Episode 10 – Get the most out of conferences, trade shows, and webinars
Have you ever wondered why you should go to conferences or be a speaker (and how to become one)? Our podcast guest today is José Pires, a veteran of 20+ years in the conference business and a leader in helping organizations to improve their execution and innovation excellence.
José serves as Excellence & Innovation (E&I) executive leader and advisor for cross-industry organizations ranging from startups to Fortune 50, where he oversees the global identification, prioritization and execution of high value business improvements and innovations for the companies, business partners, and customers in multiple markets.
He is an advisory board leader, keynote speaker, and chairman for organizations and global conferences on innovation, operational excellence, leadership development, strategy execution, culture, business and digital transformation, customer experience, exponential technologies, and growth acceleration. He is an executive Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt who holds a Bachelor in Engineering Physics from the University of Kansas and a Master in Business Administration focused on Investment Banking and Entrepreneurship from the University of San Diego.
We are talking about the following topics:
- Jose’s background and how he came into the speaking/conference business as an introvert engineer
- The fear of public speaking and how to overcome it
- Getting good at your craft (your purpose?) and learn to communicate about it
- The change in the conference landscape due to the pandemic (disruption vs. dislocation)
- The objectives of participating in a conference or alternatives: learning, inspiration, networking
- Criteria of good conferences (virtual and in-person)
- How to get started to become a speaker
- Conferences as businesses
- What to look for when planning for attending events
- The “Three Rs”: relationship, results, and reputation
José can be reached via LinkedIn here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/excellenceandinnovation/ and his firm can be found at www.excellenceandinnovation.com.
Ep. 10 – Get the most out of conferences, trade shows, and webinars: Jose Pires – What's Your Baseline? Enterprise Architecture & Business Process Management Demystified
For those of you wondering where I studied and which cup I showed when recording our session:
If you have the time, funds, and the global health situation allows it, go there and spend two weeks in town and the close-by alps (but do “slow travel” and take your time please … and remember: Weisswurst needs to be eaten before noon).
Music by Jeremy Voltz, www.jeremyvoltzmusic.com
- CP1 (Welcome)
- Lofi Lobby Loop (Interlude 1)
- Airplane Seatbelt (Interlude 2)
- Wurly (Interlude 3)
- South Wing (Outro)
(The transcript is auto-generated and was slightly edited for clarity)
Roland: Hi J-M, how are you doing?
J-M: I’m doing alright. It’s getting chillier these days, but I’m still managing to stay warm. How are you doing Roland?
Roland: I’m doing fine, and you’re absolutely right. We’re recording this in fall and the leaves have all turned yellow. It’s that in-between period where I get a little moody because the trees are naked and winter is cold and all that stuff. But I do have a highlight for you today!
J-M: Do you?
Roland: Yeah, J-M, I do have a little treat for you. We do have a guest today. His name is (as you know) Jose Pires, and he’s a conference facilitator, organizer, whatever. So, welcome Jose – how are you doing?
Jose: Hello there Roland. Hello there, J-M. Great to be here. I’m doing fantastic and so ready to talk about what’s been going on in the world of conferences and getting people together now, during COVID post COVID what’s going on in the world of marketing and conferences.
Roland: Yeah, there’s a lot to talk about in these weird times, and I can imagine that the conference business was severely affected by COVID. And now everybody comes out of their little holes and tries to set something up. But before we get started with that, can you give us an overview of who you are? There’s just a few of our audience members who don’t know you, so could you give us a rundown of who you are and what you do?
Jose: Well, great! I’m probably most of you don’t know me because I have not really done the conference business. It’s not something I targeted as part of my career. It’s been more of an outcome over time and I’ll tell you a little bit about that. So my name is Jose Pires. Most people think, well this guys’ name should be José Perez, but I’m not. And the reason is Jose is because I’m originally from Brazil so speak Portuguese natively and was born in Brazil. Educated in the United States with a background in engineering, physics and investment banking and then I started my career or my dream job as Sony Electronics as a designer for displays way back then when Sony was a technology leader really in that area. Then I was with a startup in the semiconductor industry that truly changed the world. A company that created and implemented the technologies that allowed Moore’s law in the semiconductor industry to occur up to this day. And then I developed a real passion for systems where you have systematic innovation going on in organizations and went on to be an innovation leader for Nestle, the Food Corporation for a number of years. And then I wrapped up my corporate innovation career in a couple of energy companies that did very large energy projects and they also produced energy projects for the world. You know, thousands of engineers working on infrastructure projects around the world was Black and Veatch and then Denver Corporation. So my whole career really has this common thread of building ecosystems to accelerate excellence and innovation for value creation. That’s really my passion and it’s through that passion that I became involved with conferences and today I’m an advisor for more than 100 cross-industry organizations on the topics of excellence innovation acceleration and across multiple industries and business models from startups to Fortune 50 organizations and then as part of that I end up facilitating a lot of discussions around technology and innovation acceleration, around business excellence and the conferences is part of that. Either as a keynote speaker or a chairman for a lot of cross-industry conferences.
J-M: I love what you’re talking about, and in particular, I’d love to say hello to another engineer who has a passion for sharing the message. I feel like there’s a ton of engineers who are fantastic technologists, but who have trouble articulating the value of what they’re doing, the practices they’re developing, and spreading that message to people who can use that to drive their own excellence – their own innovation in their daily lives. Talk to me a little bit about that. What has it been like to transition from being that technology-focused and development-focused to focus on spreading the message. What has the value been to you and your constituents?
Jose: J-M, this is such a great question because it’s really the source of how nearly 25-30 years later I became a keynote speaker. If you rewind my clock and see me in the beginning of my career as an engineer, you could not make that connection that this guy became a keynote speaker. And I have people to this day old friends of mine who sent me messages saying I’ve just seen you speaking to like 3000 people in Vegas do not see how that happened. Can we have a discussion? Because, you know, I know. Have you all heard? You know this is an old engineering joke, but it’s helpful to know the difference between an extroverted and introverted engineer? Have you heard that? Yeah, right? That was me in the beginning of my career. So you know, I’m an introvert at heart. So what happens is that as an engineer, you know, we say that an introverted engineer will talk to you while he looks at his shoes. An extroverted engineer who talks to you as he looks at your shoes.
