. If they get shot down outright, I’ll retool and try again when the time is right.
- I am a healthy person. I am careful with what I eat. I exercise regularly and get adequate rest. I’m mindful of my attitude and I express gratitude on a regular basis.
- I am aware of the principles of liberty which make it possible for me to be an entrepreneur.
- I am a unique person with gifts to share with the world that cannot be shared by anyone else.