Thursday, March 31, 2011

The ABC's of Trade Shows and Conferences - R is for ROI

You should never attend a conference without a clear purpose.  Just showing up and leaving your return on investment to chance is a sure way to not receive value from your participation.

But ROI is not always as easy to identify as the accountants want would hope.  Your CFO may want to see the real numbers in the short run, but most bean-counters have no understanding of sales, marketing, competitive intelligence, and the power of business relationships.  When it is not on a spread sheet, then can fail to understand the reason.

If you can land a new client directly because of your attending an event, more power to you!  But most of the long-term value that you will get from being active at industry events will not be so easy to define.

That, however, does not mean there is not real return on investment from going to conferences, trade shows, seminars, etc....

To maximize you conference experience you must know your purpose for attending, and then be relentless in tracking how you implement what you learn, and tracing the future of the connections your establish.

I have witnessed people gain the benefits years later.  Success in business should not be measured quarter by quarter, as many meaningful victories can take years to materialize.  Without a way to monitor your progress from the knowledge you gain and the people you meet, you will forget the genesis of your wins when they arrive.

Know your purpose for attending an event.  Be focused on achieving that purpose while present.  Share what you learned with co-workers when you return home.  Follow up with the people you encountered.  And then track, track, track your progress.

Have A Great Day.

thom singer

Thom Singer is known as "The Conference Catalyst". He works with meeting planners and conference organizers to set the tone for a meeting. His presentations educate, inspire and motivate attendees to engage deeper in the event and make meaningful connections. 

Opening Keynote and Conference Catalyst

I had the honor of kicking off the Troux Worldwide Conference last week in Austin, Texas.  It was a great event, and I applaud the team at Troux for taking a technical industry conference and transforming it into an experiential happening for everyone in attendance.

From the early planning stages they wanted to ensure the conference was not just a showcase of their company.  While highlighting their success was important, the main focus for the company was on the attendees.  They were working to create an exciting place for their industry to gather, and the information provided had to be powerful and not just about Troux.

This is where most companies fall short in the execution of their "users conference".  I spoke to a meeting planner the other day who said "Our conference is ONLY about high-level technical product information.  Nobody in our audience cares about the social aspects of a conference or any unrelated topics".  Huh?  Three days together and nobody wants anything fun, light or experiential?  That type of assumption is what kills a meeting.

Troux Technologies is one of Austin's great homegrown companies, and their 2011 "Users Conference" was their largest to date.  The event drew over 375 clients, prospects, vendors, partners, bloggers, and other VIP's in the Enterprise Architecture field.  They succeeded in making the event a "must attend", and that was evident by the Twitter and blog comments that circulated throughout their industry.

"Users conferences" have become a popular venue for my "Conference Catalyst" program.  When planning events many assume that people only come for the high-end technical information, but human beings are still social animals, no matter the reason is behind a gathering.  While the sharing of quality knowledge is important, if people do not have a legitimate "experience" they get bored very fast.  Those in attendance want to meet other people and network, but they stink at striking up meaningful conversations with strangers. Creating a fun (and not "hokey") social atmosphere can bring people together and allow them to establish long-term and mutually beneficial relationships.

The "Conference Catalyst" assists meeting planners in transforming regular business events into memorable happenings.

One attendee sent me the following email:

"I came back with 13 business cards (I met more people but not all had cards). That’s probably 11 or 12 more than I would from a typical user conference.
The difference? Your quick-hit, easy approach"

 Another added:

"Just a quick note to tell you what a pleasure it was meeting you last week. Like you I attend many conferences and I have seen many of these folks at other events. I can tell you with great certainty that there was a great deal more networking happening through the course of 2 days than I have seen before with this crowd. Several people directly said that you changed [their] behavior at the conference and that [they] never realized how much more [they] could learn by simple networking."

My favorite part of the "Conference Catalyst" is getting emails from executives like these who might have been skeptical about why networking matters... but are then thrilled by discovering the real power of business relationships.

Thanks to Troux Technologies for having me as part of the 2011 Troux Worldwide Conference.  It was great working with them, and I am impressed with all they do.

Have A Great Day

thom singer

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Networking And The College Student - Sophomore Year Experience (SYE)

When it comes to networking and college students there is a lot of attention placed on seniors and freshmen.

Obviously seniors are looking for jobs.... and thus the focus on networking makes sense. Career centers work hard to try to teach soon-to-be graduates about how to position themselves for getting that first job.

Freshmen are a centerpiece of the development money invested by universities because they are new to the school and studies show that those that create solid friendships in the first semester are more likely to remain enrolled.  There are entire programs built around "First Year Experience" (also known as FYE) to help these students transition into their college life.

But the "Sophomore Year Experience" (SYE) can be pivotal in creating the habits that lead these young adults toward establishing long-term and mutually beneficial relationships.  Showing up to as a freshman can mean living in a dorm, having many scheduled activities and people around all the time.  Friends all live together on the same floor, but the next year can mean putting in extra effort to keep friendships active.

At any age it is easy for people to drift apart from each other, but sophomore year can be the first experience living in an apartment, commuting to campus, and more than a year removed from high school friends.  Facebook contacts without ongoing dialogue is not a network, and sophomores can find themselves slipping through the cracks.  Social media can be helpful, but often is more of a facade to the real friendships that people need to succeed.

When I speak to college students I find it can be the sophomores who need to most help with relationships.  By their junior year their friendships are often solid, and it is harder to change the habits created in cultivating connections.  Life-long bonds are common for those who attend college together, but some people need help in learning how to creating meaningful connections.

More colleges and universities are realizing the importance of teaching their students to network.  Recruiting brochures tout the power of the alumni network, but few are ever taught how to capitalize on the opportunities presented by being a college student.  Too many students get lost in the crowd.

I spoke recently to a "Young Professionals Organization" and found these career-minded twenty-somethings actively taking notes and asking questions.  Many had an "Ah-Ha" look on their faces as I explained how networking really worked.  Misconceptions stripped away, the group was excited to attend future networking events, instead of grimacing at the thought. One women queried why "networking skills" were never taught at her college.  She was mad that her expensive education left out this powerful part of her success toolbox.