J-M: I’m gonna steal that joke!
Jose: So listen, in the beginning of my career I was a highly technical guy. I mean, I was. When I was hired by Sony. I was in California and Japan at the Atsugi Research Center where the technology was getting developed. I mean, this was very high tech technical work, and my background was in engineering physics, which was really about physics and electrical-mechanical kind of combinations. I’d get into deep physical physics systems, you know, for deriving new technologies. A lot of material science, a lot of deep quantum mechanics before quantum mechanics was kind of a known thing for the outside world. In any case, very deep technical work, but what I learned very early on in my career is that I needed to develop certain skills because if I had to present to more than a couple of people at time out had physical reactions, I’ll get my I’ll get blotchy on my face. It would be embarrassing because I was that introverted and that it was very difficult for me to communicate with other people. And then on top of that, you know. English is my second language, so it’s like you know that extra layer of complexity that was built on, so it’s a long journey on that I realized that I was self aware. I realized that I needed to overcome that to become a better communicator about the great technical things that we’re working on. That was one part of it. The other part of it is that I would go to the technical conferences and they were terrible. Because you have all these amazing technical minds PHD’s in their fields presenting things. And the presentations were awful because you could not get much out of it. There were only a couple people who probably understood it and it’s not because the subject was so complex, it was because the presentation itself was so poor. And then I noticed that there are some people who were really good at presenting. They had such a compelling message and they and they kind of engaged you in the discussion. But they were full of crap at the same time and I was like there’s gotta be a better way. There’s gotta be an intersection where you can be this substantive speaker with content and with engagement with your audience. And I really made a mission to develop myself and skill sets to become that in the future and certainly it was a journey for me. And I believe that I got close to that marriage of substantive content and engagement facilitation that allows people to learn to be inspired by the message and take practical actions as a result.
Roland: Yeah, I definitely can relate to this with English as a second language, you know, as you hear. We don’t want to stress this too far. But anyway, so yeah, so I definitely can relate. And I also can relate when I think about the audience of our podcast here, which are architects, which in a lot of cases are technical people who run into exactly the same problems that you have. But before we get to that meat of the podcast, tell us a little bit about you as a person before we get into the business. What are your interests, your hobbies, your bucket list items, and these types of things.
Jose: Well, first of all, I have been incredibly lucky / blessed / whatever term you wanna say because I was able to find a passion related to my work early on in my career and I have been chronically consistent with that for 25 years. And in that that has been incredibly rewarding both professionally and personally. And being able to blend my professional interests and my personal interests and that way. And that is that is this realization early on in my career that I can do innovations and innovation is very important. But how do you build a systematic approach to innovation that permeates your culture and really becomes part of your culture? That is what really fascinated me early on. Because I saw that in pockets in large organizations like Sony, but it was not the culture yet. There were pockets of excellence here and there. Then I became obsessed with this, especially when I went to this startup in the semiconductor industry. We literally had the smartest laser scientists in the world in one building in California and these people couldn’t get anywhere because they spent all their time trying to prove each other wrong. Instead of advancing a cause. I became fascinated with collaborative leadership and common purpose. And collaborative leadership requires you to surround yourself with individuals with different perspectives who are willing to disagree with you without fear of retaliation. And how do you create a system that has collaborative leadership and innovation execution, (which is a hard part) as a discipline in organizations to build a culture? So I was incredibly lucky to find that early on in my life and then I’ve been consistently in that lane. People sometimes think you’re really smart, but the reality is that I have been in this very narrow lane for a very long period of time, and if you take me out of that, I’m an expert on that and I’m an idiot about everything else. So I’ve got everything else. On a personal level, you know, I grew up in Brazil, so soccer was a passion from early on. And I have this tendency to have interests, become obsessed about them, kind of master them to a certain level, and then kind of let go. And then there are few things in my life that have been constant and definitely, soccer is one of them. I’m over 50 years old and I play now in an over-50 team in the city of San Antonio, Texas. We play in tournaments, and go around the country, so I still have that. I have a passion for that. I have a passion for remote control airplanes and if you look at my house you see all these different types of airplanes and jets that I have that are related to remote control airplanes. I’m a family guy. I have five kids so I have a small indoor soccer team in my own house. Those are some of the things today kind of permeate, but I have a lot of varied interests that I become obsessed with, I master and I kind of let go and those couple of things – they are hobbies that I keep on.
J-M: I wanted to just pause a little bit, because I heard you say something earlier that I wanted to get your thoughts on before we take a quick break then go into the main meat of the topic. Socialization of engineers. If feels like one of the things you really highlighted is there are a lot of people in those technical positions that have trouble communicating properly. What do you think inspired you to grow into that capability and (at a high level) what do you think engineers need more of in order to facilitate that communication style that allows them to be better collaborators. That style that allows them to fit better into an organizational structure, and produce better collaborative content?
Jose: So high level thoughts is that self awareness is where all starts. You have to be aware that that communication piece is important for you to go from good to a really great professional engineer. Public speaking is one of the top fears that people have. It’s like way up there, like with the fear of heights, which is a very biological thing. So public speaking is very hard, and this is tightly connected to the issues of innovation where fear of failure is what prevents a lot of people from innovating. Fear of public speaking prevents people from communicating more often. We know a lot about the science of fear and how to overcome that at a personal level at a social level. At a personal level you have to rewire fear as excitement and you have to expose yourself to small doses. So you start doing small things and you have to create environments in your organization where you can start doing that communication with smaller groups and keep increasing the size as you improve. And then at a social level, the antidote to fear is trust. You must develop a social network with trusting partners who are there to support you, to lift you, and to see you grow. So there’s a lot to that but we have to address the personal fear and the social fear that we have and then have a plan on how we’re going to scale up our capabilities over time so that we can do bigger and bigger things. I always tell people if you put me on the stage in Vegas 20 years ago, it would be a disaster. And so you have to scale up to your capabilities.
