Stepping into the doors of Club Inbound for the first time, sweaty palms clutching my new conference name badge complete with wonky capitalization, it's safe to say I was a bit overwhelmed. A warehouse-sized room spread out below me, featuring crowds jampacked into the escalator to the ground floor, a jumbotron with spinning "INBOUND17" messaging, and vendor table upon vendor table of some of the biggest names in the industry—all awash in the purple and blue on-brand lighting of the Inbound conference.
I imagine that it's like what going to your first actual club would be like. High energy, flashy lights—a party hosted by the coolest kid at school, only attended by other top-of-list names in the pecking order.
But that was high school, and this is my career. The key learnings I make at this club aren't going to be about who's with who. Over 21,400 cool kids and me. The twenty-one year old from a city barely over the 250K mark.
Through the doors of Club Inbound
When you go to a conference as some kind of content creator in today's world, there's only one thing on your mind—how can I turn the information I take in at this event into consumable content for my audience?
Actually, when you're a content creator experiencing almost anything in the world, your first thought is about "how can I write a blog about this?" As a 21 year old fairly new to the digital marketing industry, my first trip to Inbound this year (Inbound17, as the hashtag flashing across the giant screen repeatedly reminded me), this thought haunted me session after session.
How can I take the presentations and talks these experts in the digital marketing field are giving and turn it into helpful, consumable content for my audience without just repeating what they said?
The answer came to me when I was sitting by the sea side with a bowl of Chipotle (my first experience of the famous American brand!), my colleague Taylor Galipeau, and Chris De Jong, the head of marketing at a fellow Saskatonian SaaS company. As I was munching on my first real taste of a "burrito bowl" and pondering out loud about my content-creating worries, Chris gave me my answer.
He said: "Why not write a piece about what it's like to experience Inbound as someone young and new to the scene?"
So, that's exactly what I'm doing.
From extreme introversion to manager of writing words on the internet, this is my perspective and takeaways from the must-attend sales and marketing conference in tech.
Networking is hard, life experience is unteachable
Networking is hard.
I mean, I know that's no breakthrough discovery, but especially as someone new to their own personality and career, networking can be a pretty scary task.
A lot of networking is based on personal connection and conversation; you find similar interests and experiences around your professional life and work up from there. However, when you have little life experience, it's hard to make those foundational connecting steps. You don't have a lot of "backlog topics" to pull from to start with the small talks—basically everything you experience day-to-day is a new experience.
When it gets to the business side of networking, those kind of conversational waters are entirely new. I mean, you're still working on how to pitch your own personality, let alone the value prop of your entire company. I believe that the key thing here is to really understand the underlying values and mission of your company—not just reading a script, but to really be in tune with what your company is trying to do in the world. That's where the words start creating themselves, and conversation can flow fluently and evolve from that.
Networking can be much easier when you realize that people aren't intimidating—it's the labels and categories that you create for them that are.
Successful networking with the 7Shifts team
People are people, we create the boxes ourselves
Think about someone who intimidates you.
Maybe it's someone at work, or a famous celebrity on TV, or even someone at a competitor's business. Think about why they intimidate you. Is it because theyhave more seniority? Larger net worth? If they're a competitor, do you categorize them as "the other"?
One of the key messages driven home from the beginning of Inbound17 from brilliant speaker Brene Brown was that people are just people, and we compartmentalize ourselves and then interact with them according to those compartments.
While Brene was specifically speaking about the political landscape in the US (something I will not get into in this post), the thought holds true for anyone. We create categories and boxes for people that use to understand how to interact with them. We build boxes and build up anxieties and pre-populated opinions about people we place into those boxes.
Dew's pre-conceived people boxes
I understand why, of course. Creating these barriers is part of human nature—helping us segment, sort, and understand our surroundings and the people in them. However, viewing life and people through that lens makes it all the more difficult to connect with people through it.
When you view people just through the boxes you assigned them at a conference like Inbound, everyone seems intimidating, smart, and like they know what they're doing a lot better than you (and they know it). But, that's not really the case at all.
One thing I learned from Inbound is that it's actually the easiest thing in the world to just grab a drink with someone and start talking. For me, interacting with the people I was most intimidated by without the pre-conceived barriers further enforced the idea that people are just people, and it's much easier to interact and get along when you go into a situation with that in mind.
Example given: I met Dharmesh Shah, the co-founder of HubSpot—the company that runs Inbound. We didn't talk much, but he was was easygoing and extremely friendly. Here's a picture of me, still a little terrified and star struck.
Save conferences for young employees (no, really!)
So, a big takeaway I had from experiencing Inbound with my colleague Taylor Galipeau, and chatting with a variety of other Inbound attendees was: send your young and new digital marketers to conferences.
- New/younger people have a better appreciation for learning.
- When you get used to something, you take it for granted
- Send your young, eager-to-succeed talent—they’ll get the most and bring back the most value to your company
- Yes, your higher-ups have great networking skills, but they have a lot of work to do and skipping sessions to do it is probably not the best use of this information-packed week that brings experts round the country—hell, the world—together to share their key learnings
- Your younger employees have the time, energy, eagerness to please, and ferocity to implement their learnings when they get home. They’ll attend every session, and fresh-out-of-school career newbs are used to taking vigorous notes.
Vendasta's young marketers storming Inbound17
Your personal brand is alive—feed it, water it, take it for walks
Obviously one of the big things at a conference is to network. One pillar of successful networking is to know your personal brand—so do you?
At a conference, you don't just have to vomit out your company brand pitch, now is the time to work on your personal branding too.
- So many people asking for your business card, to connect on LinkedIn, or follow you on Twitter really drove one thing home for me—your personal branding (aside from your company branding) matters
- Yes, your company does such and such thing, but the people you meet are also interested in you, so the personal brand you have that's attached to that overarching corporate/company brand has an impact too
- Don't let that scare you, though—conferences are a great way to practice self-branding, tweak it, and even test it
- You meet so many people interested in having conversations with you (and you probably won't see them face-to-face again) that you can experiment a little with how you present and pitch yourself
- When you’re young, conferences are a great way to practice and test your personal brand
- It's like A/B testing yourself!
In the end, Inbound17 was a whirlwind of a learning and networking experience. To reiterate: save your conferences for the young, A/B test your own personal brand, and don't fear the compartments you place people in. Conferences are a huge learning experience in more ways than one, so don't take them for granted.
💡 Short Vendasta plug: If you're looking for a place to practice your self-branding, flex your networking skills, and get all the latest hacks, tips, and tricks for how to conquer local marketing, then you won't want to miss VendastaCon 2018.
Good luck, and go conquer your next conference. Conquer local at VendastaCon2018!