By Kirk Hulett
Heading to a conference in the near future? It's important to plan ahead if you want to be sure to get the most benefit from your investment.
Goals Versus Agenda
Most conference attendees have their business goals in mind when deciding to attend a particular conference. When you get the conference agenda, compare your business goals with the sessions offered and make some preliminary decisions about how you want to spend your time. Consider your practice goals as well as personal development goals. Are you looking to improve process efficiency? Do you need to conduct due diligence on a new planning technique? Will you need CE credits in a particular area? If so, these are the areas on which to focus at the conference.
At the Conference
If you are a first-time attendee at a particular conference, take advantage of the orientation session if one is offered. You can also check with your product wholesaler to find out about good conferences and knowledgeable speakers. Wholesalers spend a lot of time at conferences and are often great sources of information.
The most valuable ideas you get from the conference may not necessarily be in the sessions. Idea sharing with your colleagues is often the most fruitful part of a conference. Here are some tips to ensure that you connect with as many people as possible:
- Never eat alone. At meal events pick a table where you don't know anyone, sit down and start the conversation.
- Not great at starting conversations? Have three stock questions you ask everyone you meet. Asking a stranger an open-ended question gets him or her to talk and ignites the conversation. Also, people love to talk about themselves. Try questions like:
- What was the best session you attended today?
- I see you are from ... . What do you like best about living there?
- What benefit are you hoping to get out of this conference?
- Collect contact information for speakers who have interesting ideas or products. They will be helpful resources once the conference is over.
After the Conference
At the end of the conference, write down your "Double I" checklist. This is your Ideas and Ingenuity list. Ingenuity is about taking ideas and using or combining them in a clever way. That's what you should do with ideas you hear from speakers, colleagues and vendors at conferences. Recognize what's a good idea or even a kernel of a good idea you can cleverly adapt for your business.
At the end of each day, make a list of the ideas you heard. It may be a specific implementable idea, or it may be a note to yourself to follow-up on a Web site or book reference you heard.
As soon as you get home, schedule some time to do your follow-up and start working on implementing the new ideas you gathered. You met a lot of new people at the conference, some of whom you may want to reach out to again for professional advice or because they offer a product or service that could benefit you.
First, get all those new contacts into your contact database. Make sure you categorize or label them for ease of search ability later.
Within a week, send an e-mail to those contacts with a "nice to have met you" message. To make yourself more memorable, offer your contacts some value-send them an article or a Web link that you think they would find interesting or useful.
Finally, reach out to those contacts through LinkedIn or a business-related social networking site, while keeping in mind the written policies of your broker-dealer. This will make it even easier to leverage that relationship in the future.
Attending conferences is a big investment for advisers in both time and money. It is critical that you get tangible, bottom-line benefits from spending the money and taking the time to be there.
Kirk J. Hulett is senior vice president of strategy and practice management for Securities America Inc., an independent broker-dealer based in Omaha, Neb., where he leads an internal consulting firm that assists financial advisers on practice management issues. He hosts a bi-weekly podcast on www.advisorpod.com and serves on the editorial advisory board of Practice Management Solutions and the FPA Business Solutions 2010 task force.
Tools to Use
For a free "Double I" checklist, go to www.securitiesamerica.com/conference.html.