Each year for the past 5 years, I’ve attended no less than 4 conferences in either the background screening industry or the real estate industry. Since my company provides tenant screening, this could range from the National Apartment Association (NAA), National Association of Pro Background Screeners (NAPBS), or local Real Estate Associations.
These conferences can be vastly different in content but they all seem to attract the same attendees and speakers. The attendees are trying their best to look the part, and the speakers are making you well aware they ARE the part. The proverbial “part” of course is a high level of success measured in dollars and cents.
Last week I had the pleasure of stepping outside of the real estate industry and attended Agents of Change (AOC), a Digital Marketing Conference held in Portland, Maine. The experience rocked my world.
A Break From Ego at a Marketing Conference
My favorite speaker of AOC had to be Chris Brogan, a New York Times Bestselling Author and hero among modern entrepreneurs. He kicked off his keynote with something I’d never heard before in any conference I’ve been to. He said, “Fall in love with not knowing and don’t be afraid of being dumb”.
The very idea that he was shedding his own ego in front of this massive crowd was enough to knock me out of my seat. After all, most keynotes I’ve seen would start off listing their successes as proof that your time was well spent listening to them. But Chris came out with a message that he was no different than anyone of us listening. A point that he later proved by being totally approachable and staying long after the conference ended to talk with attendees.
Content, Content, Content
So the most obvious difference from real estate conferences could be noticed immediately. There was no sea of vendor tables. No free mini flashlights, pens, or stress balls toting brand names on them. In fact, this was the first conference I’ve ever attended that I didn’t leave with a bag full of swag.
What I did leave with however, was 10 full pages of notes in my new Evernote Smart Notebook (thank god I brought it).
The theme of marketing anywhere these days is about creating quality content. So I guess it should be no surprise that the AOC Conference was focused on just that. No vendors pimping their products and services, and no underlying sales pitch from the speakers. Just quality information with actionable advice. The way it should be.
Community vs Competition
Perhaps the most important takeaway from this experience was realizing the difference in how people treated each other. In the real estate and background check industries alike, there is a sense of competition. Who has the best success story, the most clients, and the biggest name. If ideas are shared, they’re done so in generalities as to not give away the “secret sauce”.
John Lee Dumas was a speaker at AOC and he recently wrote a perfect article explaining the concept and importance of community in any industry. The real estate industry should take note.
Not only does this man practice what he preaches, he excels. His daily podcast “Entrepreneur on Fire” recently celebrated it’s one year anniversary. And in such short time he’s been able to climb to the top of the charts in iTunes, dominate a market, and earn a mention in Time Magazine. His secret sauce: community.
By all means you might have expected John to walk around the conference with a nose up considering his incredible success. But instead you’d find him engaging anyone and everyone that approached him. Genuinely interested in listening to their stories and offering advice when appropriate. The very same model he uses to build an ever growing community of faithful listeners, appropriately labeled Fire Nation. And yes, I’m a card carrying member.
Networking Event After Party
At most conferences, the conclusion begins the networking event. A continuation of the stuffiness and a chance to listen to people tell you why they’re so successful or why you should use their product. Not so at AOC.
The picture above perfectly represents the sense of community that carried well after the conference and into the early morning hours. Yes, that’s THE Chris Brogan photo bombing us! I’m standing behind him with Kate Erickson–Content Manager and genius behind the Entrepreneur on Fire brand. I talked with her for what seemed like hours about marketing strategies and platforms.
Would this have happened after a real estate event? Probably not. At least not the ones I’ve been to. And if I’m missing out, by all means share with me the ones I should be attending!
BONUS: Sword Swallowing!
What a way to kick off a conference by having Professional Sword Swallower Roderick Russell perform: