3 Good Reasons to Attend a Conference (Plus My Review of VenturePop)
I sat in the back of a black Tahoe chatting with my Uber driver on the way to the airport, and he asked whether my trip to New Orleans was for business or pleasure. When I said it was for business (specifically, to attend VenturePop), he asked the inevitable follow up question (that every entrepreneur dreads):
“What do you do?”
“I have my own business,” I said.
“Oh, so you’re paying for your own travel expenses, huh?”
For me – and maybe some of you – reinvesting money into my business is hard. Spending money to go to a conference that I have never attended before, with people that I don’t know, in a city where I don’t live, was really hard, especially considering I wasn’t exactly sure what I would get out of the whole experience. (New clients? Business advice? Good food?)
In spite of my fears, I decided to take the risk and give VenturePop 2018 a try, and I’m pleased to say that it was worth every penny spent on travel, registration, and jambalaya. Here I’m sharing some specifics about my experience along with three good reasons to go to conferences.
Reason 1: Build New Relationships
My husband’s organization does two big conferences every year. For the first two years that he worked there, I wasn’t able to attend with him. But in the last 12 months I’ve finally been able to tag along, and I’ve discovered that he has an entire alternate universe of friends and acquaintances because of these events. He’s even started introducing people by saying, “this is so and so, one of my conference friends.”
This illustrates my first point: relationships are built and strengthened through in-person interaction. A few factors made VenturePop a great place to build relationships.
Size. The event was intimate (around 100 people). I had at least a casual conversation with about half of the attendees.
Format. There was a great balance of unstructured/social time and formal sessions. I particularly enjoyed the welcome party on Friday night which gave an opportunity to mix and mingle before the event formally began on Saturday. This was a great warm-up for introverts and extraverts alike.
Venue. The Parlor at the Pontchartrain Hotel is not only gorgeous, but it also allowed the entire event to unfold in a single space. In the past, I’ve attended large events with hundreds of attendees, and sometimes it feels like as soon as the sessions are over, everyone disappears into a vortex of ballrooms, vendor booths, and breakout sessions. It can be hard to connect with others in that kind of setting.
Reason 2: Get Fresh Perspective
We all come into entrepreneurship with different tools in our toolkits. I have a business and finance background, so I tend to see everything through the lens of data and strategy. Designers tend to see everything through the lens of branding and visual identity. Developers solve problems with technology and automation. Sometimes these tools are incredibly useful to us. Other times, our particular vantage point isn’t the best one from which to see solutions to our current challenges. In my own business this year, I faced a few situations where (I later realized) I was trying to fix a headache with a band aid and wondering why it wasn’t getting better.
VenturePop did a great job curating speakers from a variety of disciplines and backgrounds that helped me see my business from a fresh perspective. I particularly enjoyed Halley Grey and Jereshia Hawk who helped me see some of my current challenges from a new angle that I hadn’t been considering.
If you’re thinking of going to a conference and you haven’t heard of most of the speakers, that might be a great thing! You probably don’t need to attend a conference just to fangirl over a speaker when you have already read their book, listened to their podcast, and binge-watched their YouTube channel. You already know what they have to say. Instead, go to a conference to be inspired by new ideas you haven’t yet considered.
Reason 3: Invest in Learning
I’ve been a freelancer since 2012, but it wasn’t until 2016 that I realized I would never grow in my career unless I put on my big girl pants and took responsibility for my own learning. Everything that has happened in my business since then is fruit that was borne out of an intentional effort to learn and grow.
It’s so incredibly tempting to posture ourselves as people who are already experts and don’t a need to learn from anyone else. I daily struggle with this tension as a person who gives people advice for a living.
That’s what I loved most, and what was most unexpected, about VenturePop. I loved being in a room full of business owners, just like me, who took a few days away from their normal routines to focus on learning and growth. We collectively were admitting that none of us have everything figured out. None of us are even remotely close to “arriving,” and we maybe never will. But we can still come together, learn from each other, and leave a little bit smarter than we were when we came in.
If you’re considering a conference this year, I’d encourage you to take advantage of an opportunity to build meaningful relationships with others, get fresh perspective, and invest in learning.
Have you attended any conferences this year? I’d love to hear in the comments.
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