J-M: Wonderful. Well that’s really good advice for everyone already from Jose Pries, thank you so much for the insight so far. Folks, we’re going to take a little bit of a break now before we get into the meat of things, and hopefully you can reflect on some of the things Jose has said. And in particular, take a look inside. Think about yourself what causes you fear? What about interacting with others has been a challenge for you. If you could change one thing about yourself about your communication style, how you get your message across, what would that be? Let’s give you a moment to reflect on yourself and we’ll come back in just a second.
Musical Interlude: “Lofi Lobby Loop”, Jeremy Voltz
Roland: Welcome back and just say, hey, that was great background information from you. And I find it really interesting that the two engineers on the call this the social studies person here, so typically you don’t hear me being that silent. But anyways, when I look at our audience, you know, I look at the architects, I look at the business process managers and look at the people, leading those departments and being part of the transformation projects that those organizations do, which in itself might be challenging. They might ask the question, why should that be interested in this whole topic of conferences and personal branding and self marketing or whatnot if I just get paid to go and draw my architectural diagram and figure out which microservices to use and whatnot. So with your background, what would your answer be to these people who just think about “why should I be interested in that topic”?
Jose: Well, I I think that this is my experience. I have been blessed with working personally, training more than 30,000 excellence and innovation leaders across organizations. And a lot of those excellence and innovation leaders are people just like what you describe – that they come in and they’re like: “you know, I do a job, you know and then it’s 5-6 o’clock at night and I go home and that’s it”. I’m not making any judgments here because people do whatever is right for them, but what I have learned by empirical evidence is that those who find a higher level of fulfillment with their work and their lives, they have something that, to use the words of Abraham Maslow when he looked at people who have who achieve their potential (and he calls that self actualization) and the quote that he uses to describe those who reached self actualization is “Discover what you’re meant to do. And then commit to the ardor of pursuing it with excellence.” I believe, based on evidence, empirical evidence and a lot of great research done by great minds that supports that evidence that unrealized potential is the biggest regret we can have in our lives. And what I want your audience to have is to have no regrets. I want them to look back on their lives and say I have no regrets because I am the best version of myself that I can be. And I believe that for you to become the best version of yourself, you have to discover what you’re meant to do. If you’re doing drawings, that’s fine. Do the best drawings in the world and ask yourself the question: how do I serve the world by doing these drawings? There’s nothing wrong with that. You can serve the world by doing these drawings, but you have to commit to the order of pursuing that with excellence and become great at whatever it is that you do and that journey will be a rewarding journey. That’s what the evidence shows. And I believe that part of that rewarding journey, once you become great at whatever you do, is to find a voice and find channels to share that experience with others. That is incredibly powerful, and I think this is all about realizing our full potential as human beings. Realizing our full potential as professionals, whatever craft we have, and in finding our voice over time as we become great at what we do. That is a wonderful component for realizing our potential. So this is about you know, becoming good and then great at what you do. And then communicating to the world that there is a greater cause, a greater reason for that. And then, if you’re a transactional person, and a lot of technical people are very transactional – I’m going to study engineering, finance ’cause I want to make a lot of money and that’s my goal so shut up about this purpose thing – fine, I’m good with that, Joe. But do me a favor. Just become great at what you do and you’re going to make more money than you know what you do with. So, if you become great at what you do and then you’re able to communicate that effectively through the world and you create value to others, guess what you’re going to get value back, whether it is a promotion to start with – that you go from a young engineer level to a senior engineer level and then you become the qualified supervisor and manager for your department now because you have this technical capabilities and communication capabilities married. And whether you become bigger at greater things. Engineers love to sit down and criticize other people, because we’re built for that, right? So we say that so and so is not competent. I don’t know how he got to be that, and I don’t know how this person got to do this because I’m smarter than that person. Deep down inside they are having those little battles. So here’s the reality, Rick, that person is in there because they communicate better than you do. Because you had this great knowledge, then nobody other than you and your counterpart in the lab know about it. So you need to expand your message. You need to expand your influence as a leader and become a better collaborative leader. And communication is a big part of that.
J-M: I think I’ve seen this kind of thing happening a lot. I travel to Japan often, and you see pride in your work, regardless of what the work is at every level. You see folks who are working at a train station as a conductor making sure people have gotten onto the train, and they take incredible pride in the diligence of their work. And they’re expressing and communicating that pride and that makes them better at what they do. And better at communicating what they do. That can be at any level, in any role. And that’s fantastic, particularly when you have the opportunity to start inside, then externalize that and find the opportunity to share your pride in your work, the diligence you’ve built in yourself, and the ability and desire to share that with a larger community. I love that. And getting that voice you talked about – conferences and trade shows and webinars feel like a good way to start the “socialization of an engineer”, the “socialization of a business process professional”. And in that particular way, I’d like to bridge that into our first big question for you: more than just the socialization, why should somebody go to a conference or event? What do you think the value is to an individual in attending one of these sorts of webinars or conferences, because as you said, you’ve seen a ton of these over your career. 10s a year, hundreds over your career so far. What’s the value to an individual as an attendee?
Jose: That is a great question, and the comment you made there about people having a craft and communicating about that craft. We as human beings are mesmerized when we see someone who is great at what they do. It doesn’t matter what it is. We go to the beach. And there’s some dude building a sandcastle and he builds that one amazing sandcastle that you know you could never build. You go like wow, and you cannot help but stop and watch, right? And if you see people who have all these different talents and skills and whatever we do in the world, we are mesmerized by that. So I would say that one of the great reasons people go to conferences is to be inspired. And we are inspired by greatness. We are inspired by great speakers, by great leaders, by greatness in general. And so, to be inspired is a big part of it, because it inspires you to see what we can achieve; what someone can achieve. So there is an inspirational piece that’s very important. There is a learning piece because inspiration is good, but inspiration is like a rocking chair. There’s a lot of motion, but you don’t get anywhere, so you have to figure out: how do I translate these principles into action that creates value for me and for those around me? That’s what I call learning. It’s also action, not just learning things, but really, asking how do I apply this? So it’s inspiration, it’s learning ,and there is the networking aspect. It’s about connecting with others that will allow you to develop different perspectives that are useful and impactful for whatever that you do. So I would say learning, inspiration, and networking are the main reasons that people go to conferences.I’m hired to do about 50 conferences in every 18 month cycle, and they’re across all industries around innovation, excellence, technologies, and related topics. So there’s always some sort of survey going on that’s asking what people are looking for. And then these three themes emerged most often: learning, inspiration, and networking.
