I sat there on the verge of tears. It was my first conference and I was so overwhelmed just realizing that I wasn't alone. All of these people understood what I was going through!
That was the first of many enlightening educational conference adventures for me. Most licensed industries require Continuing Education because it has been proven to be a valuable factor in success. Julie and I have found conferences to be so helpful that we attend several each year. I have yet to leave one thinking, "well, that was a waste of time and money". Quite the contrary. Each time, we come away from an educational conference with an idea or solution that takes our business to a new level.
It IS an investment, though, so here are a few tips to get the biggest bang for your buck.
Arrive early. Being rushed and flustered will drain you before you even get started. Take advantage of some extra pre-game time by indulging in a spa service, checking out the hotel amenities, or meeting up with friends for lunch. Don't have any stager friends yet? Trust me, you will by the end of the conference! Your local RESA chapter is a great way to start making those connections so you know a few faces ahead of time.
Arrive well rested. You are about to have your mind blown, and processing all of that new information can be exhausting.
Bring a sweater. Conference rooms are notorious for swinging from sweatshop to icebox. It is difficult to maintain a steady comfortable temperature in those huge spaces, so be sure to have a removable layer.
Get up and walk around. The old bones can get stiff and the rump can get sore sitting in the same position for hours on end. Move about during the breaks and use it as an opportunity to check out the exhibitors.
Bring tons of business cards. Those exhibitors love to give away great swag in exchange for your card. You will also want a quick and easy way to exchange emails with your new friends.
Change tables often. It is fun to catch up with old friends, but be sure to make some new ones as well. This is really one of the greatest benefits of conferences - gaining insight and fresh ideas from a roomful of experienced veterans. Those connections are key to finding solutions to the problems you are facing.
Stalk the speakers. Before the conference, do a little Googling to learn about the presenters so you have a better idea of which break-out sessions you want to attend. At the conference, don't hesitate to seek out these experts between sessions and pick their brains. Most of them are incredibly open and willing to answer questions and share their experience. They also know who to refer you to for more information on any subject.
Don't pass up the exhibitor tables. Vendors are a great resource to take your business to the next level. You can expect to see wholesale vendors, training companies, and more. It's usually easy to sign up for an account with a wholesale vendor prior to going to market, which can save you time and hassle. Get to know the training companies in person to see who you resonate with.
Take copious notes. Each 'ah-hah' moment feels unforgettable at the time, but you will have so many of them that they will get squeezed out and lost. Keep a list of action items to implement when you get home.
Ask questions. Chances are several in the room have great answers. No doubt others have the same question and need to hear those answers.
Submit your projects for any awards. Just the process of submitting will encourage you to take a hard, close look at your work. Being a finalist in any category is a huge boost for your marketing, giving you serious bragging rights.
Vote on all awards. Again, the process of viewing so many other stagers' work will inspire you and raise your standard of excellence. You will start to see trends and pick up on strategies. Voting is an education in and of itself.
Allow yourself time to decompress and process what you have learned. Julie and I try to stay an extra night, just to have a chance to download to each other all of the stuff spinning in our brains. We set aside time to strategize on how we are going to implement the ideas we gained.
We look forward to running into you at the next gathering of the home staging community. It really is like a big family reunion! Group hug...
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This is the beginning of a beautiful journey together into the world of staging and design.