Conferences, classes, workshops: we’re doing it wrong!

I had a very brief exchange on Twitter a few weeks ago with Neil aka @Neilochka.

And yes, I know you’re thinking, it’s Twitter! Of course it was a very brief exchange! What other kind is there? But what I mean is that we didn’t have a back-and-forth.

He said something. I said something back. That was it.

But it relates to something important, so I’m sharing it.

Here’s what he said:

Honestly — when most people spend hundreds of dollars to go to conferences, is it more for the networking than the actual conferences?

And here’s what I said:

Yes. Conferences are 98%+ the opportunity to meet people you think are cool.

If the content rocks then yay. But that’s icing.

Let’s talk about this.

Point one: screw the content.

Now admittedly when I design a course or program, I pour myself into content creation like you would not believe.

I do everything within my power to make sure that the people who sign up get blown away by awesomeness and come out of it with a ton of useful information that they would never have gotten anywhere else.

And there is much tweaking. Sure I may have dissolved a good 98% of my innate and debilitating perfectionist tendencies, but yeah, I still like to over-deliver.*

*Yes, 98% is the best percentage there is.

But when I go to a conference or go take someone else’s course, I treat the content as a bonus. Cherry on top.

Otherwise you get all caught up in “Hmm, he just made a less-than-genius point. Was this really worth a thousand dollars? Oh, wait, he just said something that could transform my business. Okay, worth it again.”

The activity or the theme (whatever it is that the conference or program is about) is the MacGuffin. You know, like the mysterious sheaf of papers whose existence drives all the action in a spy movie.

And the content (the material you’re going to learn) is a bonus.

Point two: the most important thing about a program.

It’s the connections.

One kind is, naturally, the other people in the course.

For example, you know where I became friends with the amazing Pam Slim and my favorite copywriter Kelly Parkinson (Copylicious)?

In a course.

Did I learn stuff there? Sure. But what I took away was so much more than the content — two wonderful girlfriends. Gifted, capable, sweet women who I admire so so so much.

Or the fact that whenever Pam — who aside from being smart and awesome is also super-famous and guest-blogs for the New York Times and stuff — decides to say something nice about me, I make a couple thousand dollars that day.

Which, by the way, more than covers what I paid for the course.

Or the fact that Kelly generously reads over the copy I write and gives me terrific feedback. Which is something I could be paying a couple thousand dollars for and instead I just sneak her advice and for some reason she thinks that’s a great deal.

Connections. Friendships. Torrid love affairs of the mind. This is sometimes also called “networking”.

Point three: the second most important thing about a program.

There’s another way that you can make connections in a conference or program, and that’s with the person or people leading or teaching there.

For example …

Andy Wibbels knows who I am and totally thinks I’m smart and stuff. That trip to Vancouver? Now Michael Port knows who I am too. He even knows my duck.

Do not underestimate the power of being in the sights of people you admire and respect.

Because even if you end up not meeting anyone among the participants — or even if you end up hating every single person there — the person leading it is probably someone you would really enjoy getting to know.

And being even a tiny blip on their radar can come in handy in all sorts of unexpected ways.

Alliances. Partnerships. Becoming a known entity. Putting yourself out there. This is also sometimes called “networking”.

Point four: the third most important thing about a program.

Well, of course. It’s a chance to show up and go around impressing people with what a freaking genius you are.

Just about every time I take someone else’s course I get some clients and a bunch of sales out of it. Not always, but more often than not.

It works because you’re there being your wacky self and occasionally spewing smartnesses.

Even if you’re a complete introvert (you may not believe this, but I am) of the kind (like me) that everyone mistakes for a snob … you can go with online programs.

You can shine in a forum environment or invisibly on a phone conference. And then you can work on getting better at hanging out with people live.

Because you’ll meet people. And they will think that you are the best thing since sliced bread. And you’ll be able to be of service to them — and not in some phony manipulative way, but in a genuine heart-centered sense of being in service.

And then they’ll know people who can help you. This is also sometimes called ….

Yes, I know you already know how “networking” works, but this whole “being supported by an amazing magic web of people who all do cool things for each other thing” has been blowing my mind lately.

Let’s review …

  • Content? Hooray if it’s great, but really, it isn’t the point.
  • It’s all about meeting amazing, interesting people.
  • And helping them.
  • And being helped by them.
  • And impressing everyone else with your smartnesses.

Because the thing itself is always the MacGuffin. It’s the structure that allows for connection. The point is always the meeting up.

The connections that happen there. The opportunity for you to demonstrate your deep inner qualities of fabulousness.

And that cool shining heart-thing that happens when people relate to each other in a curious, excited, human way.

Of course now I have to go whip up some amazing content for something I’m working on … oh, it’s irony for lunch today!