In 2008, I attended my first Inman Connect in San Francisco.
That was before I started selling real estate, before I had my license and even before our first investment property was as much as a twinkle in my eye.
I went as part of a marketing team for the tech startup I was working for, tasked with spreading the word about our product (we couldn’t afford a booth) and with keeping our clients happy.
Once we settled into the beautiful Palace Hotel, I went exploring. It seemed like everywhere I looked, people were happily reuniting — hugs, cheers and even a few tears — and I remember wondering: how do all of these people know each other?
There were so many people there; the energy was amazing, and there — in the middle of it all — was Brad Inman, the leader of this crazy tribe, shaking hands, wearing his huge, ever-present smile and leading the charge to the bar.
All of a sudden, I longed to belong. I collected business cards and followed people that I saw and met on the still-newish Facebook and the even more foreign Twitter. I hung out on the edges of sessions, sometimes standing in the back or finding space on the floor because the rooms were so crowded.
I watched as the speakers and panelists dropped small tips and big takeaways, and before I knew it, I had a notebook full of ideas that I couldn’t wait to get home and implement in our business.
I have to admit, I didn’t make that many real connections at that first Inman Connect: I was intimidated, I didn’t know anyone and I didn’t feel like a member of the tribe.
I hadn’t been confident enough to jump into the fray to introduce myself (except to talk about our company and hand out my little pile of business cards), and I went home feeling a bit disappointed.
Here are some things that I wish I had known that first time around, and some tips that I feel apply to any meeting or conference situation, but are especially relevant to a long-standing event like Inman Connect:
1. Don’t hang out with your hometown tribe at Inman Connect
It’s all good if you want to bring a group to the event, but make it a point to spend time away from the people you get to see all the time so that you can strengthen your long-distance connections and make new ones.
Pro tip: Don’t go to the same sessions. Divide and conquer, and then share your takeaways with each other later!
2. Jump into the online groups before heading to the event
Inman has a bunch of online groups and a fantastic app that gives you a feel for who is going to be at the event and who you might want to make a real life connection with, and you can even start interacting with them and “friend” them ahead of time.
Pro tip: When you are looking for people at the event, don’t count on them to look like their profile photo; and make sure that you actually do look like your profile photo so that people can find you!
3. Don’t over schedule yourself in advance
I always hate having to leave an awesome conversation because I committed to a dinner or other planned event, and I think some of the magic happens when you’re able to accept a last-minute lunch or dinner invite from someone you just met.
Some of my most valued relationships came from joining a group of strangers walking across town at the last minute, or having someone I didn’t really know grab my hand and insist that I join them at the party they were headed to.
Pro tip: Accept every party invite. Some of them are really hard to get into, but those vendors know how to show Realtors a good time! If you are a customer of one of the companies that is throwing a party, ask your sales rep for a ticket in advance!
4. Get up early and stay up late
Conferences like Inman Connect are a marathon, not a sprint. Stay hydrated, pace yourself and eat something healthy when you get a chance. Having said that, you can sleep when you get home.
Some of my favorite memories at Inman Connect events over the years are of early morning walks getting to know new people, or finding myself on a rooftop in NYC well after the bars have closed; I always knew that a full day of sessions awaited me, but I never cared because I was having such a good time creating bonds that would withstand the challenge of distance.
Pro tip: If you haven’t booked your room yet, find a roommate who won’t be bothered by your early mornings and late nights!
5. Step out of your comfort zone
Go to sessions that provide content that will push you, not placate you. If you see an author, speaker, contributor or ambassador that you have always wanted to meet, push through the crowd, hold out your hand and ask for a selfie with him or her.
Participate in the Twitter and Instagram feeds, join the conversation, ask questions — and answer them — and most importantly, be present.
Pro tip: Don’t go back to your room to put your feet up. Instead, head to the lobby when you need a break from the sessions. Sit at a big table. Buy someone a drink. You’ll never regret having too many awesome conversations, meeting so many amazing people or giving up time with the hotel room remote control.
I’ve lost track of how many Inman Connect events I have now been to. I’m looking forward to seeing the people who have become my tribe.
I’m looking forward to hugs in the hallways and long conversations.
I’m looking forward to early mornings and late nights.
I’m looking forward to learning and pushing myself out of my comfort zone yet again.
I hope to see you there! Please let me know if you are planning to attend!
Pro tip: If you haven’t purchased your ticket yet, use discount code “stacie” for $100 off!
Stacie Staub is the founder and owner of West + Main Homes in Colorado. Connect with Stacie on LinkedIn.