By Pam McDonald

Foresight Founder Steve Moran loves going to conferences. He shares with Foresight Radio Host Pam McDonald his insights for making the most of his attendance. Below are edited takeaways from that interview. You can listen to the entire episode here.

The first major in-person conference I’ll be going to this year is Argentum in September in Phoenix. I’ve got four or five more on my docket. I love conferences. They give me a chance to connect with old friends and make new ones. It’s the networking: getting a chance to interact with people, to learn from and teach them.

A New App to Replace Business Cards

Now there’s a free app called HiHello you can use to make a digital business card. When I see you at the conference and we haven’t connected, we just put our phones together, scan each other’s bar codes, and all that contact information flows across the internet into each other phones. It makes it much easier to connect. I really recommend it.

Goals to Get the Most from Conference-Going

I don’t need CEUs, but I do set some goals. The biggest one I have traditionally done is commit to having a conversation with one hundred people during a two or two-and-a-half-day conference. That sounds intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be. I keep tabs on a counter I take. It can be as simple as me seeing somebody I know and saying, “Hey, Pam, great to see you here.” I count that as a conversation.

I’m also really committed to not just hanging out with people I already know. I’m going to spend some quality time with people who are friends already, but I’m also really committed to meeting new people. Conferences are such precious opportunities to connect with new people.

Recommendation for Attendees

I particularly like both the breakout and keynote sessions. I learn things in the breakout sessions and probably 60 or 70% of the time there are big-name keynote speakers. You get to hear people you rarely get a chance to interact with. You may even get an opportunity to meet and to ask them a question or get a book signed. Frankly, it’s a time to have a lot of fun.

Providers should plan to spend some time on the trade show floor. You’ll find some new things; you’ll learn some things. I know some operators feel like there’d be this feeding frenzy, with vendors wanting to get to them. There’s some truth to that, but there are things you can learn there, and it’s a chance to meet people.

Human Relationships Are Where the Richness in Life Is

I believe you can never know too many people or have too many friends. I just find that my human relationships are where the richness in life is. I can learn something from everybody. I can teach something to just about everybody. And so those human connections are just so valuable.

My friend Paul Mullin is my hero. What I love about Paul is if you walk up to him at a conference, he’s going to welcome you. He’s going to make you feel like he’s glad you’re there. He’s going to make sure you get a chance to meet everybody there.

If somebody wants to meet and talk to you and you’ve got a moment, be polite and do it. They might be the next person to point you in the direction of your next job. Everybody has something to teach you, something of value. It’s a great kindness to talk to anybody rather than judging them by their stature.

Expect Some Rejection

I think a big thing is to be prepared to be outside your comfort zone, and sometimes you’ll just simply get rejected. Life is full of rejection. You can either let rejection hurt you and drag you down, or you can shrug your shoulders and think that person or group lost out by not having you there. If somebody rejects you, just take the position that it’s going to feel terrible, embrace that, but know it’s a small thing in a big life.

Vendors Should Network at Conferences, Not Try to Sell

Vendors want to sell their products, but a conference isn’t the best place to do it. Operators may be too nice to vendors. For example, an operator that I shared an Uber back to the airport with recently said, “I’ve got like seven architect cards in my pocket and the truth is I’ve got an architect I love. I’m not going to change architects.” It was at that point I realized these operators are too nice.

In my view, he should have said, “I don’t want to be rude, but I’m not looking for an architect.” Because now there are these seven salespeople out there who think they’ve got a shot at his business. They don’t have any shot at all. And it’s worse for him and his team because now he’s got these seven people who are calling him.

Butting In Can Cost Vendors Sales

I was sitting at a conference several years ago with an operator who’s a regular Foresight reader. We were having this wonderful conversation and a vendor came up because he wanted to meet this operator. The vendor just butted in and talked for 10 minutes before he went away. Meeting the operator was a gift to him. But he tried to do selling there and made a bad impression on the provider. You’ve got to judge the circumstances by what’s happening.

At conferences with big trade shows about 40% of the attendees are vendors. Every one of them wants to talk to every decision-maker. But operators just don’t have enough time or emotional energy to meet them all. You’ve got to figure out how to meet them in a way that brings value rather than sucks value. That’s the key.

Steve Wants an App for Taking Notes

As I meet people, I try to write notes on their business cards, but I wish there were a better way. There’s a great opportunity for somebody to build an app so I could take a picture of a business card and then record a 30-second note about the conversation to attach to it.

Must-do Conference List

These are must-do conferences for me each year: LeadingAge national, Argentum national, ACHA/NCAL national, the two NIC conferences, and SMASH, the Sales and Marketing Conference for Senior Living. I’ll sometimes do some state conferences as well.

The Senior Living Innovation Forum conference is invitation-only, but probably my favorite conference. And the Interface Group has some one-day regional conferences I like to attend. Also, every year I try to do a conference that’s completely outside senior living. It might be a digital marketing or an awards conference, or something else that’s just going to expand my horizons. In a typical year, I usually end up at 14 or 15 conferences. This year, it will be, six or seven. I’m hoping by next year, we hit over 10.

Final Tip

The last thing I would say is if you see me at a conference, come over and say hello. I promise it’ll be a great conversation. And if there are others you want to meet, I’ll try to introduce you. And, I’ll add one more contact to my counter.