J-M: And, you know, that’s where the people are, who have the expertise, who have done this before who can bring you into the fold with their perspective, and their call to action. And I love how there’s a lot of industry content and industry conferences, where the call to action really inspires a personal change. That’s what I’m hearing from you as well. So break down those conferences, though, you know, what kind of activities are happening within the conferences? So talk to me about how they break down and what kind of value do these activities have? So if you’re looking to go to a conference, what events inside that conference, webinar or whatever should you be looking to attend, and why?
Jose: So that’s a great question and we can’t, you know, bypass the fact that we have had a global pandemic that not only disrupted the conference world. It has dislocated it. And the difference between a disruption and dislocation is that disruption – it’s possible that he may flex back to where they used to be. A dislocation is permanent. Things have changed in a way that they will not go back to how they used to be. Now, everything that I say here, and when you listen to me or listen to anybody else, just remember this: There are two types of people who predict the future. Those who don’t know and those who don’t know that they don’t know. So I’m just one of them. OK, so keep this in mind. It’s a big lesson for innovation. The point being, that this is my observations with a lot of experience and my prediction of the future. Dislocation has happened, and conferences will never be like they used to be for a number of reasons that we can get into, but let me get your main topic. Why do people go to these conferences and kind of the structure of this conference is in a COVID world if you will? We talked about learning inspiration and networking, so if you look at those three pillars, I think you get the most out of this conference if you’re able to learn to be inspired and to network. So to learn and be inspired, it has a lot to do with the quality of the speakers that you have in the conference, so you have to look at who is actually speaking. It is really interesting because I would say there has been a multiplication of virtual events because they are much easier to do and produce than you know an in person event is for a number of reasons. But there’s a multiplication of virtual events, some people say, well, you know the quality is lower now because you have so many of this, which is probably true in the aggregate. But in individual events you have much higher quality than you did before, because now you have the CEO of a company who can be there for a 45 minute talk and he or she would not travel to Orlando to do that 45 minute talk. And now they are open through technology to give you access directly to them. So I’ll say that learning inspiration comes from highly qualified speakers. Those who have great content and practical experiences, and they’re able to communicate that effectively. So I would say 5 to 10% of speakers at most conferences have that. So you have to be selective, not just the conference name, but who are the speakers? And then the networking piece has more to do now with the conference production, especially for a virtual environment. How do they create opportunities to network in that conference environment? So it could be through the questions and answers that you have. They could have networking rooms that they create during the conference. You know you have nowadays some conference or playing with avatars and things like that, but with technology. But you want to look at: if you wanna learn, be inspired and network you have to look at each conference separately and see what are the mechanisms that they have created for you to get each one of those components fulfilled.
Roland: And it’s definitely a challenge, you know, not only for the introvert who’s attending, but also a lot of webinars that I participated in or attended – it’s cookie cutter. You know, you have somebody from marketing, giving a little speech, you have one speaker, and then you have a Q&A. And then everybody goes away. And that’s it. And all the participants, the organizers, you know, give themselves a pat on the back and say, Oh, good job, you know, we’ve done it. But the question is, what is the outcome, the takeaway that the participants have? And I think that’s a really challenging thing, especially if you have some introverted people. So the next question that I have to you is: well, having said that, we spoke about conferences, and I’m thinking about something like the Sapphire, you know, like 1000s and 1000s of people where you’re lost on the big floor in Orlando or elsewhere. Or you talk about the 45 minute webinars where people just listen to somebody babbling, what are alternatives that might be useful for the introvert, for the audience that that we have, and where should they go? So I’m thinking along the lines of local organized meetings, un-conferences, TEDx talks, etc. What have you seen, and what works?
Jose: Yeah, there, there’s so much there, right? It depends on your interests. It depends on what you’re focused on. What is it that you want to learn, what inspires you, and how important is networking for you? So you have to answer those questions for yourself. I keep going back to those three pillars: What are you looking for? Learning, inspiration and networking? And then what are the best channels out there? I would say that most conferences are not very good. They are like glorified sales pitches for participants and that’s terrible and we can talk about that from the branding standpoint. From the company brand standpoint, I think a lot of conferences hurt. The brands don’t help the brands because you know nobody wants to be sold things / technology specifically, the way it’s being done. But anyway, I’d point to your specific item. We have been severely constrained about certain options with the pandemic, but a lot of the local in person events are wonderful ways of learning. Gettinging inspired and networking. Some of them are returning right now, depending where you are in the world. Some places, life looks normal right now. In other places there’s still a lot of restrictions, so it depends on that. But local events you know, like for example here in San Antonio, we have the American Society for Quality who has these events where they are now getting people together again and having local events. Those are wonderful. Listen, you can go to YouTube and get some amazing insight and be inspired by things, which are new channels that 20 years ago you didn’t have. I’ve personally been involved with hiring a speaker for $100,000 for a one hour talk, and that talk is available for free on YouTube. Technology has given us access to many different channels that were not there before. So with the local advance resuming, those are wonderful events to participate in. YouTube is amazing in terms of the content that’s in there. It depends on what you want to learn and be inspired by. And I think that there are good virtual conferences going on and there are amazing personal conferences there returning now and that the conference still has value. But I think that both professionals and organizers are going to be more discerning about the quality of these conferences because people are going to be more discerning about how much money they’re spending to attend in person. Now that they have gotten used to getting this content virtually, often for free.
J-M: Yeah, and that leads me to a question I really want to figure out the answer to for organizations and individuals. How do you determine a conference is legitimate? What are you looking for, what are the signs that tell you: “this is going to be good, this is actually a real event. This isn’t just some slapdash people throwing things together trying to get cash off of gullible industry professionals who are looking to advance”? What are some horror stories you’ve seen along the way from conferences that may not have had the right backing?
Jose: Those are great questions, and I’ll summarize here.
J-M: You don’t have to name names, don’t worry!
