Become a “Conference Commando”

I just came back from attending the National Strength and Conditioning Association‘s annual conference. On my return, people ask, “How was the conference?” Hmmn? Let’s talk about what I actually get out of attending a live conference or clinic (Live offers so much more than online).

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Keith Ferrazzi, author of Never Eat Alone, has written about being a “Conference Commando” or, going into a conference with a definite battle plan to get the most out of the conference.

So, what should you get out of a live conference or clinic?

Learn from the sessions. Naturally, the conference sessions are what most people think of when attending an event. This is where a lot of up-to-date information can be found and you should absolutely make sure that the program fits your learning needs.

Choose your presenters. The speakers are another thing to consider. A bad presenter can make it challenging to learn even if the material they are presenting is good. (Attending a session by Tudor Bompa, “the father of sports periodization” comes to mind. I’m sure it was great information, but he put me to sleep and I honestly missed most of what he said.)

Connect with your presenters. Now, beyond those first couple obvious reasons, you should also attend live events to connect with presenters that you liked and that inspired you. Stay after the session to ask further questions or just introduce yourself and thank them for what they just shared. Most presenters really appreciate hearing that and may strike up a conversation with you. Ask if you could email them an additional question or two and if they agree, you now have a new, trusted resource for information. If you nurture that relationship, you may also find yourself with a mentor who can help guide you in your career.

Connect with manufacturers. Most conferences and many clinics will have an exhibit hall or trade show. Here you can see and try new equipment, sample supplements (I often live on trade show protein bars. LOL), and connect with the manufacturers or distributors. Ask them questions about their products. See if they are right for you and/or your business. They will often have conference discounts too, if you’re interested.

Connect with other attendees. I find networking with peers one of my favorite things about attending live events. Discussions between the scheduled sessions about the topics presented, training modalities, business issues, and just getting to know other like-minded people can be so rewarding. Take contact information, connect on social media, stay in touch. Fellow attendees can also turn out to be mentors, general sounding boards, and, as I’ve found to be often the case, lifelong friends.

The key to becoming a “conference commando”, however, is to plan ahead. Go to the conference with a plan. What sessions will you take? What presenters do you want to meet? What products do you want to check out. Finally, plan on where and when you can connect with your peers. Then, execute that plan and come home with far more than just what can be learned online.

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Attending Live Conferences and Clinics

In this day of online training, it’s very easy to avoid going to live conferences and clinics. Online training is more convenient, more affordable, and can supply you with a great deal of information. But, the experience of attending a live event can give you something that online education can’t, the opportunity to have serendipitous meetings and discussions with peers, mentors, potential employers or employees.
Carlos Santana

Hands-on Session at NSCA National Conference led by long time friend, Carlos Santana

I’m just returning from the National Strength and Conditioning Association’s national conference in Las Vegas. While I often present at conferences, this one was just for me, no other responsibilities. Besides the session content that will help me stay at the top of my game, I had some great interactions that made it worth leaving my work and my family, and traveling across the country for this conference.

Here are some of the benefits that I experienced from attending this live event.
I got to sit and chat with many friends that I have made through the years by going to conferences. While we stay in touch via social media and email, many times you won’t see them again until the conference the following year. Some of these friendships have lasted over 20 years (and may well last another 20). Through the years these conferences become like family gatherings.
NSCA Big Dawgs

Friends Robert Linkul, Jonathan Mike, and me

I made some new friends. Some I just happened to sit next to in a session, while others were introduced to me by mutual friends. Always strike up conversations with those around you. Side discussions are a huge part of the experience of live events.

I was approached with offers of additional work opportunities. Obviously, this doesn’t happen until people get to know you, but, you never know where the next opportunity will come from.
I found chances to help others. As personal trainers, helping people is our passion. At conferences and clinics, we can help others by introducing them to other professionals (facilitating their networking), by being a sounding board for their ideas, by sharing your experiences in situations that they might be struggling with, and much more. Always look to pay it forward. I have been helped by many people in the past and I want to pass that on to others.
I have seen new opportunities to volunteer and help the hosting organization. By volunteering, you are not only helping the organization, but you can also learn new skills that can help you in the future.
I’m sure I’ve left out some, but hopefully you can see the additional benefits that attending live conferences and clinics can offer you. The successes that I’ve had in the industry, beyond my day-to-day training, are due in a large part to attending conferences and clinics and volunteering to help the hosting organization (for me, it has been predominately the NSCA). So, as you look to further your education, go ahead and utilize online content, but also look for the chance to attend live events and make the most of the interpersonal connections that are there for the making.