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Was I a Conference Commando?

Posted by Ilise Benun on

In Keith Ferazzi’s book, Never Eat Alone (which, ironically, I read a few years back, almost entirely while I was eating lunch, uh, alone), he advises readers to “Be A Conference Commando.” He posits that conferences are not for gaining information and insight, but instead are opportunities to develop relationships. You must be pro-active, not passive. 

In March I made the decision to attend the annual BRITE conference—Branding Innovation and Technology—sponsored by Columbia Business School’s Center on Global Brand Leadership for two main reasons:

  1. Because in 2007 I moved out of NYC to rural central New York state so I needed some mental stimulation, exposure to new ideas, and a good write-off-able excuse to hang out in the city for a few days (not to mention a good, urban, soul-satisfying bagel and lox breakfast).
  2. I’m following the 2009 Grow Your Business Marketing Plan + Calendar (veteran’s version) and felt attending this conference would be an excellent networking component to my marketing checklist—along with all the other strategies we’ve been reading about on this blog: research calls, crafting your online bio, blog creation/posting, etc. 

At the conference, through various addresses, breakout sessions, and a fantastic keynote given by Seth Godin, I gained a better understanding of such current catchphrases as ‘crowdsourcing’ and ‘tribes’; was able to hone my Twitter skills on my iPod Touch (in fact, unlike most other public gatherings, this audience was actually encouraged to dialogue with their devices while the talks were taking place, and after each speaker, the MC would field “tweeted” questions); and was exposed to compelling new technologies—my favorite of which is, zooming presentation software.

However, according to Keith’s standards, as a conference attendee, I failed. (Well, maybe a D+). 

Did I sign up to volunteer at the conference in order to gain access to its inner workings? No. 

Did I research the VIPs beforehand and set up opportunities to hobnob with the ones I wanted most to meet in person? Uh, no. 

I did not even really set goals for myself, other than that I would go, meet people, and learn a few things.

However, upon returning home to the farm, I did follow up with each of the people I met, with an email that read:

Hi LaTeisha, 

Nice to have met you at BRITE. What did you think of the conference? 
Although there were some speakers that I felt were better than others, I really enjoyed the conference and came away with some new ideas and a better awareness of what’s currently going in the branding world. I run a small design and branding firm in central NY, and most of my clients are nonprofits and small companies, not these huge global brands. My challenge will be to take what I’ve learned and see how I can apply it to the work I do in this sector. 
What are you working on these days? Have any challenges or questions I can possibly help you with?
Finally – would you be interested in receiving my email newsletter? Very occasionally I send out a short e-blast with news from the studio and marketing tips.
All Best,

This follow up resulted in a few nice email conversations and a way to grow my e-newsletter readership.

The conference was short (1.5 days), small, and well-organized. Being an introvert (OK, a recovering introvert), I often feel drained by longer conferences. I left BRITE, however, feeling I had sufficiently established a few connections with people I did not know, and was appreciative of the insight I gained into the current branding and technology world. 

So in these regards, my goals were met (although I never did get that bagel).

– Julia is the Principal of Julia Reich Design, a small creative brand strategy and graphic design firm

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