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4 Steps for Maximizing Your Conference Experience

Alan Andersen

I had the privilege of participating in a leadership conference a couple weeks ago. Like many conferences, knowledge was shared and new relationships were formed. The focus was centered on Leadership in Life and Business. There were people from 42 states, 56 industries, and 5 foreign countries.  Maybe what is most encouraging about these stats is that this was the first conference (of many, hopefully!) from this particular leadership group.  In light of this, I want to answer a question I periodically get.

Alan, how do you approach, digest and implement learning from conferences or conventions?

I’ll lay the foundation for my process (which will take a bit longer than normal but will be worth the 8 minute read, I promise). Then, in the weeks to come I'll share our typical shorter posts with actual takeaways from the particular conference that I alluded to so that you can apply those leadership lessons to your personal and professional life.

The Context

First, I am compelled to share how this conference was different. Unlike any other conference that I have participated in there were unreal amounts of human connection and practical application. This specific conference was called Muster and was put on by the consulting firm Echelon Front.

The conference promo video was “gut-wrenchingly” honest. Key-note speakers, Jocko Willink and Leif Babin, literally set expectations for would-be participants by sharing that “this conference is not for everyone”.

Why would they say that?  

1.    You are a participant. There was no such thing as “attendee”. And while there seemed to be a couple people sitting back in their seats and checking out or checking social media, they clearly did not get the most out of their experience. Trafficking between email and Facebook while trying to track with conference sessions is impossible. Stop it.

2.    Each day began at 04:30! You read that right. At 4:30a about two-thirds of the participants met outside the hotel to participate in "hurt so good" Physical Training. While not everyone was physically fit, nearly everyone had a gritty (in a good way) attitude and was willing to do their personal best. And yes, there was puking involved. People were seriously pushing themselves and getting after it.

3.    Conference cost was on the high-end. Candidly, I was skeptical at the cost to benefit ratio. (Hey, I’m born and raised in the NW, Seattleites are infamous for being skeptical.) But, as usual, you get what you pay for. The downtown San Diego location was perfect for the learning process. People had skin in the game from the get-go. The materials were quality. The welcome package was beyond anything I’ve gotten before. Bottom line: The benefit of Muster far EXCEEDED the cost (and my peers agreed).

4.    Concepts and Principals were not theory, but battle tested! Fact, there is no harder or more difficult battleground than war. If life lessons and leadership principals hold up on the battlefield then they sure as hell will prove viable in life and business (when executed properly). I gained an invaluable perspective on leadership that I am unlikely to have gotten anywhere else, which is why I'll those takeaways in later posts.

Okay, Alan! I get it. You learned a ton at the conference. I still want to know how you approach and digest the material.

Approaching and Digesting Conference Content

Above everything else, you need to be tremendously intentional about which conferences or conventions you go to. Time is your greatest asset and I don’t know about you, but as a business partner, husband, father of 2.5 kids, civic leader, etc. I do not have the luxury of poorly investing my time. Frankly, neither do you. So grab your pen and take notes.

Step 1

Once you have the correct learning opportunity chosen, see if you have any relational connections to the people running the event (as far in advance as possible). If you do, reach out to them and see if you can volunteer!

Wait! You’re implying that I pay for the conference, transportation and stay accommodations; and then volunteer my time on top of that?

Sorry, I meant to be more explicit. No implying, I am absolutely encouraging you to volunteer. I have employed this principle of giving back for about the past 10 years and when I can volunteer I ALWAYS get more value from the conference.

How so? That really seems like public school math.

Volunteering forces me to be fully present. And also decreases the likelihood that I’ll waist my time avoiding people that I don’t know. I’m simply creating a process that will keep me on point. I don't have the opportunity to get cold feet, bale out, or hide in the back because I don’t know anyone. When you volunteer you may be behind the scenes, but you are on the front line. Inevitably you will intersect with other great people. That was my experience with this conference. I was fortunate to be able to volunteer and every single staff or volunteer I worked with was better than me! I learned a ton and it was awesome.

Step 2

Whether or not I can volunteer, I set a loose agenda and create metrics so that I can maximize my time. For instance, I want to meet “X” number of people. I want to ask "X" question(s) to each of the different speakers. Do this before going to the event, write them down with your quality pen, in your Moleskine (or quality-made) notebook that you'll bring to the event. This way you’ve had plenty of time to prepare the best possible agenda, success metrics and most helpful questions.

Step 3

I show up early and leave late. That is pretty self-explanatory but takes some practice so that you’re not the creepy, silent person standing in the back while most other people are gone. The truth is that I’ve had some of my best conversations (and friendships) spring from this practice. Muster was no different. I got to speak with speakers and VIP guests because I was patient and prepared. The key is to have your previously prepared questions on the ready.

Implementation of Conference Content

Step 4

Finally, at the end of the conference, I schedule a two-hour block to carefully choose my “VFO’s” and work to implement learning into my life within the “Thirty Day Rule”. This final step is something that I designed based on two respective practices that I learned from different CEO’s that I worked for.

  • VFO’s are my Very Few Objectives. I don’t need to get into the science of why you can only excel at five or fewer objectives at once. If you didn't know this, go read Grit by Duckworth or research Warren Buffett's 5 priorities rule.
  • The Thirty Day Rule is a healthy counterbalance of time and space. You need to hustle and wrap up any actions that came from the learning opportunity before your momentum runs its course and the concepts escape your mind.  

Above is a picture of my 30 Day VFO's.

Closing Word

God willing I will be going to Muster 2017. However, my planning is beginnning now! Why? For starters, our third kiddo is due four weeks prior. I’ve already begun negotiations with my better half. Most likely I will postpone the two other conferences I was considering going to so that I can participate in Muster 2017.

Wow, that seems a bit extreme. Why?

Bottom line, I am training to be the best. I aim to be the most helpful and connected leadership coach in Seattle. So rubbing shoulders with other leaders, talking through life, leadership and battle tested growth principals help me achieve that objective. 

Muster 001 was not only about the quality people that I would meet. It was not just because the conference content was (and I’m certain will be) so rich. It was not because I like getting up before the sun to do PT with 300 other leaders. It’s not because I am a better person now after learning how to take Extreme Ownership over my life and leadership. Or even because I learned that I need a perpetual ego check (though I do!).

IT IS because of all of those ingredients mixed together. Let’s remember that the sum total of the whole is worth more than its parts. Get After It!

Pulling for you,

Alan Andersen

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