Transcript Episode 152

Transcript Episode 152 – Elevating the ROI of Conferences on The Prosperous Nonprofit

Stephanie Skryzowski: [00:00:00] Welcome to the Prosperous Nonprofit, the podcast for leaders who are building financially sustainable and impactful nonprofits and changing the world. I’m Stephanie Skrzewski, a chief financial officer and founder and CEO of 100 Degrees Consulting. My personal mission is to empower leaders to better understand their numbers, to grow their impact and their income.

On this show, we talk to people who are leading the nonprofit sector in new, innovative, disruptive, and entrepreneurial ways, creating organizations that fuel their lives, their hearts, and their communities. Let’s dive in.

Hello, hello. Welcome back, everybody, to the Prosperous Nonprofit. I am, of course, as always, super excited that you are here and super excited to chat with you all today. And today we’re [00:01:00] talking about conferences. Yes, conferences. And this is top of mind for me because I am at a conference right now. In fact, I am recording this from a hotel room.

in Kansas City, Missouri, where I am here to attend and speak at Grant Summit, which is the conference put on by the Grant Professionals Association. So here I am at a conference talking to you about conferences. Now, this is top of mind for me, not only because I am at a conference, but because I have attended three conferences in the last three weeks.

I went to Opportunity Collaboration. In the Dominican Republic, I went to BBCon, which is Blackbaud’s conference in Denver, Colorado. And now here I am at Grand Summit in Kansas City, Missouri. And this is top of mind for me because conferences are a big investment for your organization, right? Maybe you have a line item in [00:02:00] the budget for professional development and you or.

Um, others on your team have decided to use that money to attend a conference. Now, conferences, as we all know, like it can be a great way to take in a lot of information in a very short period of time. And because likely you are in person, you’re probably going to like digest that really well. It’s often an opportunity to kind of get outside of your day to day.

environment, and it’s kind of like a nice little break from work, even though you are working and you are continuously learning. So I love conferences for that, um, but I just wanted to share a few takeaways that I have gotten out of this conference season that might help you as you are thinking about digging into some conferences and attending yourself.

So the first thing that I think about is like setting a clear goal for yourself for the conference. And it’s not [00:03:00] necessarily to meet as many people as possible or to find a funder to fund this project. For me, my goal is always to have genuine conversations with a small handful of people. And that does not mean, like, I’m not going to these conferences to necessarily only get clients, right?

I want to have genuine conversations with a handful of people. And that could be people I already know. That could be people I don’t yet know, um, and it’s typically not any specific people. And so when I think about my experience at Opportunity Collaboration, I was really excited and I left that conference excited by conversations I had with people I already know.

In fact, people I have known for years. But I don’t work with them on a daily basis. I don’t live near them. I don’t hang out with them. And so it was an opportunity to really go deep and share ideas and brainstorm things with people I already know. And those were some of my favorite parts of the conference.

And another [00:04:00] favorite part of that conference was having like a two hour conversation while swimming in the ocean with somebody I had never met before, right? We were able to just connect about so many things and share different ideas and it was fantastic. And again, it was that deep conversation. Now did I walk away with a client or with money or with anything in particular?

Not really. I just walked away with a new connection. So my goals. for a conference are always to have interesting conversations with a small handful of people, right? And who knows where that’s going to lead. But what I find is that people remember those conversations, right? They don’t remember the five second interaction of, you know, handing each other our business cards, but they do remember having a really nice conversation with you.

And then they’re going to think of you. If later on some sort of opportunity becomes available that they think might be a good fit for you. Right. So my goal is always to have good conversations. My [00:05:00] second tip is I do like to plan ahead and most often the conference organizers will share the full agenda with all of the sessions, all of the speakers and like what is happening hour by hour at the conference.

And so I always like to. Um, look ahead at that and sort of plan my days. And personally, I do not attend every session. I do not even attend a session during every available window. I only go to the things that I am most interested in, that I feel like I’m actually going to take action on and be able to use, right?

Most likely, when you go to a conference, there’s probably going to be like 50 different sessions that all sound interesting to you, right? Like that’s why they were chosen for a session because they sound interesting to a lot of people. But the key is not to walk away with 50 pages of notes after a conference that you’re not going to do anything with.

The goal is to first [00:06:00] have things that you’re actually going to take action on, things you’re actually going to do, and second, to come home from that conference feeling rejuvenated and feeling refreshed and feeling excited and inspired, not burnt out because you just spent the past four days going to every single session from 7 a.

m. to 7 p. m. and now you’re exhausted and can’t even think about doing anything, right? So I do not attend every single session. I do not attend something in every single block of time. I pick the things that are most relevant to me, that are most interesting, that I know for a fact I will take action on.

