By Adam Stoltz
I find attending industry conferences incredibly valuable. This is important, especially considering the rising costs of registration fees, travel and those little bottles of water in your room that hotels try to sucker you into drinking. [Full disclosure: only most hotels do this; but the Downtown Phoenix Sheraton isn’t one of them… the water in my room was complimentary! Ironically, I drank none of it and will be expensing the over-priced water I bought from the lobby gift shop.]

The obvious value for me comes from meeting new clients, partners, friends, and checking out the competition. But my recent experience in Phoenix at IFMA’s 2011 World Workplace provided me with some valuable takeaways I didn’t see coming: All of us industry professionals need to do a better job at sharing the stories, knowledge and insights we have when speaking or presenting  a topic. Most of us, me included, aren’t good enough right now. At least, not as good as we could be. Our shortcomings tend to detract from the message and fail to live up to rising attendee expectations.

So, here’s what I propose:

Stop reading
Presentations today are made available online, either pre or post conference. As an attendee, simply reading me your presentation during the session leaves me wondering why I chose to attend instead of downloading and reading it in the comfort of my own home. Make me pay attention to you. Look at me in the audience, rather than the computer in front of you. Telling me something I could have only learned from showing up also gives me knowledge my co-workers can’t get – because they weren’t there. It makes me someone with something to share when I go back to the office. Now that’s value.

Make it personal
There’s personal and then there’s personal. I’m talking about the former. Tell me stories. But let’s avoid stories about your sick kid. Illustrate your points with examples. But not examples of what you learned during your divorce. Reference an organization, project or product you’re familiar with that reinforces the general point you just made. Show me why you were chosen over others who likely submitted to present on the same or similar topic. Oh, and please smile. Remember, it’s 8am and I was out at the CORT party last night too.

Be a facilitator
Sure it’s your session, and I know you spent a good deal of time putting together that presentation and talking points. But remember that I came to this conference with at least one issue, and likely more, that I’m dealing with back at the office. I have questions (whether or not I ask them). I’m interested in your, and also others’ answers. I want to hear from peers who might be dealing with the same thing. Treat me to a conversation … I’ll be more inclined to say ‘hi’ after the conference. And isn’t that really why we do to these things anyway?

If you’ve recently attended or presented at a conference and have thoughts, I’d love to hear them here. Let’s start a dialogue and challenge each other to just get a little bit better.

As for me and IFMA, see you in April in Chicago for Facility Fusion!

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