How to Get the Most Out of a Conference

eCommerceFuel Live Conference I eCommerceFuel

We recently covered the eCommerce conferences you should have on your radar. This week, we’re talking about getting the most out of whichever conferences you do attend.

Andrew and Drew Sanocki discuss their strategies for making conference time count, along with their eight biggest tips for conference-goers and speakers. They also weigh in on why networking should be your primary objective and how to best focus on building meaningful relationships and taking actionable steps toward growth when you get home.

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(With your host Andrew Youderian of eCommerceFuel.com and Drew Sanocki of NerdMarketing.com)

Andrew: Welcome to the eCommerceFuel Podcast, the show dedicated to helping high six and seven-figure entrepreneurs build amazing online companies and incredible lives. I’m your host and fellow eCommerce entrepreneur, Andrew Youderian.

Hey guys, it’s Andrew here and welcome to the eCommerceFuel Podcast. Thanks so much for tuning in today.

Today on the show we’re going to be talking about how to get the most out of a conference. We recently did an episode about the top eCommerce conferences you should be thinking about attending and I’ll link up to that in the show notes. But specifically today I want to talk about how do you make the most of a conference? Joining me to do that is the man who got lost for 24, 48 hours at the event center last year for eCommerceFuel Live.

Drew: 48.

Andrew: 48? You were like residing just on the plants and the greens and the atrium and security guard finally found you huddled up, is that right?

Drew: That’s right.

Andrew: Well, I appreciate you being brave enough to come on and talk about that experience, Drew.

Drew: Anytime. So we told people which conferences to attend and now that they’ve already gone and attended them we’re going to tell them how to get the most out of attending a conference.

Andrew: In retrospect, so they can feel bad about it, right?

Drew: Yeah.

Andrew: Perfect. Here’s why it was a huge waste of time. Quickly, one thing I realized before we dive into the actual episode, I haven’t mentioned eCommerceFuel Live at all on the podcast and we are doing eCommerceFuel Live. This will be our third event and it’s in Savannah, Georgia this year, the 19th through the 21st. Maybe we touched on it really briefly on our last episode but we are…today it’s mid-June, June 15th-ish I think, and we’ve got…we’ve sold about…man, I think 95-ish tickets. (Update: eCommerceFuel Live is officially sold out!)

We’ve got 125 and it’s limited this year just to private community members. So if you’re interested in coming, you can check out and learn more about it at live.ecommercefuel.com. We do have very few spaces left. Again, you do have to be a community member to join. But I wanted to throw that out there because I don’t…man, I don’t think I’ve…we’ve promoted it too much at all.

#1: Less Is More

So, that being said, Drew, let’s get into letting people know what they should have done at the conferences they attended last year.

So, Drew, the first thing that stood out to me was I think being incredibly selective about the conferences that you do attend to get the most out of them because it’s just a massive time commitment to go to a conference and a financial commitment as well. But I think even bigger than that is the time commitment. If you go to a three-day conference with flights on both sides and it’s three, four days and a lot of times it takes up the majority, if not an entire week. That’s work you’re not getting done somewhere else. So being really careful about making sure you’re going to the right ones I think is huge.

Drew: That is huge and I think you’ve got to budget out how many of these you want to go to per year and cap it for that reason. It takes you down for a week and it takes me down for more than…usually I’m giving a talk or something so it’s like all the speaking prep time. But even as an attendee is just the…it’s time you can’t spend on your business.

Andrew: Yeah, and this is a…maybe this is an overly simplified question but because there’s obviously a lot of value in going to conferences as we’ll talk about it here subsequently, but if you had to pick the perfect number of conferences where you’re going to conferences, you’re networking, you’re learning stuff but you’re not on the road every other week, well, how many do you try to go to? What do you think that perfect number is? Again, maybe this is a really simplified question but I’ll throw it out there.

Drew: Maybe two. Two a year.

Andrew: Two a year?

Drew: Yeah.

Andrew: Yeah, I’d say close…I’d probably say two to three, maybe once every…if you’re going to probably more than…and again, totally transposing all of our preferences on everyone listening, but if you’re going to them every couple of months, that’s probably…it might be a better use of your time to spend more time implementing versus going to conferences.

Drew: This gets to one of your later points but I’ve run into a couple of people at the conferences who…on the conference circuit I’ve seen almost year after year and they’re still talking about starting their eCommerce business and they’re still…still paralyzing, going to conferences. It just can become this…not like an addiction but just sort of an excuse for taking action. Like you feel like you’re taking some action, you’re going to go to another conference, sign up for another course and at the end of the day, with the money and the time you spend doing that, you could have started an eCommerce business, at least a very small one.

