4 Steps for Advisors to Maximize Conference Attendance

As you no doubt have learned from reading this blog, I attend a lot of conferences each year. In fact, last year, I was probably out of MrAthe office three or four times a month speaking conferences.

Each conference typically has many things in common, such as an exhibit area packed with wholesalers typing on their iPhones instead of engaging, tons of cheap plastic throwaway items with company logos, and (frankly) a lot of unprepared, confused advisors who are wasting their time by showing up (if at all) completely unprepared for the meetings. There are also some great things, like quality speakers discussing interesting topics, and a group of your peers with common experiences and networking possibilities that can really help your businesses. So then why do many advisors waste time at these conferences? Because they don’t have a plan.

Work ON your business

Unless you are very active in a study group, or regularly attend FPA or other advisor-based events, you probably don’t interact often with your peers. A majority of time is spent working in your business instead of on your business. That is why I think conferences can be a huge benefit to the advisor who understands and goes with a plan.

Since many of you will be attending conferences this year, allow me to help with your planning so 2014 can be a more productive year:

Step 1: Start… before you get there.

A. Ask yourself, what do I want to learn at this meeting?

B. What can I get out of this?

C. What problems or issues do I want to solve?

D. Who do I want to meet?

The conference agenda is usually not a secret. Take a look at the breakouts and/or the speakers and decide what looks interesting. If there are two breakouts that look interesting and are being held at the same time, make sure you seek out the sponsors on the first night to get a synopsis of their presentations. Create your own agenda of meetings, breakouts and even networking time. Try to stick to your agenda.

Pack appropriately. You know you are going to be asked for business cards, so bring ‘em. Bring plenty of paper, too. You are going to be taking notes and those low-end hotel note pads are horrible when you are trying to sort out a few days’ worth of good content. Think about any materials that you may want to bring back. If your travel bag is stuffed on the way to the conference, you won’t have any room for materials on the way home.

Communicate with your staff and clients. Let them know you will be out of the office for a few days. You can check messages in the morning and the evening, but they should be aware that you will be unavailable for a few days.

Step 2: Pace Yourself.

When I think of a vacation, I usually don’t surround myself with 500 or so strangers from work. So why then do people think of these business conferences as a vacation? Since this is a professional blog, I won’t go into stories about all the unprofessional behavior and inappropriate conversations that I have seen and heard at these events, but suffice to say, you can do that stuff on your own time. Too many advisors spend days trying to recover from their first night at the conference. Too bad, because some of the best business conversations happen over breakfast, when everyone is less rushed or distracted by the day’s events. Plan on being there.

Step 3: Speaking of being there, actually BE there.

If you have researched the content and created your agenda, showing up is just a start. One of my old mentors used to have a phrase: “Take notes, use notes.” I am amazed that in most meetings, I see advisors just sitting and listening to the words of the speakers. How can you possibly remember content from the 10-20 different speakers you heard over a three-day period? Take notes.

Let’s say you have a question about employee compensation for your firm, or how others handle referral alliances with centers of influence. These meetings are full of your peers, who very well may have solved your problem already. Instead of running out at every break to check voicemail or email, be in the conversations during breaks; seek out the top producers and get their input on issues or questions regarding how they run their firms.

Step 4: When you get back to the office, catch up – then, get cracking.

Review the three or four best ideas that you took away from the meeting and write them down. Some advisors have a “to do” worksheet as a file on their computer. Others have a notebook called “big ideas” or “practice management.” Whatever works for you, write them down and then do nothing for the first few days after the conference — that is, until you have time to catch up for the time out of the office.

In my experience, your staff hates when you go away. They hate your trips because you come home with a bunch new ideas and strange strategies that force change on everyone, usually with no rhyme or reason and no input from them. To successfully implement change, I would suggest you take on one idea at a time. Try this:

  • Set aside time either weekly or bi-weekly that you all decide to work on the practice.
  • Pick one topic from your “big ideas” folder. Explain the idea, in detail, and get buy-in from everyone.
  • Meet at your regularly scheduled time to discuss status and provide ongoing updates.
  • When completed with Item 1, move on to Item 2.

Make the most of it

Conferences can be fun. You get to travel to some nice resort (hopefully some place warm), and maybe even be treated to a few dinners. But these are not, and shouldn’t be, vacations. Don’t squander the opportunity to interact with your peers and strengthen your business.


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John Anderson

John Anderson

John Anderson is the creator and lead author of Practically Speaking blog and Managing Director of Practice Management Solutions for the SEI Advisor Network.

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