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How to Make the Most Out of Conferences

Franklin Stoffer

The 2020 Conference Season is Upon Us

My busiest time of year is typically the last week of January through the middle of May, which is due to having a conference or event to go to nearly every other week in that time frame. There are so many real estate conferences or gatherings going on, it seemed appropriate to put together my thoughts on how to make the most out of every conference you attend each year.

The very first thing I do once I've decided which events I'm planning to attend is to see which conferences have a dedicated app to get additional information about the event. So many great conferences such as Inman Connect, LeadingRE, NAR, and dozens of other regional and franchise-based events offer dedicated mobile apps where you can start to make an itinerary of which sessions you want to attend based on your schedule.

When booking sessions one of the main ways I gauge which events I think will be worth my time is if a speaker is giving a session that I think I'd like to hold a one-on-one conversation with. Conferences are often non-stop / go-go-go type affairs. If I want to be able to make a brief introduction with someone or get a face-to-face opportunity to ask to connect later in the event, there is no better way than sitting through the session and then catching the speaker just as they've left the stage. At most events, the speaker will head directly in the hallway or to the back of the room, where you'll have a chance to make a new connection that could be incredibly powerful.

On the topic of session content, one thing you may not think about is the actual background of who the speaker is. It sounds a little backward, but at many conferences, the speakers are people who paid to get on stage to speak to you. You, the person who paid to sit in a session, is being soft- sold by a vendor who paid to talk to you. It is an unfortunate fact of our industry that many of the speakers who get on stage under the guise of "education" are often on stage to soft-sell services or products. When deciding which sessions to attend to bring quality content back to your firm, I recommend you do a little research on the speaker to see if they have secondary interests. After all, you're at a conference to learn and make connections, not sit through a sales pitch.

One of my absolute favorite things about traveling for industry events is the opportunity to make connections with new people, and also catch up with colleagues I often don't get to see. Starting with the latter, the right time to schedule a meeting or 15-minute "let's catch up" drink isn't the week before the event. You're busy, just as everyone else is going to these meetings. I've found that roughly six weeks before the first day of a conference is the right time to start reaching out to friends and colleagues to see when they can find time in their schedule to make a face-to-face happen. I usually keep a spreadsheet with each conference day broken out in 30-minute intervals between 8:00 am-8:00 pm and fill in 30-minute slots. The day before the event begins, I'll fill in my calendar with reminders, so I know I don't miss anything!

I've found that when it comes to making connections with new people at an event, there usually are two places where you'll have the best luck. Number one, cocktail events, coffee breaks, dinner receptions, or any opportunity where the conference host has specifically designated a time to make connections. These events were built specifically for you to make the most of the industry getting together, and I'm often surprised at how small real estate can feel. Trust me, after going to Inman Connect New York, LeadingRE Annual, NAR Mid Year, and then back to Inman 

Connect Vegas, I'll be shocked if I haven't seen at least several dozen people 3-4 times in a six-month window. It's the perfect opportunity to make an introduction if someone seems familiar. "Hey, didn't I see you in Vegas a couple of months back?"

The second place is the lobby bar of the main hotel HQ for the event you're attending. There will typically be a specific hotel designated as the hub for the event, and after the last session of the day has wrapped up, you'll never see so many fellow realtors in the same bar. I've often had some of my best conversations at events by finding someone still wearing their attendee badge and asking what they thought of the general session speaker, or what their biggest takeaway for the day was. There's a lot of valuable insights to be gained by getting a different perspective on the same content.

Finally, my last tip on how to have an enjoyable conference is to have fun! After the sessions and the cocktails have ended for the day, you usually have a few hours to yourself before the next day of events begins. My regular routine is to head back to my hotel room for about 15- 30 minutes to make a quick write up of what I felt were the most important things I gathered from my new connections and sessions for the day. That write up will be important to jot down while everything is still fresh because even if you might think, "I'll remember all of this tomorrow," you're often getting information overload at these events. It's important to take it one day at a time. After you get a write up written, I recommend going out and enjoying at least one or two shows or restaurants or tourist attractions in whatever city you're staying in!

Some of my fondest memories from trade shows I've attended over the years has been the local cuisine, or "quintessential tourist attraction" that I was able to make time for while traveling. Seeing the Alamo in San Antonio after BHHS's annual event a few years back. Or taking the time to see The Phantom of the Opera on Broadway in NYC after an Inman Connect. Taking time to yourself for a little bit of fun will help you "shut off" for a few hours and let some of that information from the conference day sink in, so you feel recharged for another day of information gathering and referral building.

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