Jose: First of all, it’s not easy to know which conferences are the legit ones, which ones are not, especially when you have a proliferation of virtual conferences going on. And to be fair, you know sometimes you rely on brand and previous experiences because you know this is a good reputable brand that’s been around for awhile and they deliver consistently good conferences. So of course, that’s a good signal, but there are a lot of new entrants in the market. Some of them could be very good and some of them could be very bad, but some key signposts to pay attention to is certainly the quality of the speakers. The production level that you can see all the way from how well the website is designed and organized. You know in structure, and the planning for the conference and the communications for the conference. Versus the disjointed marketing that you’ve seen. Some of these conferences where they have an agenda online, then the agenda doesn’t show you really who the speakers are and there are gaps in the agenda and the times are wrong. You can see quality in a lot of these things just by looking at their website that this thing was just put together as opposed to a well planned event. Timelines are important as well, so if the first time you hear about a conference, it’s going to happen in four weeks, maybe it’s good, but that’s unlikely. Usually conferences that are good quality take longer to produce, whether they’re in person or virtually. You have to get commitment from the right speakers. You have to do the planning and get the technology right and do all the rehearsals, so it takes time. But the quality of the speakers is really critical. Now here is the catch though: don’t confuse the quality of the speakers with the brand of the company. “I have some person from Google talking”! OK, Google’s talking? No, Google is not talking. It’s Susie who works in procurement at Google who’s talking. And Susie just graduated from college two years ago. A lot of conferences use that as kind of a click bait equivalent. They will put the big brand name of the company there and they will get a low level employee in the company who, god bless their heart, they’re doing the best they can, but they have very little practical experience. And they are probably qualified ’cause they got hired by a good company, but it doesn’t mean they’re going to be a good quality speaker that’s going to give you great insight. So you have to look at the speaker, not the company that the speaker works for. You got to look at the history of that speaker – go to LinkedIn and see what their career looks like. You have to do a little homework instead of just signing up for the conference, and because your most precious asset is time, you’re giving your time away to listen to someone else’s message, so it’s worthwhile doing that research upfront.
J-M: Alright, Jose, you’ve given us some really great things to think about in how to consider which conferences to go to, what you’re looking for, the homework you have to do. But I want to pose this question back to our audience, because you’re looking to go somewhere and learn something. So picture in your mind, ask yourself the question: if you could design a perfect panel of speakers – not just from a brand, but from a knowledge background, the expertise you’re looking to get. Who would you want to listen to? What format would make it most valuable for you to attend their talks and interactive sessions? We’ll leave you for a couple seconds to think about that, then come back to talk about expectations from conferences.
Musical Interlude: “Airplane Seatbelt”, Jeremy Voltz
Roland: Hey, welcome back everybody from our little 30-second break. No pressure on you, J-M, to find the right music track while editing this. We spoke about the “why” of conferences and how to figure out what is a good conference and what to look for. I really love that segment in this show – being inspired, learning something and building your network. I think these are all important things for people who are more introverted, who are architects and process managers. But the question is – if I want to take a step up, something outside my comfort zone, how do I get started? How do I engage with conference or webinar organizers? Both as an individual (to grow my personal brand), but also as a representative of a company, with a caveat that those are most likely marketing-driven. How do I get engaged into this, because for me as an outsider, it looks like a closed community. The company says “go to this conference”, then you pack your bag and go. But how do you get engaged?
Jose: That’s such a great question. Because it’s not easy. There are different techniques, and I’ll share some with you here, but I want to tell a story ahead of time that I think is very important. In the last energy company that we were leading, this was a $2 billion company 2010 and then by bringing top-quality leaders from multiple industries into this energy company, by building mechanisms for innovation for value creation, we kept building collaborative leadership and innovation acceleration as a core of the culture of this company and then eight years later, the more than 14,000 professionals in this company, and they’re identifying, prioritizing, and implementing more than 2000 innovations annually with more than a billion dollars of EBITDA from those innovations implemented. That was amazing, and the people who are part of this journey – very qualified leaders – played an important key role in that. And this $2 billion was sold eight years later for $36 billion. How many 18 fold increases in market value happen? This was an amazing story, and every one of these leaders sold the company, and decided, OK, we’re going to do what we love now because we’ve got enough financial security. I’m going to do what I love and I’m going to be speaking at conferences. I’m going to be doing the advisory services. You know, I don’t want to go back and lead another Fortune 100 company. That’s not what I want to do. So I was part of that select group with 11 other partners who were in that situation. Out of the twelve of us, I’m the only one who continues to do this, and the other eleven did not do it. Did not speak at conferences, did not did not really become advisors for the industry. Are they less qualified than I am? Absolutely not. So what is the difference? And this is an important difference and I want your listeners to pay attention to this. Most people right now invite you to conferences they don’t invite YOU to the conference. They invite your company to the conference, and you happen to work for that company? OK, and you say, I don’t know why I don’t get invited to speak. Well because maybe it’s that nobody knows who your company is. Maybe it’s not attractive for the conference organizer to have you because you’re not going to attract an additional audience for them. Your company brand name is not one that is going to sell more tickets if you will. Make no mistake, this conference business is a business. But here’s the deal: when you work for well known brands, you start thinking that people love you. They don’t love you. They love the company that you work for. And even if you’re a high level leader in this company, this happens. So what is the lesson here? How do they get away with it? How do they invite me if I don’t have the multibillion dollar energy company logo behind me anymore? The reason for that is that while I was super busy with the whirlwind of my day job leading a business and a multi-billion-dollar transformation for this company, I still developed the relationship with these conference producers at that time. And I worked with them for 20 years, building their relationship, and as I moved from one company to another, I continued to build the relationship with these conference producers. So this is the trick. I don’t know if there is a shortcut – I certainly did not take any shortcuts. For me, it was about discipline. And discipline is consistency with purpose. I have been chronically consistent with my purpose and I had a discipline to have this qualified networking with this conference producers for a long, long time. So they started disassociating me from the companies that I lead. They started knowing me as Jose Pires, not just the leader at Sony, the leader at Nestle, which are big names that I want to have at my conference. But you know, it’s about relationships and it takes time. So now the other partners in the company that I mentioned didn’t have those relationships