I had a group of residence hall directors tell me that it is the sophomore year that can mean the most in the success of many students, and that smart schools are going beyond their "First Year Experience" investments and embracing the educational programs for the "Second Year Experience".  Makes sense to me!

When sophomores are engaged in cultivating friendships they are making contacts that can bring opportunities to them throughout their lives.  The sooner one begins establishing habits of making people a priority, the sooner they will reap the benefits that come from having a strong network.

Waiting until senior year can be too late!

How about you.... at what point in college did you make and cement the most important contacts from your college years?

Have A Great Day.

thom singer

"Some Assembly Required: A Networking Guide for Graduates" is available at

The Speaker's Value Is More Than The Presentation

Jeff Hurt had a great post on the "Velvet Chainsaw's Midcourse Corrections" blog about "Why Your Conference Needs Meeting Anthropologists".

Anthropology is the science of humans -- especially the study of humans in relation to distribution, origin, classification, and relationship of races, physical character, environmental and social relations, and culture.  In regards to your meeting, when you have feedback from a third party who can observe and participate with your attendees, you will be able to make improvements for future gatherings, but also on the fly during the current conference.

Many meeting planners claim to be on top of these reviews themselves, or they rely on the after-event surveys. However, most often the running of the event is all-encompassing while on-site.  After the event it is hard to piece together the parts that can really make a difference, thus making sure that keen observations are happening in real-time can be valuable.

Jeff's post reminded me about why hiring the right speaker(s) can have a powerful impact on an event, beyond what is said from the stage.  Many professional speakers can attend 50 - 100 events per year.  It does not take long until they can become experts in observing the good, the bad, and the ugly of the meetings industry.  

Too many speakers do not join the mini-societies that occur at events.  They arrive just before their talk, and  fly out as quickly as possible after they complete Q & A.  However, others become trusted advisers to the the meeting planners and freely participate with attendees, attend all meals, and share their ideas to improve the meeting.  A speaker who is engaged with the whole conference can bring more value than just the words they utter from the podium.

I find that meeting planners and conference attendees are happy when I am willing to be active in more parts of their conference than just my keynote.  The speakers can often help in the planning stages, as many who organize smaller corporate events (for example: technical users group conferences hosted by companies) are not full-time experienced meeting professionals.  Often a marketing professional or an administrator are assigned the task of planning the conference on top of their regular job.  Turning to the speakers for assistance in brain-storming ideas can be instrumental in creating a memorable experience.  When the speaker is a resource for the meeting planner it is a win / win situation.

Additionally, keynote speakers who are part of the meeting team can help fill in if problems occur on site.  I recently had a meeting planner turn to me to fill in when a breakout session speaker could not attend at the last minute.  Most speakers have more than one topic they can present, and since they are already present they are the perfect solution to fill in if needed.  Most will not charge more to step in an solve a problem.  The breakout I hosted was a big hit with the audience, as they had already gotten to know me via the keynote and it showcased that I had other expertise beyond just what they had seen on the main stage.  Win / win!

Your speaker's experience in having attended hundreds of meeting should be a tool for the meeting planner.  Even meeting planners with decades of experience should tap into the observations of the speakers.  A seasoned event professional recently asked me about what I had seen at other events to create more value for the sponsors at trade shows.  Together we talked through several ideas and then created a pre-event series for the vendors on how to maximize their participation, which I presented (both by webinar a month in advance and live the night before the conference).  It helped her create more value for the sponsors, and exposed my programs to another group of people.  Win / win.

Hiring the right speaker(s) who care about the success of your event and who are willing to become a key member of the conference team will bring more value to everyone involved.

Have A Great Day.

thom singer

Thom Singer is known as "The Conference Catalyst". He works with meeting planners and conference organizers to set the tone for a meeting. His presentations educate, inspire and motivate attendees to engage deeper in the event and make meaningful connections.

Monday, March 28, 2011

The ABC's of Trade Shows and Conferences - Q is for Questions (#eventprofs)

When you attend a convention or other business event you will find yourself attending many speeches, panel discussions, product announcements and other presentations.  Inevitably as the time comes to an end they will ask for questions for the audience.  Pay attention, as this can be a pivotal opportunity for you to maximize your participation at the conference.

"Are there any questions?" are four words that can be the kiss of death for any presentation.  The pause that can occur after these words leave the stage can kill the mood of the whole room.  Nobody likes that awkward silence.... neither the speaker, nor those in the chairs, find any joy in good vibes being sucked out of the room.

The audience has an obligation to the presenters to not let them fall flat (unless they sucked... but that is a whole different discussion).  There are often dozens of people in any audience who want to ask questions, but for their own reasons are never the first to raise their hand.  However once one or two people have inquired the speaker, it is often the end of time that stops the Q&A portion.  Help get the ball rolling by asking the first question!

When you ask an intelligent question that gets the speakers to elaborate on their message, you are noticed by all in the room.  The speaker is grateful for the opportunity to go deeper (and not have dead air in the auditorium), and the audience appreciates the insight of the questioner.  Often when you ask good questions following a presentation, others will come up to you during breaks and compliment you on asking the same question they were thinking.  It can position you as a smart and active member of the crowd, and allow you to have side conversations on meaningful topics.

But beware, you must to be careful not to abuse the power of asking questions.  We have all seen the person who rushes the microphone at every conference (and often ever session they attend) only to give a commercial for their company and add their own point of view to mix.  They are not sincere, and are considered obnoxious.

Sometimes people who compete with the speakers, have differing opinions to the presenters, or otherwise have an axe to grind will use this opportunity to get on a soap box of their own.  This rarely makes the person asking the question appear in a good light.  Even if you disagree with what was said in the main presentation, remember to be respectful in how you address those on stage.  Being a jerk or a bully never builds your reputation.

This does not mean you need to remain silent if you disagree with the validity information.  It just means that when asking questions you must make sure not to put the spotlight on yourself.  Keep the conversation focused on the topic, not the personalities and brands.  Remember that the person was selected to make a presentation, and that brings with it an expectation of expertise.  Honor them in your choice of words even when asking about other viewpoints.

While listening to a presentation constantly ask yourself if there is anything worthy of asking a follow up question.  If you genuinely have something to ask that will benefit the speaker and the audience, do not hesitate.  Everyone wins when you step up and ask questions.

