The Big Conference Takeaway: Plus One-derful

How can you maximize ROI for your next conference?  Attend alongside someone who has seen you at your worst, celebrated you at your best, and endured you in between.  Tech Guru’s Ann Shrake shares the lessons learned when personal and professional worlds collide during three days of counting cards in the desert.

The mountains of Palm Springs, California, make a picturesque backdrop at the 2017 Inc. 5000 Conference & Gala.

We descend upon Palm Desert for the 2017 Inc. 5000 Conference & Gala midweek.  Debbie Gown and I have been close friends since high school, and the companies we work for have been named among the fastest-growing in the nation.  Debbie represents the kings of corporate fruit delivery, The FruitGuys (#4105, making the list for the tenth time), and I’m there on behalf of Tech Guru (#1897), a managed IT service provider for CPA firms.  

This trip isn’t about pool time and spa treatments.  We’re seeking professional insight and connection, and we find it.  Here’s what makes for a killer conference with your comrade-in-arms.

Tech Guru’s Ann Shrake poses next to the Instagram-ready Inc. 5000 sign.

Mind Your Measurable Goals

Within minutes of arriving at the conference’s cocktail evening, Debbie and I tuck ourselves into a corner where we can comfortably observe the party.  Our odds of meeting someone new while noshing on appetizers is low.  

I channel Daniel Moshe, CEO of Tech Guru and an EOS Implementer, to figure out how to crawl out of our shells – we need a scorecard!  “Let’s get five business cards each by the end of the night,” I suggest.  Debbie and I take some deep breaths and step into the crowd with a plan to chat up strangers.

Debbie Gown of The FruitGuys visits the hand-rolled cigar maker – a special perk for Inc. 5000 honorees who have been on the list for ten years in a row.

Double Your Mojo

Our body language says it all.  Debbie and I are all smiles, and whoever crosses our paths is the immediate target of a hearty “hello.”  Our easygoing rapport draws new friends in like a magnet.  There is no question; we’re better together.   Where normally there would be small talk, there’s now a feeling of bringing others in on our ongoing, twenty-year conversation.

We’re like a married couple that finishes each other’s elevator pitches, except without subtle jabs about who forgot to take the garbage out last week.  Me: “Debbie, this woman is FROM Spain and, by the way, doesn’t know she can get fruit delivered for her employees.”  Debbie: “Do I KNOW a good IT support company?  Ann!  Get over here!”  Debbie and I are friendly enough on our own, but when we join forces it gets extremely Midwest up in there.

Honoree Raja A. Marhaba of Martec Construction, Inc. and The Jonathan Foundation For Children With Learning Disabilities, Inc., with her son Jonathan A. Marhaba.

Divide and Conquer the Seminars

The seminars are one place Debbie and I are better apart.  The speakers at the 2017 Inc. 5000 Conference are some of the best.  The short list includes author Brene Brown, Daymond John of Shark Tank, founder and CEO of S’well water bottles Sarah Kauss, and Ugg footwear founder Brian Smith.

Ever efficient, we text highlights to one another.  “The opposite of accountability is blame,” and “She is a seriously humble entrepreneur.  Love her.”  Would your average colleague take the trouble to send you popcorn-sized quotes from a keynote speaker?  Probably not.  But your best friend does.

Our reward for meeting our business card quota: hours of dancing at the Gala.

Spend Travel Time Together

Because most of our time is spent with others, Debbie and I are grateful to have made the three-hour drive from L.A. in the same car.  On the way to the conference, the conversation was mundane.  We discussed our kids’ sleep schedules and our 38th birthdays.  

But on the way home, we debrief our experiences from the trip and fill in the blanks on separate conversations we’d had with everyone we met.  We talk about how our business card goals were a terrific gateway to making new friends.  Debbie and I decide we definitely need to do this again, and next time, raise the bar on our business card count.  

Ten-time honoree Agile Thought. Pictured from left: Jeff Alagood, David Romine, Ryan Dorrell, and John Wagner.

Do Try This at Home

Dragging your feet on setting up your next conference?  Try a team approach.  Conferencing in pairs might make for an expensive line item, but the right duo can clobber a competitor who attends solo.  Invite a colleague who complements you as a friend would, and get ready for some unprecedented professional development.  

Ann Shrake is Director of Marketing for Tech Guru, helping build the CPA firms of the future with managed IT services.  Ann invites you to subscribe to Tech Guru’s blog!