#2: Prioritize Networking

Andrew: That leads into…next point is, I always…I think probably every conference I’ve ever been to, I prioritize the networking over the talks. Not to say that there aren’t great talks that you hear and not to say that there aren’t people that are going to give you information that you can’t find anywhere else. But I would say, by and large, so much information is online now if you want to dig for it and find it. For me, the biggest value-add by far is getting face time with people and building up a network and building a rapport and building those connections.

Drew: I agree. I think…I look back on my 20 or so years as a professional and I think most of the biggest wins have come through personal relationships like I’ve been introduced to the right company or the right client or something. It’s always been through somebody I met as opposed to something I just read about online and try to implement myself.

So I would say…like Nassim Taleb says in “Fooled by Randomness“, I mean, just go to cocktail parties and go to these things, network. That’s the important thing.

#3: Prioritize Strong Connections

Andrew: In networking, something that I think is interesting is…I think some people think about networking as going into a room and trying to give your business card to as many people as possible. If I give out all 40 of my business cards, fantastic. No, no-no, no-no-no, do not…that’s the absolute wrong way to do it. When I think about focusing on networking and really connecting with people, if I go to a conference, I would a thousand times be more excited about making one to two really strong relationships where you really connect with someone, you get to know them, you get to know their story, you build strong rapport, you sit in a corner and you talk for three hours and you really connect. Build a couple of really strong relationships versus trying to shoot for 20 new acquaintances because those are just so much more powerful.

Drew: I agree, I think it’s…again, when I look back several years to when I met you at Ezra’s Conference and we had breakfast or something, it’s like that breakfast cemented our relationship and it was probably more important than the 40 people I had just given my business card to in the other room. Right?

Andrew: I remember it fondly. You had the poached eggs and you were wearing that really soft sweater, the really…like the light pink one.

Drew: Then recently I went to Steve’s Sellers Summit and I met a bunch of people there at the official cocktail party. But I went to dinner with Lars Hundley and Michael Jackness who had been on my podcast and had lunch with Eric Syu who runs an SEO or SEM agency. It’s like those are the guys I remember well and I’m emailing today because we shared a meal and we spent some quality time together just talking about what they’re passionate about and what they’re into.

You get a sense of what they’re really passionate about and what they’re an expert at and in the future when you want to tap that knowledge or ask for advice, you know who to go to.

#4: Look for the Low Profilers

Andrew: It just takes relationship to…in real life, Earl, or whatever people say. It sounds creepy but it’s true. You just…the level of rapport you have after meeting someone in person is 10x where it is after even a couple of good phone calls.

So one thing I think that can be…everyone does this, myself included, is that a lot of times I think at conferences you have…or just in life, it’s easy to judge people by their appearances. Especially at business and eCommerce conferences, it’s…at some level a lot of times people are trying to size you up. What kind of business do you have? How many people work for you? What’s your revenue? All these kind of things.

One thing I’ve learned is sometimes…and actually, often, the most successful people are the people that are going to be the most low key and low profile about it. There’s a lot of times where you could be chatting with someone. Personally, there’s been times I’ve chatted with numerous people and great people, very interesting, but I didn’t necessarily think that they were doing anything that big or at scale or exciting. Then 30 minutes later I come to find out that they’re…such and such is running a $20 million business. So don’t…

Drew: David Heacock.

Andrew: David Heacock, calling David Heacock.

Drew: He comes to mind. He’s one of those guys who’s just very unassuming and he’s not the most extroverted guy, doesn’t aspire to be. He’s just there building a great, great business online and he’s not positioning himself as a guru and I think that…if you think the people who are speaking at the conferences are the most successful, it’s just like they…there are people who are thousands and thousands of times more successful than any speaker of these conferences who are just cranking away, happy to work in complete anonymity and make lots of money.

I meet a fair amount of them and I’m always impressed that these guys could just own it if they did their conference circuit but they have no interest in it. They’re just too busy building their business.

Andrew: They’re focused on it, exactly. So don’t be that guy that if somebody comes up and you’re chatting with a guy or a girl, they don’t impress you within the first 45 seconds, you’re scanning the room for other people to meet. Give people a chance. You’ll be surprised at what you find out.

Drew: Give David Heacock a chance. Just listen to him, right? Try to get past his glasses, his haircut. I’m saying…I’m expecting him to be listening to this.

#5: Scope Out the Guest List

Andrew: It’s great. We’re going to have to have you guys on for a little friendly throw down at some point. I love the banter that I’m hearing here.

Check out when you’re getting ready to go and if you can ahead of time, this helps you maybe determine what conferences to go to, given the importance of just face time and connecting with people and developing rapport. But always check out the guest list ahead of time and make appointments with people that you really want to connect with. Don’t wait until you’re on the ground and there’s a bunch of stuff going on that…people you want to connect with are going on…they have their own schedule. A week before, two weeks before, ping people that you really want to connect with, set up lunch dates, set up coffee dates because that’s where you’re going. So make sure that you prioritize that and it doesn’t get lost in the shuffle.

#6: Speak!

Drew: That’s a great tip. Again, I have the opportunity to speak at some of these and I think…don’t assume the speakers are behind some kind of glass wall. I think it’s…they always get surrounded after they’re done talking about something. So reach out to a speaker. If you see a speaker you want to talk to, reach out to him or her ahead of time and just schedule a lunch or a coffee. A lot of them will be open to that.

Andrew: Agreed. People are more approachable than you think especially at conferences like that. Touching on speaking, if you can, speak because going to an event, one, it builds credibility for you, of course. But, two, it makes it super easy for you to meet just about anyone there. Some of the most…you get a chance with most conferences. They’re going to have a speakers’ dinner where all the speakers get together, have a chance to connect privately and those have been some of the times I’ve made some of my best connections, are in those speakers dinners, connecting with other speakers. There’s a ton of advantages to speaking if you can at a conference.

Drew: I agree. I didn’t do much of it before, a year or two ago, but it’s been great. You just…it helps you…just preparing to give a speech helps you think through something and develop like a thesis or just an approach and just gives you some discipline and how you think. Then being on stage gives you the opportunity to sort of be, I don’t know, available to everybody there. You do…there’s a little bit of pay it forward, like you’re trying to pass on something that you learned to the audience and it’s just…it makes you a bit of a focal point, for better or for worse.

But that for me, it’s been great because I think I meet a lot more people by speaking than I do going around at a cocktail party. It’s easier for me to stand up there and give a speech and then have people come to me afterwards, as opposed to going up, trying to introduce myself to people.

Andrew: Like most of the flame, too Mr. Snucky?

Drew: Yeah. I didn’t mean it in that way but it’s just like…it just tends to be a little bit easier.

Andrew: Well, it is. I mean, you’re seen as an authority and it’s…I mean, you get a chance to stand up in front of everyone for 60 minutes and people instantly…even if you approach people, it’s easier for you to approach them because, again, going back to that thing where everyone in the world, you have instant credibility, some level of credibility, if you approach people because they saw you upstage and it makes it easier to do intros.

#7: Engage in Evening Activity

Number seven is if you can’t go to the parties and the events in the evenings, I think, where…I mean, we’re talking about rapport and relationship building as such a crucial part of these events and that…I mean, you definitely build connections and memories…I won’t say memories. You definitely build connections at lunch and at the talks where you build memories and stories to share which are integral…I mean, we won’t get into social psychology here but shared stories and fun experiences, those are made at the parties, in the evenings when you piled in with three people that you’d met and you’re trying to get to know better and the Uber driver takes you to a complete wrong part of town and you end up in this amazing bootleg bar. That’s the kind of stuff that you can’t…it just…it’s unscripted but it’s power…it’s fun to begin with and it’s just powerful. So get out in the evenings. Don’t go home and no “Seinfeld” reruns in the hotel room. Get out there in the evenings.

Drew: You don’t pay that money to go to a conference and then travel, take the time off work, to go sit in a hotel room and watch movies.

Andrew: Don’t be doing that.

So we got one last tip here and you know what’s funny, Drew, we’ve got eight overall tips. So far we’ve done seven. We haven’t even mentioned talks. We haven’t even mentioned content at all which is crazy because that’s…I mean, you think about a conference, I think that’s what a lot of people think right out of the gate.

Drew: Right. Right.

#8: Take Action When You Get Home

Andrew: So number eight though, make sure you take action on the content because you can. You can get…even if the information isn’t…even if it’s not just groundbreaking, not available anywhere else in the world, you get this unique opportunity to hear from…usually it’s very smart, talented people that are experts in a field and maybe more than anything, you’re forced to sit in one place and listen and consider what they’re saying for an hour. Because a lot of times it’s hard to do that on your own, you have…it’s this forced discipline. So making sure you take action on that is really important.

Any tips…I’ve got a few, Drew, but any tips on your side that…do you have a process for implementing takeaways from conferences into your business or a way for taking notes or anything that you’ve used to distill the information into actionable events down the road for your business?

