I first knew about my condition when I was previously in the music industry.  I found myself showing up at planned, calculated places more than the normal music executive.  When I entered the real estate field, the desire didn’t subside.  Within my first few months, I was drawn once again down the same path.  This time, however, instead of calling me to Los Angeles, New York and Nashville to get my fix, I was magnetized to Las Vegas, San Diego, Orlando and Oklahoma City.

Yes, I’m a conference junkie.

Put the word “Connect,” “Tech,” “Camp,” “Expo” or “Annual” on any brochure and likely my tuckus will be on a plane.  So, why exactly am I a conference junkie?  I’ve been trying to figure this one out myself and can boil it down to four major reasons.

Building Friendships.
Notice, I did not say creating a network.  I don’t attend make a quick buck or pass out my business card with the token phrase on the back “The greatest compliment you could ever give me is referring a friend to me.”  I’m there to create potential intersections.You can talk with someone all you want on Twitter and Facebook, but even this social media junkie will tell you that nothing replaces that face-to-face contact. Case in point, I have on friend who is well known in the RETech space who I had spoken to easily 50+ times online.  Now, he’s one of my dearest friends in the world thanks to our intersection at a real estate technology conference.

I also can think of more friends than I can count who I first met a conference.  I look forward to especially the National Association of REALTOR® Convention because now it feels like a family reunion.  While I have a ton of meetings, sessions and required events, the time spent in the halls, the restaurants and walking down the street are just as valuable.Remember, however, conferences can be like college freshman orientation.  You’re going to need to keep coming back and hang in there to build those relationships.  You will feel like an outside your first time, often.  I’ve heard people complain about perceived cliques at conference.  I was on the outside of the social circle of several conferences for two years!  I had to keep coming back.

Staying Ahead of the Curve.
When I have to miss an Inman Connect, I feel like I’m behind.  Many fresh ideas, product and people come through conferences.  I recall seeing lifestyle IDX on the vendor floor.  I remember hearing about location-based technologies like Foursquare in a session.  I first heard Gahlord Dewald take analytics and metrics to another entire level sitting in a hotel event space.

Everyone thinks we conference-goers sit around and read all the time to know everything that is going on.  No.  The honest, easy answer is just getting out of your office long enough to make it happen.  In my second and third years in the real estate industry, I had a $20,000 budget line item for professional development.  I’d sit down at the beginning of the year (and still do) and mark the dates on my calendar and protect them like a child.

Sharpening My Brain.
Most of the conferences I attend offer no continuing education.  I’m often asked why real estate agents aren’t in the classrooms at their local boards or sponsored courses.  The answer is that most of the things today’s agent needs to know beyond “the basics” typically can’t be found in mainstream classrooms.  The best classroom happens in your mind, the moment you can connect the dots between a new metrics software, an innovative listing strategy and a piece of paper someone uses to communicate with his seller.  This knowledge may come via one statement from a conference panel member, a vendor or a keynote speaker who has never sold a piece of real estate in his life.

Ultimately, it’s my job to digest the quantity of information into two or three usable pieces.  I often leave a three-day conference with only one action item.  I realize it seems like a lot of notes, a lot of money and a lot of time to only get one idea, but some of those ideas have made me $100K+ in one year.

Refueling For Life Back Home.
The real estate life can be so mundane.  Today’s listing appointments, tomorrow’s buyer showings and yesterday’s seller check-ins don’t always excite me.  Jumping out for three days with creative, exciting minds helps me get energized once again for the six to eight week long haul before it’s conference time again.I hear so much about burn out, frustration and depression with real estate agents.  While there may be many factors in these negatives, many of those things can be overcome with some time out to mingle with people who inspire and challenge.

A few last tips about conferences.

  • Have a conference business card.  Make it stand out and leave space for people to write on it.  While some people hate photos on their cards, I love being able to connect the dots with face and name when I get back home.
  • Design a strategy for after conference relationships.  It may be as simple as friending someone on Facebook, following them on Twitter or reading/commenting on their blogs.  An old-fashioned hand-written note often creates a good connection.
  • Budget wisely.  The host hotel can often be pricey.  Don’t let lodging knock you out of the trip.  Check if the conference has a networking page for roommates or see what budget-oriented options are nearby.  Plan far enough in advance so you can monitor airfare.  Southwest runs at least one sale a year where you can really rack up some bargains.  I always use Kayak.com for my first price check.  Ship or bring bottled water, snacks or protein shakes.  Snacks and meals can really put you over budget quickly.  Request a fridge or make your own out of a garbage can with the help of the ice machine.
  • Register early.  Almost every conference offers an early registration special.  Thinking ahead can save you over $200.  Some also have competitions for free registration.  Put your time to use to enter.  It could really pay off.
  • Don’t go with a friend.  You’ll have a tendency to huddle with that one person instead of getting out and meeting people.  If you have a roommate, invite them along, but don’t hang out in your room after hours and between sessions. The reason you weren’t asked to lunch is because you weren’t nearby when people were walking out the door.
  • Bring your clients and broker into the loop.  Don’t be afraid to leave your marketplace. Tell your seller, “I’ll be gone half the week for professional development. This helps me sharpen my negotiation skills and learn the newest marketing techniques.”  If your broker has an issue with you going, it may be time to move!
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