Financial advisor conference season is underway! We were at Shift last weekend, then we’re headed to Jolt in a month or so, then RIA Edge a couple weeks after that – and those are just the spring conferences. It’s a lot, but we seriously love it.
While you may not attend as many conferences as we do, getting away from the office for just one financial advisor conference per year still requires a good deal of effort for most advisors. If you’re going to spend the money, time and energy on getting away, it’s important that you get the most out of it.
(If you haven’t picked your conference(s) for the year yet, check out this article: The Top 10 Conferences for Advisors in 2023.)
Enter our nine tips for getting the most out of the conferences you attend:
Why do advisors attend conferences? The potential reasons are endless, but your individual reasons should be a pretty small list if you want to hit them all. Some possible goals for why advisors attend conferences include:
Learn how to grow your firm
Pursue potential M&A opportunities
Get firsthand experience with specific tech vendors
Hear insights from more experienced advisors
And those are just a few of the possibilities. Sit down with a notepad and/or some people from your team to set some goals for actionable takeaways you will seek out while attending the conference.
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Going to a conference with no goals is kind of like going to the arcade with no quarters – you just end up wandering around watching people do their thing.
Set a few goals that you want to implement at your office, and then let those be your guiding star. Conferences are jam-packed with fun distractions, but stick to the plan! It doesn’t mean you can’t have fun – just make sure to remember your goals.
Following conference hashtags is the closest thing to having your finger on the pulse of everything that’s going down. A lot of people will follow conference hashtags once the conference starts, but we recommend getting a bit more of a head start.
By following the official conference hashtags on Twitter and/or Linkedin a few weeks before the conference begins, you can hear all the chatter about what’s coming up. You’ll be able to see who is planning on coming, jump in on any relevant digital conversations, schedule meetups with other people you may want to interact with, and more.
Most conferences have an app these days.
Downloading the app is a must – it’s free and it’s helpful, so why not at least try it? Here are a few things you can do with most conference apps:
Scroll through and select the sessions you want to attend
View the attendee list and figure out if there’s anyone you want to connect with while you’re there
See which vendors will be there so you can get a firsthand demo
Get the latest announcements from conference organizers
Some conference apps even do giveaways and fun events through the app! If your conference has an app, it’s worth checking out.
This one ties closely to #3. After you download the app, you can start mapping out your days. You’ve probably heard the rocks analogy as a way to prioritize your personal life. The quick version: Your time is a jar that you fill up with rocks, pebbles and sand. Big rocks represent the first priorities, pebbles are the secondary priorities, sand is the stuff that you fit into the leftover space. If you put the sand in first, you won’t have any room for the rocks and pebbles, so you put the rocks in first, then the pebbles, then the sand.
The rocks analogy works well for planning out your days during conferences. How you prioritize everything is up to you, but you can assign a priority level to them like this:
Rocks – sessions, meeting with tech vendors you have an immediate need for, networking with key people
Pebbles – general networking, non-essential sessions, checking out other vendors
Sand – exploring the city, checking in with your team
Look through everything you could possibly do at the event and then rank them by priority. That way, if two events overlap, you can choose the higher priority event.
For instance, say you have to choose between meeting up with an advisor you have interacted with on Twitter or attending a session on tax planning. Maybe the tax planning session is a “2” and networking with folks from Twitter is a “1,” so you can skip the session and go make some new friends.
Speaking of networking (and checking the attendee list in the conference app), if someone you follow online is attending the conference, reach out to them and see if they want to meet up during the conference.
Some of the biggest connections we’ve made have come from meeting up with people during conferences. Sure, it’s great to follow someone online and comment on their posts on Linkedin. But nothing comes close to sitting down over a drink and having an organic, in-person conversation.
So reach out to other professionals you follow online when you see they’re coming to the same conference as you. Ask if they want to grab a drink or dinner at some point. You’ll be surprised how many of them will say yes!
Work never stops. There is literally always something you could be doing for your clients or your office. But conferences present a rare opportunity to stop swimming for a bit, climb into a boat, and sit and consider the water for a while.
When you’re constantly working at your job – meeting with clients, sending emails, monitoring portfolios, prospecting – it’s nearly impossible to find some time to think about your job. But one of the most valuable investments you can make in the future of your firm is to step out of the details and spend some time dedicated to big picture thinking.
Easier said than done, right? Like I said, work never stops. But by taking a few proactive measures before you leave, you can set yourself up for a better chance of leaving work at the office and truly digging into everything the conference has to offer.
As the conference gets closer, consider doing the following:
Talk to your team about how to handle requests that come in while you’re gone. It may be as simple as your assistant sending an email that says, “Zach is at a conference for a few days. I’ll make sure he reaches out as soon as he’s back.”
Send your clients an email letting them know you’re heading to a conference for a few days and give them contact info for who they should contact in case of an emergency.
Give yourself permission to not respond immediately. Your clients won’t leave if they have to wait a couple days (and if they do, good riddance).
Then when you go to the conference, resist the urge to work!
This one is closely related to #6, but it goes beyond just leaving work behind.
Smartphones and smartwatches can drastically impact our ability to absorb information and engage in what’s happening directly in front of us.
According to one recent survey, 82% of people say the presence of phones “deteriorates” conversations. Wearing a smartwatch can be similar as it notifies you of calls, texts, Slack messages, your heart rate, how far you’ve walked today, the latest on how miserable Ben Affleck is and pretty much anything else under the sun.
It’s no wonder people say phones are ruining conferences.
Here’s the thing: We often turn to our phones as a safeguard against awkward situations. But awkward situations are one of the best catalysts for striking up conversations with new people. Networking is largely cited as one of the biggest benefits of attending conferences, and you may miss out on that if you’re looking at Zillow for the 10th time today (just me?).
Of course, sometimes you need your phone. Don’t leave the hotel without it. Use it to keep up with the latest action on the conference hashtag.
Just leave it behind (or turn it off) when you’re in sessions or grabbing a drink with everyone else.
One of the top ways to block your networking efforts is by focusing every interaction on yourself – your problems, your successes, your plans for the future.
When you pack up for your conference, don’t forget to bring your curiosity with you. If you generally have a hard time remembering to ask others about themselves, take a few minutes to compile a list of questions you can use to help spark conversations.
Here are a few ideas:
How’s your year going?
What are you excited about right now at your firm?
What challenge are you facing right now?
What do you think about [insert popular topic at the conference]?
Ask questions. Listen carefully. Ask follow-up questions. They’ll ask you questions, too. If they don’t, politely excuse yourself and go find someone else who is interested in having a real conversation.
Conferences are packed with the unexpected. Maybe you run into an old buddy, or you make new and unexpected friends who ask you to go out for drinks, or you talk to a journalist who wants to interview you for an upcoming article.
Whatever happens, be sure to keep your goals and plans in mind. Then if you want – throw them out the window!
At conferences, as with all things in life, you want to maintain a certain level of flexibility so you can seize opportunities as they come.
Want to save a little money on your favorite conference? You’ll often find unique discount codes, heads up on which events we’ll be attending, and marketing insights crafted specifically for financial advisors in our weekly newsletter.
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