Have A Great Day.

thom singer

Thom Singer is known as "The Conference Catalyst". He works with meeting planners and conference organizers to set the tone for a meeting. His presentations educate, inspire and motivate attendees to engage deeper in the event and make meaningful connections.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

The ABC's of Trade Shows and Conferences - P is for Pre-Planning and Post-Participation

Attending a trade show or other business conference is not just about time you spend at the event itself.  The work you put in before and after attending will be what ensures your successful return on investment.  Too many people simply show up and then go home... then question if they really got the maximum impact out of their participation.

Spending the time in advance to create a plan for who you want to meet and what sessions you want to attend is key.  When you have clients, prospects and other contacts who you know, or suspect, will be present it is smart to reach out to them a few weeks before the event.  Schedule times to meet for conversations and / or sitting together for keynotes or at meals.  This is especially important at large events, where if you leave it to chance you many never see each other.

More and more conference organizers are hosting pre-event webinars and utilizing event industry technologies to establish the community in advance.  Do not ignore these opportunities to discover information about the event and the people who will be present.  Some of the tools used do require you to fill out a new profile, while others, like Presdo Match will connect to your LinkedIn profile.  In either case it is worth your time to establish yourself on these services and participate.  This will allow you to learn about the make up of the audience and identify people whom  you might want to meet.  It also allows other people to learn about you.  Again, contacting them in advance will give you the best chance of meeting up in person.

After the event you must take ownership of the follow up, or the people whom you met will quickly drift away.  You do not need to reach out to every person whom you met, but the ones with whom you had meaningful conversations are worth sending an email or handwritten note.  Be sure to let them know you enjoyed meeting them and that you hope to keep in touch.  If you do not take this simple step it is most likely that you will not have any future contact, until the following year, if you both return to the conference.

Additionally, if the conference planners host post-event webinars, it is recommended that you participate.  Follow-on information is often shared by speakers and others in an attempt to keep the mini-society of the event going into the future.  Again the online technology can provide you with ways to re-connect with other attendees and monitor industry information that is being shared within the community.

Do not just "wing it" if you are participating in an event, commit to getting involved early and staying active once you return home.  This will give you a better chance of discovering the value of attending events. Remember..these days an event is more than just the physical meeting.

Have A Great Day.

thom singer

Thom Singer is known as "The Conference Catalyst". He works with meeting planners and conference organizers to set the tone for a meeting. His presentations educate, inspire and motivate attendees to engage deeper in the event and make meaningful connections.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Treat The Good Ones Like GOLD

Two blog posts I read today inspired this  blog post.

The first is by Chris Brogan.  Chris wrote about flaws, and in reading his post it seems that maybe the critical jerks that populate our world were impacting his mood as he sat at his computer.  He is right, we all have flaw, but they should not define us more than the amazing things we do to impact the society around us.

The second was by Leslie Morris (my editor, business partner, friend, and an impressive communications consultant).  Her post contemplated if being a "giver" was born or bred.  She discusses how some people, regardless of their own situation in life, find ways to serve.... while others are oblivious to the needs of others.  She is right that many wonderful people just never seem to discover the easy ways they can positively impact the world.

Well meaning people often can easily slip into self-focus.  This can be gossip and finger-pointing or the lack of philanthropic awareness and efforts. This happens to everyone at some point, as just getting through the day can sometimes be overwhelming.  Yet it is in the patterns we find character.

I believe most people want to do good and assist others in achieving success.  They want to be a beacon of the positive.  This desire often becomes confused with actual action, and can even blind them to their lack of effort or negativity.  Many make promises and never follow through, yet internally view making the promise as equal to the completed action.  Others think that "constructive criticism" 100% of the time is a gift (ummmm, not always!)

We all have made mistakes, and we all come up short on expectations sometimes. Flaws are part of being human. When this happens there is a long line of people willing to share our flaws with the world... But few are the ones who line up to praise others for their successes. When you find these rare souls who help for the sake of helping... and who give for the sake of giving... treat them like GOLD.

My business partner (The publisher at New Year Publishing and Leslie's husband, Dave) is one of these people who finds the good in others and supports them in the efforts to go for their dreams. I would never have become a full time speaker, author, and consultant if he had not seen my goals as legitimate and found ways to assist me to make them bigger than real.

He regularly does stuff to lift others up and avoids slamming people for flaws. Additionally he has had a very successful career. Some mistakenly say he can do good things because he is so successful.... but I know it is the other way around.... He IS successful because most of the time he focuses on the good parts of people and not the bad.... and gives of himself. 

You can't change the selfish people, the gossips, the mean-kids, the dream-killers, and the jerks.  But you can avoid being one of those yourself.  Additionally you must remember to treat the good people in your life like they are made of gold!

Have A Great Day

thom singer

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Does Your Conference Have A Catalyst?

This week I served as "The Conference Catalyst" for two conventions.  This presentation has become a popular product with meeting planners and other event professionals as it helps transform the networking at events into high impact connecting. 

I get a kick out those in the audiences who tell me they were skeptical of a talk on networking and communication skills at a high-learning conference who then are inspired to get out of their comfort zones and meet new people.  It is common that people inform me they have run out of business cards (and talked to more people than ever before at an event) or that they started up a conversation with "just the right person".

The first event this week was the MTO Summit in Chicago.  It was made of of conference planners who came to Chicago to experience the latest technologies that are impacting and changing the meeting business.  It was a great gathering and in addition to doing an action oriented presentation, it was also a learning experience that helped me shape my own business...AND I met some great people.

I then flew home to Austin and went straight from the airport to a dinner to kick-off the Troux Technologies Worldwide Conference.  Industry events and "users conferences" have become a great venue for "The Conference Catalyst".  Troux was very focused on creating an experience that was all about maximizing this event for their clients, prospects and other Enterprise Architecture (EA) professionals who would be in attendance. It was fun to work with everyone and make so many new contacts with these cool people.

The "Catalyst" program is designed to encourage engagement with a focus on making meaningful connections.  While each event is unique, I can be involved with the conference from the planning stages through every breakout session and meals. I often help the organizers design the schedule, host pre and post-event webinars, conduct training programs for vendors, and then inspire the audience to take their new connections beyond their time at the event.  I am thrilled to be "The Conference Catalyst"!