So a little bit of research in advance is really helpful for that. Being an active listener, I think, is huge. And so when you’re having conversations Instead of just like having in the back of your head, okay, what can they do for me? How can this help me? Like really listening to who they are because you know what’s going to happen.

Different things are going to [00:07:00] come out of that conversation that actually will be super useful to you if you’re listening for it, right? So I just love hearing stories of other people and what their challenges are and what they’re going through. And while, no, it’s not like, okay, let’s schedule a discovery call so you can become a client of ours.

Like that is not my main goal. But what sometimes I do get out of that conversation is really understanding in their words what their pain points are and maybe then I can speak to those pain points when I’m having conversations with other people who may become clients, right? So really being an active listener, you’re going to get so much more out of it rather than just thinking about.

Okay, how can this conversation benefit me? The other thing I think is really interesting that I loved is that at Opportunity Collaboration, the conference that I went to in the Dominican Republic, it was almost like an un conference in that it wasn’t super formal with like lots of [00:08:00] speakers on stages and it wasn’t, it was much more collaborative, hence the name, Opportunity Collaboration.

But what I loved was that the only things on people’s badges were your name. Your title was not there. Your organization was not there. And so the first thing that you’re going to talk about is not necessarily like, oh, okay, what do you do? What’s your title? What do you do there? And, you know, saying without saying it, like, how can you help me?

You know? So it was more like getting to know people and building relationships and At this conference, we were also put into what they call leadership circles. And so they were groups of about 20 people. You were assigned to one. You did not get to choose who you were with or who your leader was. You were put into a leadership circle.

And we spent three days together in, you know, two or three hour sessions with just this small group of 20 people. And it [00:09:00] wasn’t until the third day together, the third day that we even talked about our work. We spent the first two days talking about leadership and what it means to be a leader and what it means to listen and create an environment that is inclusive and where people feel open.

And it was only on the third day that we talked about what we do for a job. So I thought that was super interesting and it really helped us too. Again, be active listeners and really engage with people beyond just what they do.

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The next thing that I have really taken away is following up. So follow up, follow up, follow up, because honestly, most people don’t. And so if you are the one to follow up, if you are the one to Have this great conversation. Then connect on LinkedIn and say, Hey, I loved like chatting with you in the ocean today.

That was awesome. And you’re the one to follow up or you’re the one to send the email afterwards and say, Hey, I’m so glad we attended the session together. You know, here’s what I’m going to take action on afterwards, right? You are so much more likely to stay at the top of somebody’s mind. And frankly, if you connect with them on LinkedIn or Instagram.

Instagram or something, the algorithm, [00:11:00] right? You are going, you’re gonna see their stuff. You can interact with what they’re posting, what they’re sharing, and that’s gonna help you continue that relationship beyond just the sort of the confines of the conference. And so I. I will say I am very good at follow up.

If you give me your card, if you tell me your name, I am going to send you an email. I’m going to follow up on LinkedIn and I’m going to say, listen, it was awesome to hang out with you at the conference. Like let’s stay connected. So again, nobody’s asking. anything of each other at that point, but you have taken the extra step to make that connection and who knows where that will lead in the future.

You know, who knows where that could lead. It could lead to like an amazing friendship, right, among many, many other things. And so there is so much power in following up. The other thing I will say, and I say this like to myself largely, is that, um, I think it’s really important [00:12:00] to. Pull yourself out of your comfort zone.

Now you all know, I’ve talked about this so many times before. I’m a self proclaimed introvert. I really need time alone and that’s why I sort of build my conference schedule accordingly while I’m at a conference so that I, I do go back to my hotel room and I just sit quietly for a little while every single day.

That’s really important to me. Um, getting yourself outside of your comfort zone. Maybe going to a conference itself is outside of your comfort zone. And oh my goodness, I love that so much for you. Congratulations, because that is a big step, right? Getting on an airplane, flying to a new city, staying in a new place, meeting new people.

That’s a lot if that is something that is uncomfortable for you. So, yeah. If that’s enough, then that is enough, my friend. But for me, what is outside of my comfort zone is sitting with a new group of people at a meal, right? That can be scary, right? At conferences, usually you’re like grabbing your [00:13:00] food from a buffet and then there’s a whole bunch of tables and you have to go.

