10 Things I Wish I Knew Before Stepping Into Online LearningAugust 27, 2020
There are gifted professionals and storytellers walking among us.February 1, 2022
Conventional Wisdom and Better Questions
What would happen if you never went to another professional convention?
What happens when we choose to eliminate professional conventions from our career paths and networking habits?
Do we become boring, lose relevance, and become self-absorbed? Does our Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) push us into bad decisions about how to spend our time?
What happens when we start placing greater emphasis on being in charge of our careers and more conscious and more present about the people we want closest to us, such as teachers, mentors, and those who seek our advice?
I used to think professional conventions were essential.
If you add up the national convention registration fees, airline ticket, hotel room, ground transportation, restaurant charges, and a bar tab for four meetings a year for 25 years, the total is half a million dollars. That’s for one person. Add colleagues from the same company, even a spouse, and it’s much more.
Trapped in the prison of what everyone else wanted me to think or become, I’ve searched for something more productive, more fulfilling, and more connected to business relationships for a long time.
Can You Imagine a World Without Conventions?
Imagining a world without professional conferences seemed radical, bordering on crazy for someone who is nationally known as a professional development expert and participated in annual conferences for more than 600 client organizations.
We don’t have to imagine that world. It arrived in 2020.
Thousands of cohorts in my professional network and many more who have connected virtually in the past three years may find themselves thinking through the same, career-defining questions I wrestled to the ground for the full count.
The answers for many of my questions around professional conventions came when I decided to walk away in 2018, go cold turkey for all conventions, and answer the one question on everyone’s mind: Who needs this?
That led to the better question: If this went away totally and there was no way to get more, what would I create or innovate to satisfy just the upside or the benefit of a convention? Addicts of all kinds have asked that question and it seemed like a good question for a professional development junkie.
Dig further and ask the core questions: Can you ever learn enough? No. Can you use your time and money better to decide what you learn and who teaches you? Can you advance your career and achieve engagement with the brightest people on the planet, plus people who “have your back” and will support your dreams, without conventions?
To get ahead, do we need to spend a lot of money and days away from our craft — away from our deep-work, most-productive place?
Two New Worlds Emerged. Both Benefit You.
The solution for a high-creative, high-productive, and “getting ahead” life is being engaged. That means fully present with whatever or whoever is in front of you. It is not about busy or scattering your attention to a roomful of people who will never remember you.
Let’s look at what life can be like for you, in two scenarios. The first scenario is how to get the benefits of a convention while staying at home. The other scenario is for anyone who may harbor the Fear of Missing Out (FOMO); still, wants a high return on investment (ROI) for any money, hours, and influence they flush away for the next professional conference.
First, the backstory.
It’s been two years since my last convention experience. I left on a high note, with applause ringing in my ears and knew, at that moment, I exhausted every reason for going to another conference, exposition, or professional development event — ever again.
Little did anyone know that the bottom would drop out of the meetings and events industry in 2020, because of the health and safety risks of crowds, handshakes, talking closer than 6 feet, and sharing common surfaces.
The good news is you are welcome to see the two pages in my journal created after that final, professional conference.
One page is for the person who wants the benefits of a national convention without leaving home.
The other page is for anyone determined to spend days and many dollars going to a national convention.
Both provide Conventional Wisdom and better questions you need to answer, to make the most of your life and relationships with others.
Scenario: How To Create Convention Benefits Without Leaving Home
- Cut through all of the hype and testimonials in the convention promotion emails, plus entire websites built just for one national convention, and notice the big reason is your Fear of Missing Out (FOMO). That’s the tough nut to crack and the younger, less experienced me struggled with that. You don’t have to go to any meetings to discover that’s a lie, perpetuated by multibillion-dollar industries.
- Belonging to a community and making a difference is what we all want. You can have that every day. You can create that virtually and around the world with brand communities. Read this book, Building Brand Communities: How Organizations Succeed by Creating Belonging, by Jones and Vogl. Learn this, master it, and find all life purpose and belonging you need.
- Continuing Education Units (CEU’s)are plentiful, virtually, through more online courses than you can shake a cocktail stick at. Did you know the global e-learning market is on track to hit $275.10 billion by 2022?
- Networking experiences, when done right, are a daily habit; not limited to one or two conventions a year. The truth is we all have four networks and, if you open your eyes to them and nurture them, they will provide everything you need for professional and emotional health. The four networks are ProNet — professional contacts outside your organization; LifeNet — friends, family, leisure-time contacts; WorkNet — everyone you work with, daily or periodically to get your job done; and OrgNet — people from other departments or different business units in your organization.