I enjoyed meeting those who were in attendance at both events.  If your event could use a new exciting spark, please contact me for more information:

Have A Great Day.

thom singer

Thom Singer is known as "The Conference Catalyst". He works with meeting planners and conference organizers to set the tone for a meeting. His presentations educate, inspire and motivate attendees to engage deeper in the event and make meaningful connections.

Monday, March 21, 2011

The ABC's of Trade Shows and Conferences - O is for Organizers

Many people do not give thought to the legions of people it takes to successfully execute a trades show, conference or other large scale business events.  Even small seminars require professional planning to ensure a good experience for those who are in attendance. 

The meeting planning industry is a multi-billion dollar business.  Those who choose to work in this area are often some of the hardest working professionals you will ever meet.  Without these dedicated people the rest of the benefits that come from participating in events would not exist.

When you attend an event remember the work that takes place behind the scenes. Seek out those who work to make you attendance at the conference a success and say two little words; "Thank You".  Once they recover from the shock, the meeting professionals will remember you forever.  Establishing long-term and mutually beneficial relationship with meeting planners will expose you to many opportunities at future events.

Meeting organizers work tirelessly, but rarely receive kudos.  Be the person who highlights their hard work and shows them that their efforts are appreciated.

**PS- Many executives (in a variety of industries) tell me that then they seek to hire new employees for their companies they look for people who have successful experience in the meetings industry, as these people are accustomed to putting in the extra effort to ensure success.  I know this to be true, as my wife spent ten years in Catering and Sales for a major hotel.  Long hours and low pay... but amazing "in the trenches" business experience!

Have A Great Day.

thom singer

Thom Singer is known as "The Conference Catalyst". He works with meeting planners and conference organizers to set the tone for a meeting. His presentations educate, inspire and motivate attendees to engage deeper in the event and make meaningful connections.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The ABC's of Trade Shows and Conferences - N is for Nametags

Many people hate nametags.  When they attend events where they try to avoid wearing them, or they place them under their jacket.  If they plan events, they rationalize all types of reasons not to provide nametags to their guests. 

But this is ridiculous. The nametag is one of the best tools to making connections at conferences, trade shows, and other events.  It not only makes you more approachable, but when other people are wearing a nametag it provides you with enough information to start a conversation.

My friend Scott Ginsberg of "Hello My Name is Scott" has made a career of approachability.  Scott wears a nametag 24 hours a day, and it sparks all sorts of conversations (yes, he has "Hello My Name Is Scott" tattooed on his chest!).  In his books and keynote speeches he shares the power of why wearing a nametag has made him more successful when attending events and beyond.  He knows more about nametags than any other person on the planet.

While you do not need to display a nametag all the time, you must wear your nametag when attending an event.  Not only is it often your pass into the sessions and trade show floor, it is also the only way to be part of the mini-society that exists when attending an event.  It equalizes the playing field, helps eliminate cliques, and nametags at larger events are in plastic or cloth casing that provide you with a convenient place to carry your business cards.

If you are planning an even you must pay attention to the functionality of the nametags you provide your attendees.  Make sure that the font is large enough to to be read at a distance and that you have the persons first name, last name, and company name.  If the event includes people from across a variety of geographic areas, also include the city where the person lives.  All of this information works together to allow for conversations to easily begin.

I once attended an event hosted by a law firm where the senior partners did not like the idea of nametags.  They figured they knew all their clients, and falsely believed that nametags would make their event feel cheesy.  Instead, the lack of nametags made the event dull.  While the clients knew their lawyers, they did not know the other lawyers in the firm, or the other people in attendance.  With over 200 people at the event, there was very little conversation. People sat in small groups and did not meet anyone new.  Many in attendance felt the event was boring, and the it was clearly because the lawyers put their own opinions ahead of helping people connect.

When attending an event, or planning and event, embrace the nametag!

Have A Great Day.

thom singer

Thom Singer is known as "The Conference Catalyst". He works with meeting planners and conference organizers to set the tone for a meeting. His presentations educate, inspire and motivate attendees to engage deeper in the event and make meaningful connections. 

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Trade Show Sponsors Regularly Flush Money Down The Toilet

Sponsoring a conference, convention, seminar or other business gatherings is a fantastic way for a company to gain exposure, connect with prospects, visit with clients, access to industry experts, and showcase their products and services.

Often these sponsorships include a booth on the trade show floor, or in the networking area.  These booths are not just a fancy place to place brochures, but instead a home base which will be the first impression of your company to all in attendance.  How you present yourself 100% of the time at your booth can impact your return on investment for your sponsorship.

I am usually appalled at the raging failure that occurs when companies are sponsoring events.  The level of opportunities lost via poor trade show booth execution must be in the billions of dollars annually.  I regularly am asked to work with sales and marketing teams who are making a big investment in an industry trade show to make sure they understand the importance of how they present themselves to maximize their conference participation.  Often employees roll their eyes at the nuances that I believe cause companies to be wasting money.... but the little things matter and people are always watching (While employees roll their eyes, owners and managers nod their heads!)

I spent an hour walking the trade show floor this week at the South by Southwest (SXSW) Festival in Austin, Texas.  There were easily over 400 companies who had booths, and most missed out on maximizing the conference through their lack-luster presentation and booth design.

Boring does not get noticed.  Investing in a sponsorship is about more than having your name on the wall of a booth with a table of key-chains and candy bowls.  In an era when many companies have elaborate booth design, a poster and brochures just does not make the grade.

But worse that the booth's design is how the people who staff the booth present themselves.  After witnessing over a dozen company displays with nobody in their booth or people on their phones and laptops I began photographing these massive booth failures.

My intention was to post these photos on this blog, but after 40 such pictures, I began to worry about my photo essay getting someone fired.  I am not sure what it costs to have a booth at a major event like SXSW, but I assume any CEO who sees pictures of their employees at a trade show reading books, texting, typing wildly on a laptop, chatting on the phone, or nearly sleeping might not be happy.  I would never want to be the cause of someone losing their job, so I am not posting the pictures.