And so what would be inside my comfort zone is taking that back to my room or going to purposely sit by myself and put headphones in and just like pretend I’m on a call or pretend I’m listening to a podcast or something. So for me, what’s outside of my comfort zone is taking my tray of food and going to sit down next to somebody that I don’t know.

So think about what is outside of your comfort zone and how can you push yourself just a little bit more, just a little bit, right? Not to the point where you’re uncomfortable, but push yourself just a teeny tiny bit. Because again, you never know the conversations and the relationships that might be formed by that.

Now, let me tell you a little story. While I was at Opportunity Collaboration in the Dominican Republic, uh, My mom came with me, as did my two little daughters. And so my mom was there to kind of help out with the girls for the week while I was attending the conference. And there were a couple [00:14:00] days where I had lunch plans to meet with someone over lunch.

And so my mom was in, and my daughters were in the kids club, and so they were having lunch with all the kids and my mom was on her own. And, um, she just went and sat at a table and other people came and sat with her and she formed this like wonderful friendship with a woman that she met there. This woman, um, gave her a painting before she left.

And it was all because, you know, both my mom and this woman had the courage to sit down with somebody that they don’t know, you know, again, rather than like taking the food back to their rooms or popping headphones in. Um, they both were open to the opportunity to chat with somebody new and meet somebody new and then they were able to form this like lovely friendship.

And again, not trying to see what they could get out of one another, just another human being to connect with. And I just, I thought that was so beautiful. The last thing I will say that I always do is [00:15:00] really evaluate the ROI on my experience, right? And it’s not necessarily monetary ROI when it comes to conferences, but really thinking about the experience afterwards and thinking, okay, did I really connect on a deeper level with a number of people?

If so, like then it’s probably worth it. Or Yeah. Thank you. You know, was I able to help someone or find somebody to help me for a particular problem that we’re going through? Yeah. Okay. Maybe it was worth it. Did I learn something new that I was able to bring back to my organization and implement change?

Okay. It was probably worth it. On the flip side, I have been to conferences and events where I’m like, I’m not doing that again. for many reasons, right? This is not relevant to me. This is not what I thought it was going to be. Um, these people here, while they may be fabulous in their own right, are like not my people, right?

They’re not the type of people that I want to connect with at this time. And so really evaluating afterwards if [00:16:00] this investment was worth it on so many levels, right? Both maybe quantitative and qualitatively, I think is super important because You know, even if the conference is in your hometown and it’s not that expensive, does it make sense to be investing your time into it if you’re not really seeing the ROI, again, either quantitative or qualitatively?

So, anyway, I hope this was helpful as you’re thinking about attending conferences next year. I will say, attending three conferences over the period of like three weeks was perhaps a little bit ambitious. It was perhaps a little bit too much. So, I’ve evaluated. This experience and determined I am not going to do this again.

I happen to be speaking at two out of three of those conferences, and I did do a little workshop at the first one. So I guess technically I spoke at all of them, but I will say I don’t think that I would stack conferences back to back again. So that is my takeaway, and that’s my insight and observation from that.

So. [00:17:00] Anyway, I hope this was helpful to really get the most out of the events that you’re attending and really actively engage in your experience. And I think the most important thing, and this is what I always say with any workshop that I attend, is I do not want you to walk away from this experience with 50 pages of notes and then complete overwhelm by the time you get back to your office.

This is what I want you to do. Um, is really choose, maybe choose one action item from each session that you attend. One thing you are going to do after you leave the conference when you get back to your desk. And I think that piece is going to help generate the ROI for you. In fact, one more quick little story before I wrap up.

Yesterday, I did a session here at Grant Summit for grant writing business owners, and I did the same thing. I said, I want you to walk away with one action item. I want you to tell somebody as well, because telling someone helps with that accountability. And somebody raised his hand, [00:18:00] and he’s like, I already have my action item done.

I’m like, yes, tell me what it is. And so I had recommended a book during the session and he’s like, I just bought the book on Amazon. It’s on its way to my house right now and I’m going to read when I get home. I’m like, fantastic. I love a quick action taker. Just a reminder, as you are headed to conferences, make sure you’ve got that one action item from each session that you’re actually going to do something about.

And I think that that will really help generate that ROI on your conferences. Okay, friends, I would love if you would share this episode with a friend, hey, maybe somebody that you met at a conference this year, all right, share this episode and I will catch you next time. Thanks, friends. Before you go, I just want to thank you for being here.

To access our show notes and bonus content, visit 100degreespodcast. com, that’s 100degreespodcast. com and I’ll see you next time.[00:19:00]