5 Rules for Maximizing Your Business Conference Experience

2015-09-10-1441890335-5381622-Rakia_Reynolds.pngRakia Reynolds is the founder of Skai Blue Media, a multimedia public relations agency with an all-star roster of lifestyle, technology and fashion clients. Noted as an influencer in the creative business industry, Reynolds is sought after by companies to provide her expertise in creative development, branding and strategic communications.

As an entrepreneur and business owner, I am constantly discovering ways to become inspired all over again. Recognizing there is a limit to the amount of hobnobbing that can be done with the same people in the same city, I consistently seek new challenges and opportunities for growth, both personally and professionally.

Thankfully, a new crop of summits has emerged: no longer are we subject to the fluorescent-lit, cookie-cutter conference halls with monotonous icebreakers and trust exercises. You may leave mildly informed and with a few business cards in tow, but do you also carry the feeling that you made an impact? As my business grows, one of my goals is to understand how I can make a social impact within my circle and beyond via the new conference paradigm.

This past summer, I travelled to Detroit, Michigan to attend Breakout, a city-to-city conference that brings "inspirational people to inspirational cities" according to founder Michael Farber. Their mission is to gather entrepreneurs and startups in hopes of shaping lasting relationships with local communities while breaking the archaic conference prototype. Detroit recently emerged from 15 and a half months of bankruptcy, and you can see the signs pointing to significant change in the efforts local businesses are making. Breakout lends itself to help cultivate initiatives like Rebel Nell, an enterprise that employs disadvantaged women to make jewelry from chipped graffiti; and the Detroit Water Project, a female-led enterprise that helps pay Detroit citizens' water bills. 

My time spent in Detroit was not just attending a conference, however. It was an immersive experience where I could give back while discovering the culture of the city on a microlevel. During this "un-conference" I engaged with likeminded individuals committed to a higher level of social impact. I met entrepreneurs from across the nation whose businesses were committed to more than the bottom line, and we shared ideas, stories and words of wisdom in a positive, innovative space.

When it comes to making the most of conferences, summits and the like, I have established five quick-and-fast rules to determine what gatherings work best for myself and other entrepreneurs:
  1. Go with your gut. When choosing social avenues to improve and elevate your business and brand, consider something that strikes at the core of who you are and what you believe in. You will be more likely to make absorb information and implement changes if you are invested in mission of the gathering.
  2. Think globally, conference locally. Can't find the time to jet out of town for the next big conference? That's OK. Not everyone has the flexibility or funds to book a plane ticket and/or pay a hefty attendance fee. You can still crowdsource with creative influencers and leaders who want to lend their brain, talent, ideation and expertise in your backyard, and vice versa. Create your own mini-conferences -- whether you're mingling at a happy hour or standing by the water cooler, opportunities to engage are abundant and sometimes unseen to the busy entrepreneurial eye.
  3. Find your "tribe." Become a member of a community that aligns with your purpose, so that when conferences appear, you will the first to know. Find a hub or group whose exchanges and practices accelerate the entrepreneurs in your community. Also, find a platform that provides an opportunity for fluid, organic, reciprocal relationships that will catalyze a progressive movement.
  4. You don't always have to cast a wide net. There is mounting pressure on entrepreneurs to be everywhere, meet everyone and do everything. Spreading yourself too thin is a recipe for exhaustion. There is almost always a niche conference, summit or gathering catered to your specific goals and needs.
  5. Raise your hand. Your experience only matters if you approach it with mindfulness and the intention to make it meaningful. Don't be afraid to raise your hand during a conference and step way outside the box. Ask questions and challenge convention.
Following these tips will ensure a conference experience unlike any you have experienced before. I cannot wait to see how Breakout will impact its next stop in Baltimore's Charm City this October.
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