The following article authored by Jason Tremblay is published online at The Resort Trades and will appear in an upcoming print edition of one of their timeshare publications. It is reprinted here with their permission.
While others may call this season ‘Spring,’ in the timeshare industry, it could easily be called Conference Season. With the Ragatz Fractional Interest Conference and ARDA Convention & Expo in March, CRDA’s annual conference in April, and the upcoming CARE Semi-Annual and GNEX 2011 Conferences in May, there are plenty of reasons to keep everyone in the timeshare industry on the road, and that’s only naming some of the bigger events on the schedule. Conferences like these and the many smaller or regional events that take place during timeshare’s conference season and throughout the year, are critical for strengthening bonds and breaking down barriers and misconceptions within the industry. Because timeshare conferences are an investment in yourself, your company, and the timeshare industry as a whole, challenge yourself to maximize each conference experience in which you participate.
Start the Conference on the Right Foot
Racing to a seminar, squeezing it into your schedule, or showing up because you suddenly realize the event is on your calendar are all ways many people arrive at conferences. Slightly disorganized and out of breath, they look around on Day 1 and wonder what they are going to do with the next 48 to 72 hours.
The first three questions that likely cross their mind are who they already know among the conference attendees, whether the host hotel has good food, and how they are going to show up at work sessions and meetings while staying in near-constant contact with their office and on top of the work they left behind. But all of this is a poor plan if you actually hope to have a meaningful take away from the conference experience, going home with fresh ideas and new relationships.
In today’s business economy, attending conferences does not come cheaply. Besides the actual cost of the conference, there are travel expenses and the impact each employee’s absence makes on the crew left behind. With the cost of conference attendance so high in terms of expense and manpower, and people’s time already stretched so thin, no one can afford to go to a seminar or conference without being fully committed to making the most of the experience.
Preplan Your Conference Time
You can get an agenda of sessions and events from the conference host weeks before the actual event. Before the conference begins, review the speakers, sessions and topics scheduled and then make decisions regarding the most effective use of your time during the event. If there are topics planned that are critical to your business, contact the speaker or panel chairperson and say, “I am excited to hear the discussion and am hoping you will touch on the opportunities of ‘abc’ or the problem with ‘xyz’…” Sharing your enthusiasm and your interest with the scheduled speakers and panelists not only motivates them to deliver the most current and meaningful information on the subject, but allows them to shape their message to address topics their audience (you) has earmarked as being of special interest.
Besides contacting speakers scheduled for a conference, contact other attendees. A phone call or email to someone in your industry, saying you hope to spend a little time with them at the event will significantly increase the likelihood of the two of you connecting. You will be in their thoughts and on their to-do list before the event even begins.
Change Your Perspective
Too often conference attendance and trade show exhibitions wind up on a company’s schedule because the CEO or head of marketing believes the company or individual needs to make an appearance. Yet this mindset about the convention experience is only slightly better than not attending at all.
Go to a conference with the idea of helping the greatest number of attendees possible. Instead of focusing your exhibition booth, your networking efforts and any presentations or conversations you have on who you are, refocus on who the other attendees are and how you can help them.
Don’t go to a timeshare, fractional, or other vacation ownership event in order to be seen. Go because you want to see others, because you want to learn, experience, and give back. Effective conference networking is never about who you are but about who others are and how your services can fill their needs.
Mix Things Up, Just a Little
While having a targeted plan for what you will do, who you will see, and what you hope to get out of the conference is important, so is going off-plan just a little. During each event, pick one session or opportunity you think has little to do with your particular niche in timeshares. Although the industry is vast, often, the problems and the solutions are highly interrelated.
Be Fully Present
During the event, shut off, to the greatest degree possible, the routine and demands of your workday. The more your focus is divided between the conference and the work you left behind, the less effective you will be in addressing either.
Consider telling your staff or coworkers that you will be available to them at one or two prearranged times during the day and that only in a true emergency should they contact you other than at those time. Then between the scheduled call times, put daily business out of your thoughts and focus on the events and people at hand.
Share Your Experience
Before and during the conference, be sure you discuss it on your blog, newsletter, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other social media platforms. If your conference is using a specific Twitter #hashtag, add it to your tweets. The more you help the conference sponsor spread the word, the more you stimulate the interest of others and attract new attendees, the richer your own conference experience will be going forward.
After the conference, write a brief report or detailed email on your conference experience for the benefit of others in your office. If writing is not your best communication tool, then schedule a meeting or conference call as a debriefing session.
Make conference materials and slide decks available to others in your company. Most presenters are willing to share their slides with conference attendees, typically by posting them on their own website or distributing them via email. Be sure you take advantage of the opportunity to obtain these files and to share them with your staff and coworkers.
Go for the Right Reasons
Timeshare conferences typically are held in popular destinations and at beautiful hotels and resorts. But they are not vacation time and they are not about you. Don’t show up with a plan to tell everyone who you are. Go with the idea that this is your best possible opportunity to meet new timeshare industry contacts and learn as much as you can about who they are.