March 1, 2011

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Article

Learn from the Best

Entrepreneurs Make the Most of Conferences and Seminars

Carolyn Campbell

March 1, 2011

Dave Crenshaw, president of Invaluable, Inc., and author of the book Multitasking Is a Myth, recalls attending conferences with entrepreneurial speakers throughout his career. “I was privileged to learn from experts such as Larry H. Miller, who shared his perspective about entrepreneurship. Much of the philosophy I use now comes from people like Larry, who share their experiences in a live, personal setting.” Personal Connections Attending conferences and seminars both deepens your knowledge base and provides opportunities for meeting key industry leaders. Once an enthusiastic attendee, Crenshaw has gone full circle and is now a frequent presenter for entrepreneurial groups. Crenshaw feels that the opportunity to get in front of a group of people and speak to them live is a great way to teach, motivate and inspire. “I do online training and webinars as well, but I find that the level of connection with the audience and the level of commitment from audience members when attending is much, much higher when it is live than over the internet. A big part of it is the opportunity to make a personal connection as I, the presenter, shake their hands, talk to them and look them in the eye. It’s a completely different experience from learning online. My feeling is that if someone wants to learn a new perspective or new principles, they should go to a live conference if they can.” Derek Miner, co-founder of OrangeSoda, an Internet marketing company, attends a conference at least monthly. “The opportunity to make face-to-face personal connections really can’t be replicated online, even with social networking tools,” he says. “And post-event communication work is often more important than the event itself.” When attending conferences, seminars or workshops, T. Craig Bott, Grow Ventures president and CEO, suggests honing a 15-second business introduction that is intriguing and compelling. “Knowledge is the exchanged commodity in networking. You are seeking information to move your business along. Your opening statement is the hook that immediately qualifies the person you are considering networking with as to whether an information exchange will be helpful to both of you.” Plan for Success Execs who feel too busy to attend conferences are missing vital opportunities to connect with and learn from experts in their industry. The key is to attend conferences that are most valuable to the company and follow simple strategies to make the most of your attendance. “In my industry, online marketing, it is especially important to gain insight and understanding from other thought leaders, because the industry itself changes so rapidly,” says Miner. “Get a list of speakers and attendees ahead of time and determine key people you would like to meet,” he suggests. “It’s often possible to arrange a meeting and achieve face time with people you can’t reach over the phone. It also helps to see an outside perspective with other entrepreneurs who have similar challenges and opportunities.” Advance planning allows you to make the best use of conference time, says Miner. “Depending on the show’s size and scope, the number of choices can be overwhelming. Choose sessions that are either topic or industry specific.” When deciding which sessions to attend, Steve Cloward, director of Northfront Business Resource Center and a franchise owner of Grease Monkey, suggests considering a SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) regarding your company. At conferences, Cloward often chooses to attend sessions that can help him work on areas of weakness. He adds, “Once you reach the conference environment, one thing that has to go away is the reluctance to step up. Don’t be afraid to introduce yourself.” Share the Knowledge Miner and his employees frequently attend conferences as exhibitors. “We often have a booth presence at events and are able to share a piece of the OrangeSoda experience.” But key to getting the most out of conferences—whether attending or exhibiting—is to share the information you obtain with your organization. At a recent conference, the OrangeSoda customer service team attended a free tour of the Zappos.com office. Zappos.com is an online retailer specializing in shoes and clothing that has built a reputation for stellar customer care. “A group of people drove there for the day and then shared the learning through an OrangeSoda University class,” says Miner. OrangeSoda University (OSU) is made up of courses that are taught internally. Company experts and employees who have attended conferences share their knowledge in these sessions, which range from brand management to search engine optimization. OrangeSoda managers encourage employees to certify themselves in the programs offered through OSU, both for their own personal development and to enrich the company’s knowledge base.
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