Drew: I sit there with a notepad and I just take notes and everybody is talking and I’ll make a little checkbox if I know it’s an action item for me. Then on the plane ride on the way home, I process everything. You realize there are two or three purposes for these conferences. I think on the surface it’s to pass on a lot of knowledge. But if you think about it, it’s taking you away from the day-to-day operations of your business for a couple of days during which you should think about nothing but how to grow your business.

You shouldn’t think about customer service tickets or where the latest shipment from China is or whatever. It’s two or three days to block off and to be unavailable to your business and think about strategically where you want to go with it and what you want to do. I think that’s the biggest advantage. You get…everybody who will speak will give you some one or two pointers that you probably haven’t thought of but it’s really just blocking off that time and thinking about what you want to do when you get back to your office.

Andrew: This is maybe a really silly question but I’m going to throw it out there. A lot of times I won’t want to bring a computer or I’ll take notes on my phone. But recently I started taking notes in paper because it’s easier to write down. I can hammer through it faster for whatever reason. It’s in a tangible form and I felt like that’s a little bit more effective for actually…I don’t know why, for whatever reason, maybe I take more notes, maybe I take better notes, maybe actually…I don’t know what it is. But taking paper notes has been more effective for me than electronic notes. Has that been the case for you at all or is that…am I just crazy?

Drew: No, I’ve always brought a MUJI notebook around with me for years.

Andrew: MUJI? What’s MUJI?

Drew: It’s a paper…they make a bunch of different stuff. It’s a retail line out of Japan but they’re like…got these notebooks and all sorts of…like Moleskine, you get these notebooks and all sorts but…

Andrew: Okay.

Drew: But there’s one that I like. It’s the perfect size to put in my pocket and that’s what I carry with me everywhere and usually a lot of my creative work and my notes on growth and things like that go into the MUJI notebook.

Andrew: Nice. I think the big thing is just making sure you’ve got a good process and place for…and this probably goes for anything. Whether it’s listening…we listen to, as entrepreneurs, we consume so much content, whether it’s this podcast you’re listening to or a conference you go to or a blog post that you read and I think it’s really easy to listen or read something and hear something and say, “That’s a great idea. I should do that,” and then it just disappears into the ether. You don’t record it and it doesn’t get put in.

So having some kind of process, particularly for conferences, but really for all the information you’re trying to digest, where you can write it down, prioritize it, getting into a system, like I use a Asana and I just have projects, that they’re multiple projects that are just to do for the business improvements where I can store them away so when it’s time to actually start implementing, you’ve got a great database of things to work from versus trying to think back through nine months of everything you’ve read or heard which is impossible.

Drew: It’s really important to process those notes as soon as you can after the conference.

Andrew: Drew, so we’re going to do a…we’re going to have a little anniversary dinner of our first romantic breakfast/dinner at the ECF Live this year? When is our anniversary breakfast?

Drew: Sure. I don’t remember the first time we met, so…

Andrew: You don’t remember?

Drew: No, I mean, I remember where it was. I don’t remember the date.

Andrew: Oh, okay.

Drew: So if we’re going to have an anniversary, shouldn’t it be on the exact date?

Andrew: Well, I remember exactly when. August 30th, 2014. It was amazing. No, probably not. But we’ll have to recreate it.

Drew: We can do something romantic at ECF Live.

Andrew: I love…are you making it out this year? You’re going to be able to come?

Drew: I don’t want to say that without having bought my ticket yet.

Andrew: Well, if you can, we’ll have to…

Drew: I’d like to. You always choose great locations for these conferences.

Andrew: It will be fun this year. A little bit out of the way, Savannah, but hopefully it will…the slight additional work to get there, hopefully it should be repaid by the venue which I’m pretty excited about. This cool private mansion, about 125 rooms-ish and we’ll pretty much be taking it over like our private clubhouse. It should be a lot of fun.

Well, great. Again, if you’re thinking about eCommerceFuel Live, live.ecommercefuel.com, open to all private community members. If you’re not a member, you can learn more about joining at the event website. Drew, wherever it is, look forward to hanging out in person the next time we get a chance to and thanks for coming on.

Drew: Anytime, Andrew. Enjoy the conference circuit this summer.

Andrew: Thanks.

Want to connect with and learn from other proven eCommerce entrepreneurs? Join us in the eCommerceFuel private community. It’s our tight knit vetted group for store owners with at least $250,000 in annual sales. You can learn more and apply for membership at eCommerceFuel.com.Thanks so much to our podcast producer, Laura Serino for all of her hard work in making this show possible and to you for tuning in. Thank you for listening. That’ll do it for this week but looking forward to seeing you again next Friday.

 

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