and they thought that once they left the company, organizers were going to know who they were and what they did, and they’re going to want them in their conferences. And they don’t, because unless people know the intimate story of that company, it’s not going to attract a large audience. So you have to develop relationships with these conference producers. So now you say: “Jose, you tell me I have to spend 20 years doing this?” Well, being consistent with your purpose would be a good thing. So find what that purpose is and be consistent with purpose. Build relationships around that and your life becomes much easier later on. And that’s advice for young people in their careers. But if you’re not there and you’re starting now, how do I start my? My suggestion is that you still have to build a relationship between the offer services. First of all, become really great at your craft. Whatever it is that you do, be really great or what you do because people want to hear stories of greatness. And they want authentic people who have done it, not someone who read a book from someone else. You need to do, and become good, great at whatever you do. Then you need to practice conveying that message to others. And you have to do this in small ways internally, as we said. Maybe a group of friends to start. Then your department, maybe your company. And then when you get the as you build your confidence then you try, you know a virtual event here and there. But here’s the deal. You have to prepare. You only have that one chance to cause a good first impression, right? So you have to come in and you have to do a great job. And remember, how do I do a great job? How do I cause an impression? You have to be great at what you do. You have to show results of the compelling message and that compelling message has to create value for others. They have to be able to use components of that to create value for themselves. And then the conference producers – you have to build relationships with them. You’re not going to approach a conference because they’re doing some conference six months from now and volunteer to be a speaker. Now if they’re accepting papers from speakers or submissions, go ahead and submit that. That’s a way, but a lot of conferences don’t accept submissions for speakers. They select those speakers. You can start building a relationship. You can look at their website, look at their plans if it is aligned with your gift, with your talents, with your communication, then you can start contacting them months ahead of time and you start a conversation with the producers. You can look at LinkedIn and see the background of those producers. You can start, you know, connecting with those producers ahead of time should start building their relationship.
J-M: It’s funny – you said they don’t want you, they want your company. Unless you’ve made your brand strong enough that it gets to be more important, more valuable to them than the company itself. I feel like when you said: “they want your company, not you”, it really means they want the company’s marketing dollars. Either in the form of direct payment (a sponsorship) or they want the company’s existing work to have promoted their own brand. So they’re using that as leverage for the conference’s exposure and attractiveness to other participants and sponsors. We talked about this before the show and interview, but you really made it clear that this is very-much a professional endeavour. This is not a charity. Conferences are big business, and if you want to play with those big businesses, you need to offer them value and not just feel like you’re giving away charity to a charity. This is an industry event.
Jose: Any as part of that business? A lot of companies just pay to play. They pay to play and individuals too! You can pay 20 grand and you get your slot on a conference to be a speaker. I mean, some conferences are not shy about that, but here’s the deal. Usually those conferences do not have the best content because they’re getting paid to play people and organizations. So that’s when it kind of goes back to that discussion: how do I find out there real legit conferences? You have to be careful with those pay-to-play conferences. There are those who are just kind of a money making machine. You know, you pay them a certain amount and they’re going to give you a speaking slot. It’s not so simple to see who those conferences are when you’re reviewing them, but pay-to-play is definitely part of it. You know you pay a certain amount and the company and the speaker are going to be there and they’re going to be given a slot, and those are the revenue models that most conferences will use. It’s about the pay to play. Plus of course, if they are selling tickets to the audience, then you’re going to have their revenue stream as well, but that sponsorship is their lifeblood.
Roland: I’m with you, and these are great questions about how to get connected. But the question that comes to mind is: what’s in it for me? And that could be the individual speaker. Is that my dream job? Is that a 6-figure gig I can do for the rest of my career until I retire (hint hint), or what’s in it for me as the organization that either participates or organizes and contributes to the conference? So how and why should you engage with the conference, either as a vendor or speaker or by sending your employees as attendees. Questions that come up are: “what’s the business case” and “what to look for”. Can you shed some light into this and answer the “why” question?
Jose: This is a very important question and I’ll take it from the standpoint of an organization that’s maybe paid to play or or has been invited to participate, or speakers who have been now invited to participate. What is in it for them? I think a lot of organizations miss the point because of the pay to play. It has to do with the structure of organizations sometimes and the decision making governance for marketing. For example, someone will work for Company X that has a budget for marketing and some of that budget is related to conferences and someone is responsible for allocating conferences. And I don’t want to diminish the job that those people do, but a lot of times they get into a crunch and they’re like, oh, you know what we gotta do conferences and they start looking to see what conferences are out there. And sometimes I’m surprised about how inexperienced the people in the organizations who are tasked with this are. And they just allocate money.This looks like a good conference here. And that looks like a good conference there, and these are fairly low level professionals who don’t have these sites that we’re discussing here. And there they are booking, the company should speak at these events as a check in the box type of activity, and I think it’s a really huge missed opportunity on that. And then the second missed opportunity has to do with what organizations do when they present. And so many of them are so eager to sell their products or services. And they think they do a good job. And of course everybody says, oh, you did a good job, and they tap each other in the back when it’s done. But the reality is that they really missed a huge opportunity. In my view, with feedback from audience members over time, is that people don’t want to get sold anything, products or services. Today you’re getting sold all the time, every time you use a device or you interact. And if you seem to be someone selling something, nobody wants to buy anything right now, but thought leadership and building that relationship with your target client is priceless. And this is what great enduring organization leaders and organizations do. They build a relationship with their target audience and they become thought leaders. So either as a conference, as an organization, or as a speaker, you’re building their relationship with the audience. And I know this sounds fluffy because you know what is the ‘call to action’ and ‘click this button and you purchase our product’? I think smart organizations don’t do that. I think that they are thinking beyond that and they are developing a pull-system over time with their thought leadership and the real smart ones do that. The pay to play approach creates a bit of a vicious cycle. People think that they have to quantify the return and they have to, you know, have some amount of sales as a result of this conference, and it ends up leading you to the wrong behaviors and counterproductive behaviors in establishing that relationship with the audience.
