**Note. I wrote this in 2013... but the advice is still great for 2014 NSA Convention in San Diego.
Often people wonder why I am active in the National Speakers Association. I have had several speakers tell me they would not invest their time and money in this organization because they only go to events that have potential clients present. Since other speakers do not hire them, they cannot see a reason to spend four days at this annual event (or be part of their local chapter). I can't see a reason to miss it the annual event (or local meetings). I block the dates in my calendar a year in advance.
Do I get business from being an NSA member? Nope, not directly.... but I doubt I would be in business if I had not joined NSA five years ago. The business of professional speaking looks one way from the outside, but is very different once you are in the trenches. Having regular exposure to others who are walking the same path is like having a "Fast Pass" to get on the good rides at Disneyland. Plus, many of my friends and I have created referral relationships where we introduce each other to potential clients, so indirectly I have had bottom line impact.
For me, the NSA Annual Convention is a "must attend" event. Over the past few years I have made friendships with other speakers who have become my peers, advisers and my cheerleaders. While NSA prides itself on being very "welcoming" to all who are at their events, I am not fully sure that it is any different from other organizations. There are the same issues with cliques that exist at all conferences, but once you find your own warm nest of friends, there is no replacement for being surrounded by people who get the quirky nature of this industry.
My oldest daughter is also active in the annual Youth Program. For decades NSA has had a youth leadership conference connected to their annual gathering. It exposes the 100 plus teens to some of the best speakers in the world who share their messages to educate and inspire the children of the speakers in attendance. The bonus to this is that she has grown to understand what I do for a living.
If you are a speaker and have never attended an NSA Convention.... this summer in Philadelphia will be a great time to come experience what so many others know about the power of NSA.
7 tips to get the most from attending the NSA Convention
1. Come to learn. There are so many great speakers who will cover countless topics that will have an impact on your business. Platform skills, marketing, travel tips, etc.... and the added bonus of the "hallway conversations" with others. The nuggets of valuable information will be plentiful.
2. Meet new people. Do not sit with your local chapter friends. NSA has attendees from all over the world, and the interesting speakers who you will meet will open your eyes to many different ways to grow your business. If you can make one or two new friends each year who you keep in contact with all year, you will over time build up an amazing list of speaker buddies.
3. Do not stalk the celebrities. There are some uber-successful speakers who are part of NSA. Some are there speaking, others are in the audience. The mistake many new speakers make is they hope to find a mentor who will discover them. While this does happen, it is rare. You are best served by making friends with people at or about your same level, and then growing up in the business together.
4. Vote with your feet. If you are in a breakout session that is not meeting your needs, stand up and go to another session. Not every breakout session is going to be fantastic or live up to your expectations. Do not waste your time, move on and find a session that is best suited to your needs.
5. Visit the Learning Lounge. Last year NSA introduced an alternative program that ran concurrently to the breakout sessions. In the Learning Lounge there are always several small group discussions or TED Style talks happening at once. Some of these were lead by industry legends and only five or six people were present. Many did not want to miss a breakout so they sat in a room with hundreds while others received customized education from amazing experts.
6. Attend the Foundation Dinner and the Cigar PEG. Both of these events benefit the NSA Foundation, but also give you a chance to share more experiences with others at the conference. Last year's convention chair, Patrick Henry, is in charge of the Foundation Dinner. Get ready for it to be very fun!
7. Belly up to the bar. You do not need to be a drinker to spend a little time in the hotel bar late at night. It is in this causal social setting where I have met some of the people who have helped me the most in my career. There is more to a conference that the formal agenda.... it is often the informal times that bring the biggest value.
If you read this, and plan to be at the NSA Conference, reach out to me and introduce yourself. I look forward to meeting you.
Have A Great Day.