- Shopping for services or items which may show up in the exhibition hall happens more directly and online than ever before. Both buyers and sellers are far more sophisticated today. At the last convention, ever, for me, the salesman in the booth in a nearly deserted exhibit hall said, “The people coming to my booth know more about my competition and more about features and benefits than I do.”
- There are better and cheaper ways for an exhaustive workout than walking on concrete floors of convention centers, airports, hotels, and cities for 8 to 12 hours a day in high heels or comfortable boots. There are more enjoyable ways of putting 30,000 steps a day on your FitBit.
- For fresh ideas and inspiration, try nature. You don’t need to travel to a convention to find the genius in yourself and others. Humans evolved outdoors so it shouldn’t come as a surprise how connected — and dependent — our minds and bodies are to nature. The world is easier to appreciate when you don’t think of yourself as the center of it.
- Is there someone you wanted to meet at that convention? Call them up today and ask if they will take a walk with you — each in your neighborhood, on your paths, and connected through earbuds to your mobile phone. While it might seem counterintuitive, the easiest way to reconnect with ourselves is by letting go of our point of view.
- Participating in your professional community is ultra-easy. Volunteering to work on committees and spend all year contributing your talent and time to a project is easy. There’s no need to wait all year for a convention to volunteer and connect with the chairmen or other organization leaders. Eventually, you can do this in person, if they live in the same city as you. Another truth is organizations are spending more time and money on platforms and ways to connect with you, consistently, than they used to blow on the national convention.
Scenario: How To Maximize Your Convention Experience
For all who remain addicted to professional development and networking at a high-attendance convention, these strategies can maximize your style and efforts.
- Select convention venues with nature surrounding you. Insist on resort settings for your time away from home and all the money you’ll spend. Rule out airport hotels, convention centers, and anything that closes you in. Unless the environment is brain-enhancing, you end up with regrets afterward. My motto is “No beach, no speech.”
- Insist on getting a full program description before you buy an airline ticket or plunk down a deposit for the hotel room. Google all topics and speakers on that program schedule to see which ones you can just as easily find online or already in your office somewhere. The sessions worth your time are topics not discussed to death in previous years or covered more thoroughly in a book or podcast series. Hardly ever do you find information in a convention session that gives your organization a 3-month competitive advantage.
- If you need CEU’s to renew your license or certification and you’ve put it off for three years and the deadline is next month, you might as well go to the convention and immerse yourself in 30 hours of educational sessions. In that case, you will likely miss all social events, golf tournaments, and excursions provided for people who do not have to go to any of the educational sessions.
- Stay away from meetings that leave everything up to chance. Get strategic with your every minute by making sure the organization provides a complete directory of everyone registered for the conference. Years ago, it was on paper, in your registration packet; so, the first hour there you sit down with a drink and get fully conscious and focused on who you know already is there and who you want to meet. The meetings worth your money today have that full list in some digital form. It’s painful and wasteful to wander around a convention for days, just hoping you’ll bump into a meaningful conversation.
- If you don’t have a plan, then you are someone else’s plan. Don’t give any convention more than 5 minutes of thought if you are without a strategy for it. Can you think of something worthwhile you’d do if someone handed you $500,000? Flip that around. Know that you will waste all of that if you ever go to each professional convention without a strategy for it. Do not confuse processes with strategy. The process sounds like this: “Go to the general session. Go to a cocktail party. Go to the workshop session. Go to dinner meeting.” The strategy sounds like this: “Identify the 5 most critical issues in this profession for the next 6 months and make sure I have 20-minute, private conversation with the 10 people here that everyone else tells me are the incomparable experts on those issues.”
- Convention participation is work and it’s your business future. Work on listening skills, curiosity, and discovery. Serve, don’t sell. Be human, not perfect. Gain insights by sharing. This is exhausting to do for hours on end, especially if you think the meeting is about you. Before your next convention experience, read Never Tell People What You Do by Bruce Kasanoff.
- If you need a break then take a vacation, without your technology, without a name tag. Mixing a vacation with professional development is an expensive mistake.
The Future of Conventions Arrived in 2014
The convention of the future is a co-created hybrid mechanism of live and virtual engagement, fluidly connecting more people through more channels over longer periods to leverage the collective knowledge of the community. — Greg Oates, Skif Team, Nov. 2014
The Bottom Line is Still Relationships
The whole convention culture is built on socialization and building relationships.
When compelled to think about professional development and networking without conventions, we see that relationships are about using your unique talent and expertise genuinely to help others. We learn that strengthening relationships and cultivating highly-valuable, new relationships happen when you stay centered on the results, the difference others see, and feel because you were there to help.
That can happen every day, whether at your office or working remotely. Watch for raised eyebrows when you speak. Create value and the new tomorrow with this kind of sharing, putting yourself out there and generating your weekly delivery of something better and tangible results.