Roland: I find that very interesting, because as you know I was the practice leader for Enterprise Architecture in one of the big 4 consulting firms, and every year we had the conversation around “which conferences should we go to?”. Interestingly enough, that company decided not to go to any because everybody knows, and it was really frustrating. What advice would you give if you’re in the situation I was in a couple years ago? I like to go to these conferences – the Gartner EA Conference, or the Process Excellence Network conferences, or whatever your field is. I want to be part of this community, but to go, I need a budget to send people with accommodation and meals. What advice would you give to organizations that are reluctant to send people to those conferences?
Jose: It depends on the context, and sometimes I will tell them: don’t send people to this conference because they don’t care about the conference, they just want to go through Orlando and spend a few days at Disney. But the way I know that the way that you mention it is different, that there is an implicit value there from that networking and collaboration. Because listen, if there is one thing that we have learned about accelerating innovation (for example in organizations) is that you know you can give people financial incentives and that has limited impact on actual innovation acceleration. The greatest catalyst for innovation acceleration is to create an environment where great people and great ideas can connect. Steve Johnson has done wonderful research on this throughout the centuries. You know, it’s not a new thing with technology. If you look at the greatest innovations in society over time, they were periods where we are actually connecting great people and great ideas. It is the pushing and pulling of ideas with different perspectives that creates better ideas and then this community has implemented as ideas and this is how you accelerate innovation at a macro level. But also at an organizational level you try to create those environments. And I think the best conferences are the ones where you can justify and you can articulate that in that conference is a community where we have core and adjacent ideas, and maybe some disruptive ones, that the collaboration around those ideas with the people who are going to this conference are great people, and this collaboration is is likely to produce perspectives that will be valuable back in our business. So it’s very-much about their collaborative leadership, about that networking, and about interaction. And here’s a common misconception. A common misconception is that with conferences, the bigger the better. And that is not true. You get lost in the crowd in big conferences. From a participant standpoint, rarely bigger is better. The size of the audience does not matter as much. It’s about the quality of those interactions. So I prefer to go to a targeted smaller conference that brings high quality people, then to larger events. So for the organization, I’d be looking at the quality of the conference, the group that’s in there – the collaborative group that I’m going bring from my company, and most important from the other organizations, and asking: “will there be opportunities for us to collaborate and build better things together, even if we don’t work for the same company”. What things can we bring back to our company? That requires research to know who’s going to be in the conference and know if the conference has the mechanisms for collaboration and interaction that are needed.
Roland: That’s the call to action for companies’ leadership and marketing – to not just check things off. What would your recommendations be for attendees? What would a care package look like for those if they have the opportunity to go to a conference, webinar or user group meeting? What would you recommend they do to get the most out of the event?
Jose: So research the event upfront on those three pillars. What is the event doing to provide high quality learning? The quality of the speakers? And am I going to get inspired by what’s going on here so that I can go back and actually change things? And also, the mechanisms for networking. Now, networking is kind of one of those things that you kind of love and hate at the same time, because so many of these things are artificial. You know, let’s play network bingo and things like that which are like, ah, you know, how conferences create mechanisms for professionals and leaders to have a conversation, to get to know each other and interact in a non-sales-y way? Nobody’s trying to sell anything to anybody else, just sharing ideas. This is not easy. A lot of conferences struggle on what the best way is of doing that. Because they have commercial pressures and they want to just push their vendors onto the audience. But the reality is that the best collaboration happens when the vendors are part of the audience and you cannot tell. So look at that – if it’s heavily commercialized with vendors, it is probably not the best networking. The best ones mingle the vendors with the audience in a very large collaborative environment. So these are all things you have to look at. Do your research on the conference. But now as an individual, you have to take action, and you have to go to this conference and you have to push yourself outside of your comfort zone, and you have to reach out to others. You have to network. You have to take action, because if you’re going to go and you’re still not going to say hello to anybody or connect with people, that’s a missed opportunity. So ahead of time, you need to have a plan. Look up who the people are at this conference that you may want to connect with – a lot of times you have conferences that show the listing of participants, allow you to do connections online through their app ahead of time. You can also see who the speakers are. You can connect with them on LinkedIn. You can follow who they are. You can go have the courage to stand up and go and talk to them and say “hello and I have a question for you” after they speak as they mingle with you. So you have to push yourself to get the most out of the conference from a collaboration and networking perspective. A lot of times we all get very timid on doing that. Because again, a lot of folks are more introverted and we have to have a plan. Be proactive about it, connecting ahead of time if you can, and then follow up on the conference. And then when we’re there, ask questions to the speakers. Connect with others in the audience. Asking questions is a very important thing, by the way, whether you’re virtual or in person, because the speakers, but most important, the rest of the audience, kind of get a chance to see and hear you, and you have the courage to ask the question. And don’t worry about what people think about you. People are incredibly self-centered and 2 minutes later, they’re thinking about themselves again. They’re not thinking about you, so just ask the questions that are most useful to you.
J-M: And as a speaker – I’ve spoken alongside you, Jose, and at a few other conferences – I have you tell you. I remember and reach out to people who have good questions. Those who have made a good topic of conversation come to the fore, and who have inspired a discussion about something that matters. So please, ask questions! That’s a really good point. I wanted to bridge this to something in a personal sense, because we’ve all done conferences, working the trade show floor for days on end. What do you do personally to keep yourself healthy, motivated and able to do the things you want to do at the conference? What are some people who are attending physically to keep going, keep their energy, and retain sanity and health as they navigate these trade shows and conferences?
Jose: That’s a good question. It’s a very personal, of course, depending on the lifestyle that that that you may have, but I would say that if you are like a bit of a road warrior, if you will, and attending a lot of different conferences (if it’s a one off, I’m not sure if you need a whole lot of preparation), but if it’s something that you do routinely, like I do (and I can speak from my own perspective), I try to keep a routine. As I go to these conferences, I stay mentally engaged with the topics, with the speakers, and I ask questions, and I think that helps me to be mentally and physically engaged in the conference. But also when I’m traveling I still have my little workout routine that I do to make sure that I’m not, you know, just eating and not doing anything else. I tried to keep kind of a sense of normalcy as I attend conferences, so I have, you know, I have my meals at the right time. I work out if that’s the day that I usually workout or just take a walk. Or, I have some fun as well. I may go to Disney when I’m in Orlando. And will schedule that in and I will go see the new attraction someplace. The other wonderful thing, as part of the collaboration and networking, is to go to dinner with someone who doesn’t work with your company or work with you. Go meet someone else and invite the person out for dinner in an area nearby. So I think that you keep a sense of normalcy and routine as you attend conferences on what you do on a regular day and you make sure that you’re professional. You’re there and there’s work to do. And there are other things that you have to take care of.