While many booths did have outward facing people, and some engaged in conversations with other convention attendees, only ONE booth had a person who stepped out and engaged me in a conversation that was both friendly and inviting.  I almost could not believe it after roaming nearly all the rows of booths.

His name was Paul Chambers from Quotegine.  He was amazingly friendly, and made me want to learn more about his company.  They have an interesting technology for small business that allows them to create and manage the proposal process in a way that levels the field with larger companies.  I am actually interested in learning more.

I shared my photo essay with Paul and told him he was the only person in over 400 booths who really got it right.  I wanted to tell his boss about his being a FANTASTIC employee (and worthy of a raise) but it turns out that Paul is the CEO of the company.

Interesting, huh?

This piece of information about Paul being the CEO of Quotegine and his working so hard to maximize the investment of being at the conference was not lost on me.

Some with whom I shared my photo essay did defend the booth workers by pointing out that they day before had been a busy day, and that many of the attendees might be tired.  One person said that those on laptops and phones need to keep up with work, but for decades trade shows existed without wireless access... so I don't buy that you cannot stay off the electronics for the time you are working a shift at a booth.

If your company is spending money to have a booth at a trade show, you need to raise the bar or just flush the money down the toilet.

Have A Great Day.

thom singer

Thom Singer is known as "The Conference Catalyst". He works with meeting planners and conference organizers to set the tone for a meeting. His presentations educate, inspire and motivate attendees to engage deeper in the event and make meaningful connections. 

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Is It Bad To Be A Networker?

My friend Eugene wrote the following post on his blog:

"For the second time this month, someone who knows me well introduced me to others as a networker or a connector.

Yikes, this is NOT how I want to be known. And, I have not framed what I do any more competently than to leave this as the only description easily available to close friends.

I’m gonna work on this. It needs to be about helping others accomplish important political and community building objectives, about my past business experience intersecting with social entrepreneurship to help make great things happen."

I was taken back by his passion of NOT wanting this label, as I think the terms his friends have used to describe him are given as the highest compliment.  I believe he has attached other meanings to the words "networker" and "connector" that he views as less than an honor.

“Networking” is a tough word, as there are too many false perceptions about what that means. If I ask ten people to define the concepts around it, there would be ten answers. There some who have given the word a negative connotation…. but there is not another word to replace it in conversation

I have found (and I preach) that the definition of networking is:

 The creation of long-term and mutually beneficial relationships where all the parties involved find more success and satisfaction than they would without the association”

If you look at in those terms, one should be proud.  When you can connect people to others with whom they take actions to better the world, that can never be a bad thing. 

I believe many fall prey to the negative mis-conceptions of the words.  While I do not enjoy the negative side of "networking", I am a believer that when it is done correctly, for the right reasons, there is not many a more noble set of actions a person can take.

By any name one who is a catalyst for the success should be a good thing!

Have A Great Day.

thom singer

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Collaboration Over Competition (#collabsxsw)

I have been writing a lot lately about collaboration.  The concept of "Cooperative Significance" has become a centerpiece of my training, speaking and mentoring programs.

While attending the SXSW Interactive Conference I sat in on a panel on the subject of going beyond just "working together" and instead establishing long-term and mutually-beneficial relationships... even with the competition.

Too many people instantly hate the idea of a competitor, but often two or more who have similar businesses can come together and create synergies that help both find more success.

Sally Strebel, Derek Neighbors, Kristie Wells and Jay Baer did a great job of collaborating on the panel.  They shared a passion for people that goes beyond just the words spoken.  Below are some nuggets I took to heart from their discussion:

For collaboration to work, everyone must be engaged in the project.  Collaborating is not one person taking the other on a piggy back ride. 

Some don't want to work with others because they do not want to divide ownership, but 10% of something HUGE can be much more than 100% of something small.

Those who are bad collaborators usually have fears.  They are scared of the other person taking over, stealing ideas or intellectual property, or otherwise being screwed over.  But the universe is made up of good people, and while some folks will take advantage or you, most will not.  Do not miss out on the powerful benefits because there are a few selfish jerks out there.  If you don't collaborate, what you risk is what you do not get in the end.

This does not mean you should work with everyone.  You must like and trust the people with whom you work on projects.  A good rule of thumb is are they the type of person you would invite to your house for dinner.  The way to know if you like them?  Happy Hour (this panel liked to drink... they also gave out shots of Tequila to audience members who asked good questions). 

Happy Hour does not necessarily mean drinking... their point was to sit down and talk with others.  The old school business mentality was that life is a zeo-sum game.  You cannot both win.  But savvy entrepreneurs today think everyone can have more if they work well with others (and having more is not always money!).

We live in a world where we do not value people enough.  To succeed we need others.

Be honest with yourself about what you are good at, and the areas you fall short.  Look for partners who can compliment you and vice versa.

The only difference between collaborators and competitors is how you leave the relationship.

Have A Great Day

thom singer

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Selfish - There's An App For That!

Is technology making people more self-centered? 

People are buried in their smart phones, media devices, iPads, iPods, laptops, GPS, gaming devices, and other tech apparatus all the time and some never see anyone or anything beyond our own hand-held devices.

I enjoy the YouTube video of the woman in the mall who falls into a fountain while texting as she walks.  It perfectly shows how into self we can get. 

We spend so much time in our own "stuff" that I believe it is getting harder for people to look outside.  We thought that technology, the internet and social media were going to make it easier to connect with others, and yet it can have the opposite effect.

This discussion of being self-focused plays into networking at live face-to-face events.  The ease of sending a LinkedIn or Facebook friend request is making some folks more hesitant and less comfortable having conversations.  It is becoming more difficult to approach others, and I am being asked to mentor people on how to begin conversations at live events.

There seems to be a misguided feeling that networking is about self.  Who can I meet who can help me?  How do I get on that person's radar? Me. Me. Me.  If it is not easy, people do not want to do it.  When there is not clear path to payday... they rationalize themselves away from humans and back to technology.

I find that networking only works when it is honestly about developing long-term, mutually-beneficial relationships where both parties achieve more because of the relationship than they would have without it.  This cannot work if one person has selfish motivations (some self-focused reasons are normal, yes, but it cannot be the only reason).  It takes work, and giving, up front or there is no foundation for a real relationship.

