Today’s post is a little more on the business side of things around these parts, so if that’s not your bag – I get it. But I think it applies to anyone who works in a collaborative creative field and has wondered whether attending a conference is really worth it. Yes, the speakers may be incredible, the setting stunning and the food delicious but will it really be worth it aside from a couple days away? The answer is often totally dependent on the people putting together the event and the type of people they attract.
I’ve had the pleasure and opportunity to attend a bunch of conferences since starting this side hustle (you may remember this throw back) and some have been well-worth it and other have been meh at best. A lot of what makes a conference great is the planning and organization but in the end, I think it really boils down to two things: the people and your attitude.
Going into a conference can be nerve wracking. I know anytime I go to one, I feel like it’s the first day of school. There is that excitement but also some little anxieties. What am I going to wear? Will people like me? Will I have someone to sit with at lunch? It’s always great when you have a buddy but even then, it can still be intimidating, especially when it can seem like everyone is already best friends.
This past March, I went to Sea Island, Georgia for The Southern C Summit and I’m not going to lie, I had all those anxieties when I walked in. It didn’t help that my travel down there was a total disaster and I didn’t get my suitcase until about 15 minutes before the conference started. I was quite the picture of poise rushing into the bathroom at The Cloister to change, freshen up and make it to registration in time.
It didn’t help that when I came out the crowd looked chic, confident and ready to go. Here’s the thing, no matter how put together everyone looks, they’re probably feeling some of those same nervous thoughts.
ATTITUDE – FAKE IT TIL YOU MAKE IT
But here’s where your attitude comes into play. And the old line, “fake it til you make it” is my motto. Personally, I can get social anxiety in a big group and I’ll admit that small talk is not my forte. But whenever I’m at a conference, I try to do my best to bring it. Wipe off my resting bitch face, throw on an approachable smile and try to meet as many people as possible. Because at the end of the day, the biggest return on investment you can get on a conference is the face-to-face relationships you establish.
Each morning, I’d make a game plan on people I was interested in meeting and then made a concerted effort to be in the right place at the right time to meet them. One of my goals was to really engage with more PR people, so when I saw a couple open spots at lunch next to a PR girl I’d met in passing earlier, I took the chance to sit and really get to know them. Normally, I’m more reserved but by making a plan, I was much less nervous about taking the risk.
The other part of the coin on having a good attitude is realizing that not everyone will be your cup of tea, that some people may be disappointing or not what you expected and not taking it personally. I used to get really hung up on little things that didn’t meet expectations and now I’ve realized, it really doesn’t matter. It also has helped me to not be so rigid on plans but really flying more by the seat of your pants and seeing what opportunities present themselves. A last minute dinner invite can turn out to be the best part of the trip.
The Southern C Summit was a dream. Extremely well organized in a gorgeous setting with some big name speakers – including Gray Malin (!!!) and Darcy Miller, the editor of Martha Stewart Weddings – but also really approachable with lots of time for meeting and mingling. I randomly had the opportunity to meet lots of brands, pr people and best of all, other bloggers and creative entrepreneurs. I also did a little reality TV stalking when we spotted Landon from Southern Charm in the mix.
There aren’t tons of opportunities in my day-to-day where I have the chance to mingle with these kinds of people, so I jumped at the opportunity to say a quick hello and an appreciative thank you to the presenters that stood out. I am a big Gray Malin fan so I wanted to say hello but was also able to tell him that a few years back, when he was really just getting started, that I won one of his instagram giveaways. I was able to tell him how much I love looking at my print everyday and while I’m sure he hears things like that all the time, it was a cool takeaway for me and something I think of whenever I see the print. I think we can all get intimidated by the prospect of just saying hi but I know for me, I always regret it when I don’t take the chance.
I think that goes for interactions with all kinds of people too. I’m not rewriting the wheel when I say to grab every business card you can. But the thing that has helped me make the most of those cards has been to jot a quick note on the back of them at the end of the day or during breaks. Just a little takeaway – like a funny story they told, a restaurant they recommended, or a great piece of jewelry they were wearing – that can be worked into an email later. Those little tidbits are much better ice breaker than the tired, “Hope you’re doing well!” or “It was so nice to meet you.”
THREE MONTHS LATER
It’s been three months since my trip to Sea Island and I will say that I think I’ve seen the biggest return from a conference, in terms of new projects and great relationships, of any I’ve been to. And while I partly attribute it to the conference itself, I think a lot more of it comes from being much more proactive about the entire experience – from start to finish.
Once I got home, I made sure to drop quick notes to all the contacts I made throughout the weekend. I also made a quick list of the brands there that I would love to work with. When I heard back, I made sure to share a quick collaboration idea – nothing too specific but just an option of ways we could work together in the future. It’s been great that so many of those have come to fruition.
Now I’m already getting started thinking and planning for my next trip down south for The Southern C’s Wellness Retreat in October on 30A. I’m really excited about this one since it’s a smaller group with lots of time carved out for mingling as well as opportunities to enjoy the beach. With the smaller size, it gives more time for the presenters to go in depth on topics that might only get a slide in a large presentation. If you’re a creative professional or entrepreneur, I can’t say enough about the caliber of event Cheri and Whitney, the founders of The Southern C, put together. It’s a great way to get tips from others in the field but also to bounce ideas off people in totally different areas (which is one of the reason I really like this group).
If you’re interested in attending, here’s all the details.
- Access to the intimate 3-day retreat in stunning WaterColor and other beautiful 30A locales
- Integrated networking opportunities including 30A Dine Arounds, Lunches, Cocktail Parties, and a Boozy Beach Bonfire
- Seasoned presenters providing tips & techniques in the following categories: Social Media Strategy • Branding + Creative Strategy • Brand Collaborations • Media, PR & Marketing • Business Entrepreneurship • Work/Life Balance
- Small group mentoring sessions
- Group recreational activities including: yoga, Pure Barre, biking, kayaking, paddle boarding, beach walks and good old toes in the sand beach sitting
All Images Courtesy of The Southern C by the following photographers:
- Grey Owl Social: www.greyowlsocial.com
- Kathryn McCrary: www.kathrynmccrary.com
- Kelli Boyd Photography: www.kelliboydphotography.com
- Teresa Earnest Photography: www.teresaearnestphotography.