J-M: It’s funny, Roland and I now work with somebody who I met at a conference, and we went out for drinks and had a good time, and lived it up in a couple different places. We just ran across each other at conferences. And now he’s our lovely colleague. So it’s a wonderful opportunity to make good friends. And this is a wonderful transition! We’ve been talking about conferences, and thank you, Jose, for giving us the context behind them. I want to leave our audiences with a question about what’s next for them. We’re going to take a quick break, but while we’re doing that, start thinking about two things. Number one: if you’re going to go to conferences or webinars, what’s the next step with your organization? What do you know about how requests are made, and how can you get yourself into that intake process within your organization to request the funding to go? Number two: from what you’ve heard today, what’s the business case you’re going to present? What value do you think you can provide to the organization and to yourself for going to these conferences, and how can you justify the next step for you with conferences, webinars and trade shows? We’ll see you in a second as we come to our conclusion and a big thank-you to Jose.
Musical Interlude: “Wurly”, Jeremy Voltz
Roland: Hey, welcome back! But before we part, do you have any last advice for our audience?
Jose: J-M and Roland. First of all, this was a great conversation related to a topic that I don’t talk about very much. My real purpose and mission is excellence and innovation, acceleration, and this conference world is something that emerged as a wonderful channel for that message to occur. And then it took on a life of its own for me, and in the time that I spent doing those things – conferences and chairmanship of events. So to wrap up here, I would like to, especially with this audience, you have an incredibly qualified audience here with professionals and leaders who have this incredible content that they can share with the world, and this could be within the organization or it could be externally through conferences and webinars and external mechanisms. But I want to share something that I’ve learned from great enduring leaders and organizations, and I called the three Rs. You know, kind of consulting speak to a certain extent. We also have to trivialize things into basic words or letters right? But it’s really applicable and it’s this dynamic of Relationship, Results and Reputation. And I want you to keep this in mind for your career and progression as much as it is important as you build relationships to become a speaker, to find your voice and your channels through conferences. And there is a tendency from highly qualified professionals, like the ones listening to this call, to have a focus on results and and you should have that you should have results. You should have your gift, your craft and you produce results from that gift or craft. But that’s not how greatness emerges, because if you produce results and you have not developed the relationships, the results will be discounted. And that’s a huge missed opportunity. So I want to highlight to you this is not intuitive for highly qualified professionals. But I wanted to make sure that you put relationships ahead of results, because if you build strong relationships and then deliver strong results as a progression, you’re going to have that perfect combination now that your results will be fully acknowledged and with the relationships and results in place, you’re building a great reputation. And relationships, results and reputation (in that order) are important for your advancement within your organization, but also as your voice emerges and you speak to the world and you will develop connections with conferences and producers and remember to keep that in mind. Relationships, results, to build your reputation, and that’s the final thoughts here to wrap up this very important discussion.
J-M: Thank you so much, Jose, and particularly with building relationships, how can we get in touch with you, and how can our listeners reach out to you and the organizations you work with after the fact?
Jose: Yes, listen. I am on a mission of excellence, and innovation acceleration. People ask me when I am going to retire, and I say “I retired a few years back”. This is what I’m going to do until the day I die. This is a true mission. It’s a blend of my personal and professional interests, and it’s how I serve the world and collaborative leadership, and innovation execution are big parts of my life. You can see me on LinkedIn under Jose Pires. You can look me up and follow and connect on LinkedIn. Also at www.excellenceandinnovation.com – we have a site there. But it’s about the journey – I document the public journey on social media, and you can follow through Twitter, Instagram and different channels.
Roland: And obviously we’re going to put all those links in the show notes for those of you who are currently driving and can’t pick up a pen and note down all that valuable information. That’s our PSA every show: no driving and writing please. Thanks Jose for being an awesome guest on our show – it was very informative and entertaining. Thanks to our audience for listening to our show. As always, please rate us and leave a review in your podcast application of choice. If you want to reach us, send us an email at email@example.com or leave us a voice message with our podcast provider, Anchor. I’ll put links into the show notes for this as well.
Jose: J-M and Roland, thank you so much for inviting me to be here with you. You are truly building an environment here where great people and great ideas can connect and I am very grateful for your leadership and for the audience to engage in this discussion.
Roland: Thank you very much. If you want to listen and/or re-read what we just spoke about, you’ll find all the links and the show notes for this episode at whatsyourbaseline.com/episode10. And with that, J-M, back to you!
J-M: Thanks so much folks. It’s been a wonderful time with Jose, Roland and myself enjoying the many different things you can get out of conferences, trade shows, and excellence in innovation. So, for the last hour and a little, I’ve been J-M Erlendson
Jose: I’m Jose Pires
Roland: I’m Roland Woldt
J-M: And we’ll see you in the next one
Roland Woldt is a well-rounded executive with 25+ years of Business Transformation consulting and software development/system implementation experience, in addition to leadership positions within the German Armed Forces (11 years).
He has worked as Team Lead, Engagement/Program Manager, and Enterprise/Solution Architect for many projects. Within these projects, he was responsible for the full project life cycle, from shaping a solution and selling it, to setting up a methodological approach through design, implementation, and testing, up to the rollout of solutions.
In addition to this, Roland has managed consulting offerings during their lifecycle from the definition, delivery to update, and had revenue responsibility for them.
Roland is the VP of Global Consulting at iGrafx, and has worked as the Head of Software AG’s Global Process Mining CoE, as Director in KPMG’s Advisory, and had other leadership positions at Software AG/IDS Scheer and Accenture. Before that, he served as an active-duty and reserve officer in the German Armed Forces.