And yet people are always showing they are not interested in making things better for the other guy.  Oh, they want to... they hope they will.... but they revert back to self on the most basic things. 

This is evident in the simplest tools in networking.... Business Cards.  The argument comes up every May around the SXSW Interactive Conference, as I encourage people to bring plenty of business cards.  This is one of the most friendly and open hearted events, and the networking is HUGE.  People love to make connections at SXSW, but meeting someone once does not make them part of your network.  Meeting someone once makes them someone you have met once.  The real networking is in the follow up.

But how can anyone properly follow up if there is no exchange of contact info?  And this is where it breaks down.  I always hear people say "Business Cards? This is a tech events, no cards.... just digital!". 

"I don't carry cards, we can use technology to connect on the spot at SXSW"
Sounds good, but it is really a self-focused answer.  I am not talking either or.. I am saying be prepared to interact with anyone you might meet.... even those who are not your tech equal.

Here is why some of the anti-business card arguments fall short.....

1. Do not assume everyone uses the same applications.  If you use one tool (like Bump), and they use another, you are making an assumption that yours is superior.  One of you will need to change or simply pass without trading info.  If you had a card and you are not a perfect match on a digital level, you have an easy way to trade information.  It shows you are prepared and not just in lust with the hottest app.

2. Telling them to link via LinkedIn or Facebook makes does not take into consideration that people use these social media tools differently.  Some people do not like to immediately link to every person they cross paths with, as they believe that it adds too much noise.  They reserve these for those they have established relationships with. 

A policy that restricts all linking is neither "right" nor "wrong" ... just different.  If the other person does not want to link to you just because you sat next to each other in a breakout session does not make them a bad person.  In fact, often the people who cherish the cultivation of real relationships are the ones you especially want to know better.

3. Telling someone to "Google Me" is asking them to do additional work to find you later.  If they are bad with names, or if you name is "Bob Smith" this can become a time consuming and difficult search.  Many will abandon following up with you if you make them work for it.

4. "Cards are so uncool" - Oh please.... get over needing to be cool, and be practical.  Besides, I bet you some of the coolest people you have ever met carry business cards!  If your "shtick" is about not having cards it makes me want to barf.... do not have a "shtick". (yes, a person last year told me "not having a business card is part of my aloof persona".  HUH?)

5. "I don't want people to follow up with me... I want to select who I follow up with" is another statement I hear from some folks.  Just think about that one for a minute.  I don't think I need to discuss why this sounds self-centered.

6. "I forget to bring cards".  This might sends a message that you did not think ahead.  It is not that difficult, as you remembered to wear underwear (or not).

techy".... it just shows that you want to make it simple for the other person to find you if they choose to do that. 

****One last point.... Do not be a business card pusher.  You do NOT need to trade cards with everyone you meet.  There should be a legitimate reason to trade cards.  Some people walk around and shove cards in the hands of strangers, and then wonder why networking does not work for them.  You need to see a purpose for the card exchange or the paper in your hand becomes trash very quickly.

****Note, I am not calling anyone "selfish", I am just saying some people are not thinking this topic through all the way.  The world "selfish" seems to be very very sensitive to some folks.  I find this discussion sends some into a wild response that I am somehow attacking them (yes, I have been called a "dick" for my strong belief that a business card is still important in the digital age!).  What I am saying is that you need to think of your motivation for not having a card.  Is it to make your life easier, or the other person's life easier?  That is the question for discussion. 

I welcome comments!

Have A Great Day

thom singer

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Forty Days Vegan

Today marks the beginning of Lent.

This year I have decided to go vegan for the forty day period. It is more an adventure in discipline than anything else.

I was not sure I could do this, and so a while back I tried a few "Test Days" of eating a plan-based diet to see if I could manage this quest. One day lead to two days. Two days became three. I have now been vegan for ten days.

Thus, this is really fifty days vegan.

I am enjoying the experience and I feel great.  I have even survived a four day business trip and having to navigate eating at a corporate conference.  AND... the hotel was down the street from an In N Out Burger, and I did not cave in on my convictions!

I am going to write about my experiences eating vegan on a separate blog ( Check out how it has gone so far!

I welcome your advice, ideas, support, restaurant suggestions, recipes, etc...

Have A Great Day.

thom singer

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Does Your Team Understand "Cooperative Significance"?

Are you working alone inside a company or are you part of a "cooperative team"?

All people want to feel significant.  At home, at work, in their community, etc.... we want to make a difference through our actions. I know that is important to me, and it is important to the people with whom I mentor.

Does your company understand the meaning of "Cooperative Significance"?

Cannot see the video?  Here is the link:

Have A Great Day

thom singer

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Technology Conferences Bring Amazing Networking Opportunities (#cwp100 #sxswi)

If you are attending this week's Computerworld Premier 100 or  South by Southwest Interactive Conferences, be sure to take advantage of the powerful networking opportunities. 

A main reason people cite for attending a multi-day conference is for the "Networking Opportunities", and yet once they arrive, they fail to take the necessary steps to create connections.  When you take ownership of your networking, you will have more success at the event.

Ten Tips For Networking At A Multi-Day Conference

1. Have a plan. Know in advance whom you want to meet (directly or the type of people), which speakers you want to hear, and which vendor's trade show booths you want to visit.

2. Bring plenty of business cards. In today’s digital world some argue against the importance of business cards. But having a card is not for you, it is for the other person. Some people forget names quickly and asking for a card helps them recall you later. Telling someone “Google Me” is making them work to keep in touch. Additionally we don’t all use the same technologies, so using BUMP (or another digital tool) assumes we all adopt the same technologies. Not carrying business cards can be selfish, and selfish is so last year!

3. Do not focus on meeting the celebrity speakers. While meeting famous authors, speakers, and other industry gurus is fun, you are one of hundreds who will come up to them and shove a card in their hands. Instead, place your focus on meeting other people in attendance at the event. It is the other attendees who you are most likely to bond with and create real long lasting mutually beneficial friendships.

4. Talk to the people sitting next to you. When you walk into a seminar, take the time before the presentation begins to say hello to the people seated around you. I call this the "power of hello". Once you have said something as simple as "hello", it will be easier to talk with them later in the week if you see them again.

