Thursday, August 01, 2013

Association Membership Sparks Deeper Learning Than Just What They Teach At Their Conference

Attending an industry conference for an association can be a mix of fun, learning, re-connecting with old friends, cultivating new relationships, late nights, gossip, too much wine, funny stories, political positioning, exposure to best practices, inspiration, envy, fresh ideas, witnessing greatness in your field, people judging others, etc...  It is good and bad stuff.  Some of the sessions you attend are amazing, others are flat.  Some of the people you encounter are sent from heaven, others are not your cup of tea.  But most of it is good.  Really Good!  The trick is to put the whole event on a mental scale and see where it tips, when the good out weighs the bad, focus on that (as there is always more good).

It is also interesting to be reminded that much of what we experience in life is subjective.  One person can be moved by a speaker, and other thinks they wasted their time in listening to the presentation.  There will be those who hate a social event or party at a conference, and others will love the whole program.  When we step back and watch how a community of conference attendees engage we learn greater lessons about business and life.

A membership association will expose you to wonderful marketing ideas and other business skills that are specific to your industry.  Additionally the people with whom you developed friendships can become like family.  There is a true commitment with some people lead others closer to success.  When you find your tribe in an association you are forever changed.  All opportunities come from people, and when you're with your "peeps" it changes everything.

At any one event there will not always be a single speaker or program that makes you say  "WOW".  If we judge the success of an event on having the right content all the time we will come up short.  I often return home from a conference with one or more nuggets of information that I immediately implement, but sometimes the power from attending is more subtle. There can be pages of notes, and a long list of "to do's", but my real experience can occasionally be more on a level of the soul.  I enjoy being challenged by smart people who do cool things.  Being engaged in an industry event can change how I see my world and make me work harder to be a better person.

Anytime you are immersed with people it is worth being reminded that we should not prejudge others or hold onto first impressions that could be wrong. Sometimes things happen and we make a decision about a person (or a group) and we never open up our hearts to discover anything beyond that one incident.  (I do it, and others do it, too. We are all impacted by human nature and personal ego!). It is hard to let go of an idea you placed in your mind, as it is akin to admitting you were wrong (nobody wants to be wrong). However, people are deep and complicated creatures and we cannot let superficial observations or one bad encounter let us miss what else is there.

I had an experience the first time I attended an industry event where I met a legend in the business I had joined.  In briefly meeting her at a conference I felt as though she treated me poorly since I was not established in the field.  But the experience was in my "feelings". I have no way of knowing her thoughts, motivations, or feelings toward me, or what she was doing at the time I said "hello".  Over time I have come to know of her as a wonderful and generous person who goes out of her way to serve the community.  While I have never had a reason to again interact with this person (and would never tell her about my first impression as her being aloof), I had judged the first encounter from my own insecurities.  I have friends who have long-term and powerful relationships with this person, and I am sure it was all a misunderstanding.  This happens often.   Communication between people is never easy, and at a conference with superficial "hello's", it can become more complicated.  The lesson I have learned is when I have a negative feeling in these types of situations, to remember that I can sometimes be wrong... and thus I owe it to try again.

There are many who do not see value in participating in industry groups, or have had one lame experience and stay away for the rest of their career.  Some feel they are outsiders because of age, gender, sexual orientation, personal style, etc.... and they allow the bastards to win by no longer being present.  But others stand tall and proud of who they are.  They triumph.  In leading in spite of adversity they rise above the muddy waters and teach us all so much.

When you attend an conference you may want to try looking beyond the agenda for the real learning.  Listen to people and explore how they view the world.  The real learning that comes from belonging to a group can come in the hallways, bars, or in your mind as you contemplate what you have seen and heard.  You never know who will inspire you.  We all have a lot to learn, we just have to be aware that the teachers are nearby.

Have A Great Day.

thom singer

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