I have a confession to make. I am not what you would call the big conference-goer. In fact, if you were to stack all of the conference program guides and swag I have amassed over the years atop my keyboard, I could still see the cursor.
That’s not to say that professional conferences don’t have value; they do. Depending on the content, they can instruct or inspire. For me, simply mining the halls — attaching myself like an unwanted barnacle to others who are brighter, better, more successful — is worth the price of admission.
I pick up a few things here and there, some I can use and others I can’t, and I make valuable connections and friends in the process.
While I don’t schedule my career around the conference circuit, I have been to that rodeo a few times in the past couple of years — five to be exact. Not so coincidentally, four of them where hosted by a guy named Brad.
The fifth and most recent conference was this year’s National Association of Realtors annual conference in San Diego, and I was there because NAR representatives asked me to speak. Why they did so remains a mystery — I am not a professional speaker, trainer or coach. I don’t have a product to pitch, and I don’t profess to hold the answers to amassing insane wealth.
On the success scale, you might say I tend to lean a little toward normal. Most of us do; that’s why they call it "normal." But as I watched the thundering herd in the halls moving from one presentation to the next — presentations with names like "Dominate the World of Real Estate by Sundown" — I was reminded that most of us are trying to be better. That’s the good news.
The bad news is that for every agent I saw enjoying the conference for what it was — back-to-school night, a continuing education opportunity — there were many others who I’ll call the religious zealots, desperately seeking the magic holy water that would instantly deliver them unto the top 1 percent nationwide.
They hadn’t paid for common sense; they hadn’t come for a couple of useful takeaways. They had come for a dream.
At one point during the event, someone told me I should write a book. The problem I see here, I confessed, is that I’m not sure anyone wants to hear what I would say. People want dreams. As for reality … not so much.
The reality is that before you can achieve rock star status, you have to earn a living. You can’t skip steps. Anonymity to icon is a process, not an event. If someone does profess to know the recipe for "Six Days to Obscene Piles of Cash," run for the door. That’s not the way things work.
So, I began my little gig, a session on maintaining your sanity and keeping things in perspective, fully intent on offering a public-service chill pill to all of the agents out there like myself who occasionally find themselves sucked in by the rhetoric.
If the Internet has done one thing, it has leveled the playing field and awarded us all some degree of fame. It has given everyone a voice. And if you believe all the voices, you might start to believe that everyone except you is making $40 quintillion dollars a day. They aren’t.
But, where’s the fun in that? While my earnings are quite respectable, I am the first to admit that I haven’t shattered any records. I opened my session with this admission, feeling all proud and transparent, certain that my refreshing honesty would earn me standing applause.
Instead, at least four agents ran for the door like they had just heard someone was giving away free buyer "leads" in the hall. I wouldn’t be delivering the dream, but maybe someone else in the building was, and if they hurried, they could get there in time for wrap-up. …CONTINUED
Somehow, I can’t imagine a young Bill Gates sitting through the "12 Steps to Founding the World’s Largest Software Company and Becoming a Billionaire Business Magnate" presentation, while taking furious notes and live blogging.
I suspect he sort of figured it out on his own. And I am certain that somewhere between college and the boardroom there were a few other steps involved.
I’m equally certain that Bill Gates was wearing his listening ears, and that over the years he picked up a nugget or two from others. Let’s be honest. If there were a simple, easily executed prescription for dominating the global computing space, we all would have done it. But greatness can’t be prescribed.
At one point during the conference, my husband pointed to an agent we knew who was waiting for the ballroom doors to open. Before we could navigate the 10-foot divide to say hello, the doors parted. The agent, head down, pressed through the crowd like a defensive tackle on his way to the good seats in the end zone.
I don’t know what was being taught in that room — maybe they were handing out Top Producer plaques or Bill Gates was interviewing listing agents. And maybe the agent did leave the room an hour later in a bigger tax bracket. Somehow, I doubt it.
What struck us most was his sense of urgency, almost desperation, to get inside first in order to learn the secret, the prescription … the answer.
My relative normalcy aside, I do consider myself a success. I am successfully paying the bills in an industry where most agents aren’t lately. Maybe at my next speaking opportunity, I’ll share the secrets of my overnight awesomeness.
It involved 12 years, long hours, failed experiments, and enormous personal investment of time and money. It involved and still involves business swings that make my cash-flow analysis look like an EKG monitor. When I am talking about that stuff, I bet I’ll pack the house.
So as I stood in Room 23A talking about the candy store of new media marketing choices and the dangers of overindulging, an agent asked me for the "easiest" way to start. I tried to explain why I couldn’t give her the answer. It’s a trick question.
For me, blogging would be easiest. For her, and not knowing her — her skills, her likes and dislikes, her business plan, and her market — I can’t possibly know the answer. All I can offer are the multiple choices. She was the next one to leave the room.
Make no mistake; professional conferences provide value. Go, learn, be inspired, and pan for ideas and direction. Just don’t fall into the trap of buying the dream. Knowledge is one thing, and applying it is another.
No one can sell you overnight success. In fact, no one can sell you success at all. That one you have to figure out for yourself.
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