5. Ask questions of people you meet. Never lead with your "elevator pitch". People are more interested in themselves than they are in you, so ask them questions to help them get to talking.

6. Put your technology away. Do not run to your iPhone, BlackBerry, or laptop at every break. When you are working on electronics you send the message that you are unapproachable because you are busy.  People will jump to negative conclusions about you and move their attention to others. Utilize the time on breaks to converse with others. Look around and smile rather than texting like crazy.

7. Do not automatically send a LinkedIn or Facebook request. Too often people immediately send social networking link requests to people they just met. However, different people have different policies about whom they link with. If they believe in only connecting with those whom they have established relationships, you make it awkward if you send them a link too early (which they then ignore). Best is to ask people if they would welcome such a link at this time. Be respectful of the fact that they might use social networking differently than you do. Immediately following them on Twitter is okay, as Twitter does not require a mutual connection acceptance.

8. Read their stuff. Many people are active bloggers, tweeters, authors, etc... If people create the written word, seek out their work and read it. It is a great way to get to know people by reading their stuff, but they will also be honored when you tell them that you read their blog or follow them on Twitter.

9. Introduce others. When you meet cool people, be the conduit that connects them with others who might be beneficial to them. This includes others at the conference, as well as other people you might know back home. If you ask the right types of questions, you will easily spot connections that can help others. Don't ever worry about "what's in it for me", but instead just be the person who helps others. You will over time that others will help you too.

10. Follow up. If you meet interesting people and you never follow up, it makes no difference. Own the follow up after you meet people and send them an email (or better yet, a handwritten note) telling them how much you enjoyed talking with them, and plan for future discussions.

11. Do more than others expect from you. Bring more to a new relationship than the other person expects and they will always remember you as someone who is a giver. Invite them to sit with you at lunch or dinner and introduce them to your group of friends. Those who give always get more down the line.

If you will be at either event I hope you will come see me speak (I am speaking at both).  Come find me and  introduce yourself.  Also you can follow me on Twitter at @thomsinger.

Have A Great Day. 

thom singer 

Thom Singer is known as "The Conference Catalyst". He works with meeting planners and conference organizers to set the tone for a meeting. His presentations educate, inspire and motivate attendees to engage deeper in the event and make meaningful connections. 

Saturday, March 05, 2011

The ABC's of Trade Shows and Conferences - M is for Meals

Attending a trade show is a lot of work.  The agenda at most of these events keeps business professionals occupied for the whole day and well into the evening.  The powerful inspirational keynotes, education rich break-out sessions, and the time wandering the trade show floor does not allow much time for checking in with the office, or to grab a few minutes of peace and quiet.

Many attendees who are primarily focused on knowledge gathering an event look at the breakfasts, networking breaks, lunches, happy hours and dinners as a time to skip out and get away.  But the meal times are the most important opportunities to make meaningful connections with other people.

Everyone likes the idea of making a connection that leads to a future job opportunity, a new client, or a possible strategic partnership developing from king industry contacts.  While these types of game-changing events do come from attending conferences, they do not happen by accident. You have to work to make, grow and keep your business relationships.

Be strategic in your plan for how to maximize your meal times while at a conference.  Too many people leave their seating to chance, and never end up meeting anyone of consequence.They wonder aimlessly looking for a chair. 

Better if you plan whom to sit with.

As you meet people throughout the day, ask them with whom they will be sitting at lunch or dinner.  When you can create a plan to sit together with those you have already established an initial connections, you can them go deeper in your conversations during the meal.

Sitting at a random table is a game of "networking roulette".  Yes, you might win big, but you also might shoot your chances of best utilizing the meal time.

It is also a great idea to agree to meet someone you have talked with briefly for breakfast the next morning.  If you look at the conference schedule there is often a full hour or more set for breakfast, but most people run in just before the open session to grab a cup of coffee or a bagel.  This time can be used for meaningful conversations.  When you plan discussions with intention you will find more success.

Another mistake is some folks leave the conference to grab dinner with an old friend who lives in the city they are visiting.  While it is wonderful and important to cultivate personal relationships, if you are attending a conference for business purposes, and your company is paying for you to be there, you should not skip out on any of the scheduled events.  Meals are the engine of trade shows, conferences, seminar, and other gatherings.  Humans are social creatures and for thousands of years have come together in groups to dine.  It is primal.  It is how we bond with others.

If you are on a special diet or have food allergies you need to plan ahead for the best way to handle the buffet line or plated meals.  Most hotels will happily accommodate vegetarian, vegan, dairy free, Kosher, and other special needs if you give them advanced notice.  Before arriving at the event make contact with the event organizer and / or the venue to find out the best options for your situation.  Do not make your food needs an excuse for missing out on the chance to make contacts.

While at a conference treat the meals as your networking pot of gold.  A little conversation could lead to a big opportunity down the line.

Have A Great Day

thom singer

Thom Singer is known as "The Conference Catalyst". He works with meeting planners and conference organizers to set the tone for a meeting. His presentations educate, inspire and motivate attendees to engage deeper in the event and make meaningful connections. 

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

4 Things To Do If Your Speaker Cancels (#Meetings)

Every meeting planner has the same nightmare...  They spend months organizing the perfect event for their company or association, with an eagle's eye for every detail.  Then at the last minute their keynote speaker backs out.  Programs are printed, people are arriving and there is nobody to take the stage.

While rare, this does happen from time to time.  While there is no excuse good enough for the meeting planner, I have known of speakers who have had travel issues with airlines, been in car accidents, gotten the flu, calendared the wrong date, or had a family emergency.

A speaker no-show is more common for small groups that are not paying the presenter or use local executives for their program.  Professionals make their living serving the client and will move mountains and part the oceans to be at the event.  Because professional speakers work with meeting planners everyday they understand and respect all the nuances that go into executing a meeting.

I have seen events of all sizes scramble at the last minute to fill an open slot in their agenda.  Below are four things you can do if your speaker cancels at the last minute. (These apply for both local business club luncheons or a large multi-day industry conferences):

1.  Always have a Plan B.  I have worked with several organizations who have my phone number on speed dial in case of a need for a last-minute speaker.  While you might not think this would be something that would happen very often, I have filled in seven times in the last four years (last minute can mean a few days in before the event, several hours in advance, or once I was pulled from the audience to deliver a 45 minute keynote).

Savvy professional speakers also have a network of industry friends they can recommend who can step in at the last minute if a problem occurs. While you never want to get that call from your speaker saying they are too ill to speak to your audience, if they have already found a fantastic solution it will make your day much better.  (Speakers who are members of the National Speakers Association can tap into this network no matter where in the world they are scheduled to speak).

2.  Look to your event agenda, past speakers or future speakers.  A multi-day industry event will have a full docket of speakers who will already be present.  Look to see whose program could be up-graded from a break-out to a keynote.  If it is a break-out session you need to fill, see if the keynote speaker has more information that can be delivered as a "booster shot" to those who might want more following his or her main stage program (some speakers will charge you for the extra presentation, but most will be happy to step in and help you out in your time of need).

If it is a local business luncheon, look at your list of past speakers you have had over the last two years and see if you can bring one of them back for an encore presentation.  Since they already know the audience and the venue, they might be comfortable filling in with little notice.

Additionally, maybe a future speaker would be willing to come in and do his talk early.  Some people might not be able to do this from a preparation stand-point, but asking is always a good idea.

3.  Create a round-table lab.  Your audience is full of brilliant people.   Select two or three topic questions that are cutting-edge and involve timely issues.  Get someone on the board or planning committee to be the Master of Ceremonies and explain openly and honestly about how the speaker could not be there.  Next proclaim this to be a fantastic and unique opportunity to crowd source knowledge and best-practices.  Make the audience the heroes.  Then share the discussion topics, having each table elect a discussion leader.  Every few minutes the MC will encourage a new question be bantered about at the tables.  During the last 20 minutes of the meeting each table reports to the whole the best thoughts shared in their group.

4.  Make it a networking opportunity.  Turn the speaker-less meeting into a "Networking Speed Dating Bonanza" by encouraging people make more contacts.  Extend the reception time, and once seated for the meal have everyone introduce themselves around their table.  When dessert is served encourage everyone to move to a new seat in the room.

A main reason people attend business events is for the "networking opportunities", and most meeting planners admit that no matter how much time they schedule for people to mingle, they do not do a good job of it.  Make this open time powerful by facilitating introductions and connections.

Leadership is paramount to success in this situation.  If you confidently communicate to the attendees that the meeting will still have an equal or greater impact, then they will follow.  If you are timid about the changes to the program being positive, then they are lost.

***How about you?  What other suggestions would you add to this list?

Have A Great Day

thom singer

Thom Singer is known as "The Conference Catalyst". He works with meeting planners and conference organizers to set the tone for a meeting. His presentations educate, inspire and motivate attendees to engage deeper in the event and make meaningful connections. 

(** Special thanks to my friend Scott Ginsberg who suggested I blog about this topic after I shared with him a story about a CEO who missed a local business event).

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Integrated Visibility for Your Career

Is your company paying attention to visibility?  Are you?

The business world has changed over the last few years, and you cannot expect that doing good work is enough for success.  The road for entrepreneurs is littered with the bodies of those who were good enough, but never found their destiny.

You must create a brand that is recognized in your industry or you will be passed over.  It is not about chasing sales and customers.... those will come.  Instead your initial goal is to make more "short lists" of those who can buy what you sell.  When decision makers are selecting a vendor they can only talk with three or four suppliers who will deliver the products or services they seek. 

In many industries there are hundreds of choices for vendors, so making the "short list" is the first critical step to success.

If you are not on the short list then someone else will win the business 100% of the time.   

Sales professionals used to be able to use persistence and clever sales techniques to get into see prospects.  Today the prospects are out in front, gathering information online and through their network before their needs are ever public knowledge.  Gaining access to busy prospects is more difficult than at any time in history.

Building a brand, having a strong network, being a known industry thought leader, social media, and being seen as the expert are more important than ever.  The skills needed to establish "Integrated Visibility" are different from the sales skills of yesterday, but too many people are still ignoring the business climate changes.

I work with individuals and companies who are serious about creating an industry leader position.  This is obtained by realizing that success does not happen by accident or alone.  It takes work, too.

Creating long-term and meaningful business relationships  requires you to work closely with others in your community. You have to take risks.  You have to step into the spotlight.  You have to help others be significant.

"Cooperative Significance" is the philosophy at the heart of finding success with others, but nobody will line up to be a supportive pillar in your career if you are not helping others along the way.

When combined, serving others while managing your own visibility program will take you to the top faster than just doing your work. 

How are you integrating your visibility?  Are all those in your company serious about being leaders, or are they happy with the status quo?

thom singer

The Future (and Past) of Community

Chris Brogan has a post on his blog today about "The Future of Community".  He does a great job or raising questions and providing insight onto how online communities must position themselves.

Communities are becoming distributed across platforms and people are relying more and more on mobile access.  Nobody is going to come to a community just because it exists, creating loyalty is a two way street and there must be a call to action for long-term engagement.

But are online communities really different from face-to-face communities?

I think we have been sold a bill of goods by the media over the last few years. Online "social networking" and "community" are really not that drastically different that "face-to-face" networking and community.

The tools we use to communicate have changed (and new mediums keep popping up) but people are still the same. We still choose how and why we select the people we admire, like, and with whom we build real relationships. Each individual still decides who they talk to and about what they discuss, regardless of the platform.

People are still people.

When all the social online tools took hold a few years ago many thought the world had changed. There was democratization of the hierarchies. The "everyman" not only could have a seat, but they could create and own the "cool kids" table. But over time new hierarchies have arrived. The world has, in many ways, stayed the same.

It is just human nature that cliques and walled clubs have formed. To be part of a community the community must provide a sense of value and belonging. Exclusivity was supposed to be circumvented with the web, but it is back (because it never really left).

Faces in a crowded New York street are harder to recognize than those on a country lane.  Online or offline people are the same.  As everyone tries harder to gain attention, fewer voices can be heard over the noise.

Is the future of "new" communities the same as the history of "old" communities?

Have A Great Day.

thom singer